The impact of COVID-19 on the workplace was expected by many to generate a great deal of employment litigation. Those expectations unfortunately have been met as numerous cases have accrued across the nation based on various claims of discrimination and harassment in the context of a new COVID world.
The primary employment claim filed by plaintiffs alleges that the employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide remote work as an accommodation to an employee’s alleged disability. The claims are based, in part, on the argument that the employees and remote work have proven effective during the pandemic and, thus, an employer would not suffer a hardship by making accommodations for employees who need to work from home due to medical issues or disabilities. These arguments may be sufficient to take the case past summary judgment, depending on the circumstances in the case. In overly simplified terms, an employer making a case for in-office work will need to establish how or why the allegedly disabled employee needs to be in the office to perform their job, and why a remote work arrangement is detrimental to the business. However, if the employee can perform the essential requirements of their job (and not every single task that the employee performs is considered essential), an employer will have a hard time prevailing.
In sum, COVID created the case for remote work for many employees who had, for years, sought to have a hybrid or remote work arrangement and many employees will utilize the pretense of a disability to secure such a work arrangement. Employers have to engage in the interactive process with any employee seeking an accommodation due to a disability, not just a remote work arrangement. This means that remote work requests cannot be outright dismissed because the Company refuses to make exceptions. Indeed, the essence of the Americans with Disabilities Act is an exception to ordinary policies and procedures in the interest of allowing a qualified disabled individual to work. It is only after the full and complete interactive process that employers can make a decision on employee’ remote work requests.
If you have questions about your obligations as an employer under the ADA, please reach out to Poricanin Law.