How to legally navigate employees' requests to work remotely.

AuthorHoffman, Carrie
PositionNuts & Bolts

After roughly two years of isolation, employers are summoning employees back to the office. Not all employees are thrilled, which means many employers are facing resistance from employees who have grown accustomed to remote work.

Some of these employees seek accommodations for alleged medical conditions to allow them to continue working remotely, despite their employers' calls to return to in-person work.

Reasonable accommodations

Under the ADA, employers must provide disabled employees with "reasonable accommodations" unless doing so would pose an undue hardship.

Reasonable accommodations can include part-time work, altered work assignments, specific working hours or changing tests, training materials or policies.

Even before the pandemic, employees requested remote work as a reasonable accommodation. In the wake of the pandemic, however, a few things have changed.

Namely, many employees have grown accustomed to working from home and do not want to return to the office. Also, employees are now better equipped to argue that working from home is a feasible, and therefore reasonable, accommodation.

This notwithstanding, workers still have no stand-alone right to work from home. Under most circumstances, employers maintain the authority to require in-person work.

How to handle requests

If an employee seeking a reasonable accommodation asks to work from home, employers should take several steps before granting the request.

Disabled or not? First, verify that the employee is a qualified individual under the ADA. If not, then you do not need to provide a reasonable accommodation. A qualified individual is someone who meets legitimate skill, experience, education or other requirements, and who can perform the job's essential functions with or without reasonable accommodation.

Second, verify that the employee has a disability covered by the ADA. Some conditions are not covered.

Before granting an accommodation, engage in an interactive process with the employee and his health care providers to evaluate whether the condition is an ADA disability. If it is not, you may deny the employee's request for an accommodation.

If a disability is confirmed. Once the employer is satisfied that an employee is a qualified employee with a covered disability, start considering appropriate accommodation options.

Importantly, even if the employee and employer agree that a reasonable accommodation is warranted, an employee is not necessarily entitled to the...

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