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FMG Law Blog Line

Handling Telework Requests in a Post-COVID Environment

Posted on: April 13th, 2021

By: David Chang

As COVID-19 numbers retreat and vaccine distributions increase, many businesses that shifted to a Working From Home (“WFH”) environment are preparing to transition back to the office.  This will likely bring increased requests for “reasonable accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), particularly for permission to continue working remotely.

While every case is fact-specific, the EEOC has issued broad guidelines to help employers and employees determine when continued WFH could be appropriate. Two prominent issues are:

  1. Employees without a disability asking for an accommodation to protect a family member with a disability from COVID-19 exposure.
  2. Employees asking for teleworking as their reasonable accommodation because of an employer’s 2020 and 2021 WFH policy. (The employer can opt for alternative reasonable accommodation options that eschew WFH.)

With respect to the first issue, the employee here is not entitled to accommodation under the ADA, as protections based on association with an individual with a disability are currently limited to disparate treatment or harassment.

In regards to that second issue, the EEOC guidelines specifically provide,

“The fact that an employer temporarily excused performance of one or more essential functions when it closed the workplace and enabled employees to telework for the purpose of protecting their safety from COVID-19, or otherwise chose to permit telework, does not mean that the employer permanently changed a job’s essential functions, that telework is always a feasible accommodation, or that it does not pose an undue hardship.”

The Commission does note, however, that teleworking does require a closer look as a reasonable accommodation if an employee was able to satisfactorily perform all essential functions while working remotely.

As these issues are typically fact-specific, employers must be sure to promptly and properly address accommodation requests with flexibility and cooperation. To strike such a balance, obtaining the review of counsel is always recommended in an environment that continues to grow more virtual than ever.

For more information, please contact David Chang at [email protected].

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