The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reminds employers that EEO laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, continue to apply during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these laws do not interfere with health guidelines presented by the CDC and state or local authorities. It is important for employers to consider how to respond to post-virus telework requests in a manner that complies with EEO laws while also following recommended heath practices as mandated by the CDC or other relevant authorities.
Under EEO laws, reasonable accommodations are modifications employers provide to employees, with a qualified disability or condition, so that these employees may enjoy equal employment opportunities. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations unless the requested accommodation would present an undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense) to the employer. Upon reopening businesses in response to a post-virus environment, employers may receive requests from employees with disabilities to provide telework as a reasonable accommodation under ADA or Rehabilitation Act accommodations.
According to guidance provided by the EEOC on September 08, 2020, an employer does not automatically have to grant post-virus telework requests as a reasonable accommodation to every employee with a disability who requests to continue teleworking as an ADA or Rehabilitation Act accommodation.
Employers have the right to understand the specific disability presented by an employee in order to provide appropriate accommodations for the given disability. Absent a legal mandate to provide telework in response to COVID-19, employees without a disability that necessitates telework as an accommodation are not entitled to telework opportunities in the post-virus workplace. Further, if an employee’s disability does require telework as an accommodation, but such accommodation can be provided in another form of accommodation within the workplace, such accommodation within the workplace is appropriate as an alternative to telework.
Upon reopening, employers that were providing telework during COVID-19 as a safety precaution are not required to continue to provide telework as a reasonable accommodation if telework results in keeping employees from performing essential job functions. Under the ADA, an employer is not required to provide accommodations that eliminate one or more essential job functions.
If you have questions or are in need of assistance, please contact one of the attorneys in our Employment Law Group at 1-888-488-2638.