If your company allows employees to take conference calls in their pajamas, prepare reports from their breakfast nooks, or respond to emails while doing laundry, you are no longer a trendsetter or outlier. More and more businesses have recognized the many upsides of allowing workers to telecommute or work remotely; happier and more efficient employees, higher retention rates, and lower costs are just a few of the advantages to a remote workforce. But remote work can also help businesses provide opportunities for workers with disabilities and avoid potential employment law claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“Reasonable Accommodation” Requirement
Under the ADA, employers with 15 or more employees must provide “reasonable accommodation” for qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. What constitutes a reasonable accommodation in a given situation depends on the specifics of the job, its requirements and responsibilities, and the employee’s limitations.
Generally, however, a reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way a job is customarily done that enables a disabled individual to apply for a position, perform the job, or gain equal access to the benefits and privileges of that job. The accommodation must, in fact, be reasonable, meaning that an employer does not have to provide a requested or proposed accommodation if it would cause significant difficulty or expense.
How Telecommuting Can Be a Reasonable Accommodation
Not all positions lend themselves to telecommuting or can be performed remotely. An accounts receivable clerk may be able to do his or her job from home effectively, but a warehouse supervisor likely can’t. That means that telecommuting will not be a reasonable accommodation in all circumstances for all roles.
But, as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated, allowing an employee to work at home or remotely “may be a reasonable accommodation where the person’s disability prevents successfully performing the job on-site and the job, or parts of the job, can be performed at home without causing significant difficulty or expense.”
Considerations and Questions
Whether or not a company allows teleworking as a matter of course, it should explore the possibility of allowing a person with a disability to work from home if that would give that individual an equal chance of obtaining the position and doing the job.
Employers should ask themselves and the candidate or employee the following if he or she requests, proposes, or suggests the possibility of working from home to accommodate a disability:
- What is the nature of the disability and the limitations it imposes on performing relevant and necessary job responsibilities?
- In the opinion of the employee or their health care providers, how would telecommuting or working from home help the employee?
- Is onsite presence necessary for the job? Can the employee satisfy the job’s requirements from home as well as he or she could in the workplace?
- How much infrastructure (internet and phone connections, VPNs, computers, monitors, etc.) will the employer need to provide to facilitate the employee’s telecommuting?
- Will the employer be able to sufficiently monitor the remote employee’s performance and time?
ADA Questions? Speak With a Michigan Employment Law Attorney Today
Even employers with the best intentions and a sincere desire to provide opportunities to individuals with disabilities can find themselves on the wrong side of the ADA. If you have questions about the ADA, reasonable accommodation, or any other employment law issues, the employment law attorneys at Kreis Enderle can provide you with sound, straightforward counsel to protect your company and guide your decision-making. Please contact Thomas Cedoz at TCedoz@kehb.com or (269) 324-3000 to arrange for a consultation.