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Jun 9, 2014

By Chastity C. Bruno

With today’s advances in technology, more employers have discovered the benefits of permitting employees to work from home – aka telecommuting.

However, the question becomes this: When does an employer have to provide a “telecommuting” accommodation for an employee due to a disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

In 1999, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said that allowing an employee with a disability to work from home may be a reasonable accommodation. The ADA requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide a reasonable accommodation to qualified employees with disabilities.

Just what is a “reasonable accommodation?”

A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform a job, or gain equal access to the benefits and privileges of a job. However, the ADA does not require an employer to provide an accommodation if it causes the employer an undue hardship.

The ADA also does not require employers to have a “telecommuting” policy. However, absent a “telecommuting” policy, telecommuting is still considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The best thing for employers to do is evaluate each employee’s request for an accommodation on a case-by-case basis.

Here is a list of things an employer should consider in its decision to grant a “telecommuting” accommodation:

  • The employer’s ability to adequately supervise the employee;
  • Whether the duties of the employee requires use of special equipment or tools that cannot be replicated at home;
  • Whether the employee needs face-to-face interaction or coordination of work with other employees;
  • Whether in-person interaction with customers and/or clients is necessary; and,
  • Whether the employee needs access to documents or other information that are only found in the workplace.

Needed: a flexible, interactive process

The above considerations should be made through a flexible, interactive process between the employer and employee.

Employers should be cognizant that the employee need not use the terms “accommodation” or “ADA” when making a request for an accommodation. The employee, must, however, inform that employer that he/she has a medical condition.

This was originally published on Montgomery McCracken’s Employment Law Matters blog.