Working at Home as a “Reasonable Accommodation” under the ADA

August 7, 2007

Telecommuting (a.k.a. working at home) has been buffeted about in a whole host of recent surveys which are nicely summarized in a SHRM article by Kathy Gurchiek entitled Upper Management Distrusts Telecommuting but Cites Benefits.   There is a mixed perception of the work at home world the travails of which are discussed at the Telecommuting Journal, a blog dedicated to the subject. Many employers believe that that there is no substitute for face to face communication. It may come down to "trust" with telecommuting still viewed as a "perk" that may hold back a career.

Despite these management perspectives, an employer’s reluctance to allow telecommuting may be trumped by the American’s with Disabilities Act’s provisions on reasonable accommodation. The EEOC has published guidance stating that "allowing someone with a disability to work at home may be a form of reasonable accommodation." The EEOC’s Fact Sheet explains issues ranging from whether a particular job can be performed at home to the frequency with which work at home must be offered.

Courts reviewing employee claims for a work at home accommodation focus on many things to determine the feasibility including the following:

  • The employer’s ability to supervise the employee adequately.
  • whether any duties require use of certain equipment or tools that cannot be replicated at home.
  • whether there is a need for face-to-face interaction and coordination of work with other employees.
  • whether in-person interaction with outside colleagues, clients, or customers is necessary.
  • whether the position in question requires the employee to have immediate access to documents or other information located only in the workplace.

Employers should not summarily deny a work at home disability request. They must engage in an "interactive process" with the employee to assess the reasonableness of the requested accommodation.