The EEOC, ADA and COVID-19

The EEOC has issued guidance on expectations for employers receiving remote working requests.  An employer’s temporary shift to a remote environment does not create an obligation to accept future remote working requests.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that employers provide qualifying employees with “reasonable accommodations” that will allow them to do their job without causing an “undue hardship” to the company.  An undue hardship means a “significant difficulty or expense.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised questions about whether working remotely qualifies as a “reasonable accommodation” under the ADA.  The pandemic has also raised questions about how allowing an employee to work remotely will affect continued or new requests to telecommute going forward.

The EEOC’s latest guidance makes clear that a temporary shift to a telework environment does not force the employer to accept all telework at any point in the future.  Simply put, the ADA never requires an employer to eliminate an essential job function as an accommodation.

Upon reopening the workplace, the employer has no obligation under the ADA to refrain from restoring all of an employee’s essential duties at the time it chooses to restore the prior work arrangement, and then evaluating any future requests for continued or new accommodations under the usual ADA rules.

Employers should continue to comply with the usual ADA rules and should be mindful of their requirement to participate in the interactive process when a qualifying employee makes an accommodation request.  The EEOC advised that flexibility by both employers and employees is important in determining if some accommodation is possible under the specific circumstances.