With all the buzz about alternative work schedules, four-day work weeks, flextime, and the like, the following Q & A on telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) might be relevant as these types of requests increase.
Is telecommuting a reasonable accommodation under the ADA?
Q: One of our employees has asked that we allow him to work from home as an accommodation for a medical condition. He does suffer from a medical condition covered by the ADA but are we required to allow him to work from home as a possible accommodation?
Your question involves certain “assumptions” that are relevant to our response. For example, you said the employee does in fact have a medical condition that qualifies as a “disability” under the ADA. Our response is based on that assumption being true.
Can telework be an accommodation under the ADA? Telework — that is, allowing employees to work from home — may qualify as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Although the law doesn’t require you to offer telework to your employees, you may provide it as an accommodation if it’s appropriate for this employee, regardless of whether other employees without disabilities have the opportunity to work from home.
Is telework appropriate in this case? You and your employee should discuss the appropriateness of telecommuting as an accommodation. Generally, that interactive process begins when the employee communicates that he has a condition requiring a change in the way he performs his job. It’s important to note that he doesn’t have to use words like “accommodation” or even “disability” for the ADA to come into play. He merely needs to provide information that gives you a reasonable basis for making further inquiries about necessary accommodations.
After the employee provides you with notice of his need for accommodation and telecommuting becomes an option, he needs to explain why telework is an accommodation that makes sense in his situation. During that discussion, you may request information about his medical condition, including documentation that substantiates his need for an accommodation.
Is it reasonable to allow telecommuting? The possibility of telecommuting is really no different from other accommodations. You should evaluate the employee’s job and review all of its essential functions. If some of those functions can be performed from home, it may be reasonable to permit telecommuting as an accommodation. If none of the job functions can be successfully completed from home, then you are not obligated to allow the employee to telecommute.
Factors you might look at when making your decision include whether:
face-to-face interaction and coordination of work with other employees is essential;
in-person interaction with outside colleagues, clients, or customers is necessary; and
the job requires the employee to have immediate access to documents or other information that’s located only at the workplace.
If the legitimate answer to these questions is “yes,” telecommuting may not be appropriate as an accommodation. But if elements of the job can be performed at home and don’t require the type of interaction that occurs only in the workplace, you should consider telework as a form of reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
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