Is working at home a reasonable accommodation?

An employee’s disability or medical condition may temporarily or permanently prevent the employee from accessing or reporting to the job site, or from performing his or her job functions there. If the employee can perform his or her job at home, without undue hardship to the employer, the employee can request to work at home as a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation is a modification that enables the employee to perform the essential job functions of his or her position. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

Importantly, because working at home is a type of modification of workplace policy under the ADA, a disabled employee may request to work from home, even if other employees are not permitted to do so.

What happens after an employee requests to work from home as a reasonable accommodation?

Generally, following the employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation to work at home due to his or her medical condition or disability, the employer and employee engage in the “interactive process,” a meeting during which they strive to reach an agreement.

The ADA requires that an employee be able to perform the essential functions of his or her job, with or without reasonable accommodation. Thus, the employer and employee must first clarify the essential functions of the employee’s job, and determine whether those functions can be performed off-site, in whole or in part, from the employee’s home.

Some jobs cannot be performed at home in any capacity. Other jobs may require the employee to report to the worksite to complete certain essential job functions. An employer is not required to remove any essential job functions to allow the employee to work at home. The employer may, however, reassign non-essential duties to other employees.

An employer may not deny a work-at-home accommodation based on a requirement that the employee attend meetings at the job site, if the employee can participate through a conference call or video conferencing. However, that factor may be viewed differently if the employee’s position requires in-person interactions with clients or customers, which may be considered an essential function of the employee’s job.

The specifics of the employee’s work-at-home request should be discussed during the interactive process, including whether the employee is requesting to work at home temporarily or on a permanent basis.

Is the employer required to approve a disabled employee’s request to work from home?

If an employer offers a work-at-home program to all its employees, the employer must offer the disabled employee equal access to that program. In addition, a disabled employee can request that program eligibility requirements be waived, such a policy of requiring employees to have one year of service before working at home.

If there is no work-at-home policy in place, an employer is required to allow an employee with a disability to work at home only to the extent that working at home is necessitated by the employee’s disability or medical condition.

The employer is not required to approve a disabled employee’s request to work at home if there are effective, alternative accommodations that would enable the employee to work at the job site. Thus, the employer may offer alternative reasonable accommodation options. Alternate forms of reasonable accommodation include alterations to the job site, such as providing accessibility devices or making modifications to equipment, making the work site accessible, restructuring jobs, or modifying schedules or policies.

The employer’s conclusion as to the appropriate accommodation for an employee varies on a case-by-case basis. An employee may disagree with the employer’s conclusion.

If you disagree with your employer’s decision concerning your work-at-home request, or have questions about reasonable accommodations in your circumstances, you should consider contacting an experienced employment lawyer. Murphy Law Group focuses exclusively on employment law and represents employees in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.