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Telework as a reasonable accommodation

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Telework: A Reasonable Accommodation?

According to a study conducted by the International Telework Association and Council (ITAC), there were over 28 million teleworkers in the United States in 2001, representing a wide variety of careers and skills. Telework can be viewed as an option for attracting and retaining qualified employees who may need an alternative to the typical workplace. Work can be performed from home, on the road, at satellite offices, telework centers, or any combination of these. However, not every job can be completed at home and accommodations for some jobs may be considered significantly difficult or too expensive.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires that employers with 15 or more employees provide reasonable accommodations for qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. Developing a telework program for an employee may be a reasonable accommodation when a person’s disability prevents the successful performance of the job in the standard working environment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that a reasonable accommodation is “any change in the work environment or in the way that things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform a job, or gain equal access to the benefits and privileges of a job”. However, the ADA does not require the employer to provide specific accommodations if they cause undue hardship.

The EEOC has created a fact sheet on Telework and reasonable accommodations that provides basic information for the employer. The following information is a summary of the EEOC fact sheet. The full document can be found at: http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/telework.html.

Is Telework required under the ADA?

Employers are not required to offer a telework program to all employees. If a telework program is offered, employees with disabilities must be given equal opportunity to participate. Additionally, telework can be considered a reasonable accommodation whether there is an existing program or not. An employer is under no obligation to provide the requested accommodation if an equally effective option is offered as an alternative.

How to determine if the job can be performed via telework

An individual with a disability should inform the employer of the medical condition that makes it difficult to perform the job in the standard workplace. The employer and the individual will identify the essential job functions to determine if these tasks can be completed from a telework location. It is possible that certain job duties can be reassigned and/or substituted. If there are several job duties that must be completed in the workplace, a combination of working via telework and in the standard workplace might be a possible solution.

Additional Considerations

Employers and individuals with disabilities should also keep in mind that some jobs may require frequent face-to-face meetings and interactions. The extent of required contact time should be identified to determine if alternate communication methods will meet the needs of the employer and the individual. In developing a telework plan, it may also be necessary to address the issues of flexibility of schedule, motivation, supervision, and productivity.

Resources


Author: Tony Langton
Affiliation: Originally published in the March 2003 TC Direct Newsletter for the NIDRR-funded Tech Connections project.