As remote work becomes the norm, businesses must reevaluate their strategies to ensure Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) compliance in virtual settings. This blog post delves into the impact of remote work on EEOC compliance, addressing challenges, and offering actionable best practices for fostering a fair and inclusive virtual workplace.
1. Remote Work as a Reasonable Accommodation:
Remote work poses as both a great tool and challenge for employers. However, despite the call for increased flexibility, employers are not automatically required to offer remote positions, even for disabled employees.
Under the American Disabilities Act (ADA), a qualified employee may work with their employer in an “interactive process,” to determine a reasonable accommodation for their disability, but this does not necessarily mean remote work. Accommodations that impose an “undue hardship” or eliminate the job’s essential functions, are not deemed reasonable, and thus, are not protected. As a result, an employer may provide their disabled employee with other alternatives.
However, in the recent case, EEOC v. ISS Facility Services, Inc. (2021), an employer was condemned for denying their disabled employee’s request for remote work. There, the company claimed that the accommodation was unreasonable, because it inhibited the employee’s essential job functions. This proved untrue, because other similarly-situated employees were allowed to work remotely. Additionally, the EEOC pointed out the company’s previous work-from-home arrangements during COVID, as evidence of the employee’s ability to perform her essential job functions remotely.
2. Best Practices for EEOC Compliance:
Engaging in an interactive process allows employers to provide their disabled employees with reasonable accommodations. During this process, the employer should consider a few things. First, remote work is not the default reasonable accommodation. The employer is free to choose any effective reasonable accommodation, such as: modifying equipment, altering work schedules and policies, or making the workplace more accessible (by adding a ramp). Second, even if remote work is appropriate, the employer does not necessarily have to allow for full-time remote work. Instead, it may be limited to part-time or to a specific duration, depending on the employee’s needs. Finally, when considering a remote work accommodation, the employer should factor: (1) the employee’s essential job functions, (2) whether those functions can be performed remotely, and (3) whether there are other employees—without disabilities—in a similar position that may work remotely. As discussed previously, if other similarly-situated employees are allowed to work from home, then the employer will likely need to approve the accommodation.
Ultimately, employers should err on the side of caution when determining whether to grant a qualified employee with a disability’s request for a remote accommodation, especially given the recent court trends. For more information, please contact an attorney at Hardin Thompson, PC.