HR Basics: Is Telecommuting a Reasonable Accommodation?

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.

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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.

Chastity C. Bruno is a partner in Montgomery McCracken's Labor and Employment Practice and serves as co-chair of the law firm's Trade Secret and Noncompete Litigation Practice Group. Bruno has spent substantial time representing employers and employees in matters concerning enforcement of post-employment restrictive covenants and alleged misappropriation of trade secrets. In addition, Bruno advises employers and employees on hiring and job transition matters, including effectuating job change while avoiding litigation.

Contact her at a cbruno@mmwr.com.

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