By Paula Morgan
For years, people with disabilities have been denied work from home (WFH) accommodations, with skeptical employers citing that WFH would decrease productivity, increase security risks, and cause undue hardship on an organization – the threshold that defines an accommodation as “unreasonable.”
But now, because the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the American workforce out of offices and into their homes, many American employers are finally realizing that WFH arrangements aren’t that disruptive after all. A multitude of employees have shown that they can still perform well while working remotely, and frequently that work can be quantified by sales or tasks completed.
For individuals with disabilities, the good news is that going forward, employers may have a hard time claiming undue hardship for the WFH accommodations that individuals with disabilities may request. The bad news, however, is we’re already seeing some misconceptions about reasonable accommodations related to the pandemic.
In the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) recently released guidelines for accommodations during the pandemic, one of the new orders allows employers to place an end date on accommodations that were provided as a result of the pandemic, including WFH policies. Under this rule, employers can choose to maintain the accommodation for an interim or trial period for the duration of statewide shutdowns.
The reasoning behind this decision is understandable. It recognizes that millions of businesses are suffering from a loss of income due to current economic pressures, and that because of this income loss, an accommodation that might have been previously considered reasonable may now pose undue hardship on an organization and need to be rescinded. Businesses lacking cash flow might struggle to financially provide necessary tools to a teleworker. This means an employer could be paying higher costs for workers to function at home vs. when they are in the office.
However, it’s worth noting that many employees with desk jobs don’t require expensive tools and resources. Also, individuals with disabilities need to know that the new EEOC rules do not allow an employer to reject any and all accommodations that cost money. An employer must still evaluate the cost of the accommodation, and provide an explanation about why the accommodation does or does not pose undue hardship on the business. Analysis has shown most employer accommodations carry a one-time cost of $500 or less, and 58% of accommodations come at no extra expense to employers.
In addition, employees and job candidates with disabilities are still protected under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Some states like New York and California offer even greater employment protections, and for individuals receiving federal disability benefits, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), free programs like Ticket to Work can pair job candidates with employers who are actively looking to recruit a workforce that better reflects America’s diversity.
The bottom line is that even with the potential for misconceptions about how the pandemic is shaping work from home efforts, individuals with disabilities have options.
Originally posted on Forbes