Q: An employee has asked to work from home because of his disability. Do I have to provide him with that option?
A: With technology making it easier than ever for people to work remotely, more employers are seeing requests to offer telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation of a disability. But, depending on the job, telecommuting may not be the best option, or even an option at all.
Retail store managers, truck drivers and flight attendants cannot perform the essential functions of their jobs from home. And some office jobs may require face-to-face interaction, active supervision, or access to in-office documents to perform their duties effectively. Marissa Mayer famously called all workers back to the office when she took over Yahoo in 2013, but other companies, such as Diebold, specifically recruit talent with the promise of a telecommuting arrangement.
So how does a company know where it can draw the line in denying a request for a telecommuting accommodation? The answer lies in the language of the ADA.
The ADA requires employers to consider each case individually, so a blanket policy prohibiting telecommuting should be avoided. Instead, consider the specific request in the context of the employee’s disability, and then analyze whether the requested accommodation will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of his job.
If an essential function of the job requires the employee to interact with others in the office, or access documents that are only available in the office, then a telecommuting option would not be a reasonable accommodation. Another factor to consider is the ability of the employee to be supervised effectively from home. Before reaching the conclusion that a telecommuting arrangement is not a reasonable accommodation, however, be sure that the evidence supports it.
Does the job description detail the requirement of face-to-face interaction? Is this an essential function of the job, or a marginal requirement? Can these functions be completed just as effectively using technology? These are all questions that should be considered before making a final determination.
On the flip side: Is “work from home” code for not working at all? Consider whether the employee actually can perform his job functions from home or whether the disability precludes him from performing his job functions regardless of location.
And remember that the ADA does not require employers to provide an employee with the accommodation of his choosing. Rather, employers must engage in the interactive process and can consider/offer other reasonable accommodations that may enable the employee to perform his job in the office.
The bottom line — there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation. Analyze each case on its own facts, and determine the best possible solution for your employee and your business.