by Robin Phillips
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has required some employers since 1990 to provide disabled job applicants and employees with reasonable accommodations. Because of technological advances, accommodations may require employers to consider telecommuting as an option.
But as the EEOC has noted, not every disabled person will need or want to work at home, and some jobs can’t be performed there.
What is reasonable accommodation?
If you employ 15 or more employees, the ADA requires you to reasonably accommodate qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. It defines a “reasonable accommodation” as any change in the work environment or the way things are usually done that enables a disabled person to perform a job, unless the change produces undue hardship on the operation of your business.
The EEOC has specifically recognized working at home as a potential form of reasonable accommodation if:
o A disability prevents an employee from successfully performing a job on-site, and
o An employee can perform all or part of the job at home without creating significant difficulty or expense for you.
The ADA doesn’t require you to offer telecommuting programs to all employees. But it may require you to do so for a disabled employee — even in the absence of a program. If your company has a telecommuting program in place, you may need to waive its eligibility requirements to allow a disabled employee to participate. For example, you may have to forgo a prerequisite such as requiring an employee to work for a year with the company before working at home.
How should you decide?
To determine whether telecommuting constitutes a reasonable accommodation for a disabled employee, you must engage in an interactive process with that worker, beginning with his or her request for accommodation because of a medical condition. You may ask for information about the medical condition — including reasonable documentation — if you’re unsure whether the condition qualifies as a disability. A “disability” is defined as inability to perform a major life function.
You must also determine whether a specific job can be performed at home. Factors to consider include:
o How you can supervise the employee at home,
o Whether face-to-face interaction is required to perform essential job functions or whether phone, fax and e-mail contact can ensure timely communications with co-workers, clients and others, and
o Whether the job depends on immediate access to documents and other information found only in the workplace.
The ADA doesn’t require you to eliminate any essential job duties to facilitate telecommuting. But you may need to reassign some marginal duties that can’t be performed outside the workplace and that present the only obstacle to home performance. And you may substitute another minor task to evenly distribute employee workloads.
All or nothing?
If some duties can be performed only on-site, you may need to allow an employee to work at home part time and at the workplace part time. But the ADA doesn’t require you to offer telecommuting if other effective alternatives are available. Remember, you may select any effective accommodation — even if an employee prefers an alternative.