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Is Telework a Reasonable Accommodation During COVID-19?

Is Telework a Reasonable Accommodation During COVID-19?

More and more teams are returning to the workplace. Yet with COVID-19 still spreading across the country, employees may request telework as a reasonable accommodation if they’re at higher risk of severe illness. Find out what you need to know about how working remotely applies to the ADA.


What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

Created by Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a reasonable accommodation is an adjustment to the hiring process, the way a job is done, or the workplace environment to enable a qualified person with a disability to perform the essential functions of the role. 

Accommodations are considered reasonable if they don’t create a threat or undue hardship. In general, reasonable accommodations can include: 

  • Installing a ramp or modifying the layout of a workspace
  • Providing a reserved parking spot closer to a worksite’s entrance 
  • Permitting service animals on a worksite’s premises


Is Telework a Reasonable Accommodation During COVID-19?

According to an article published by SHRM, the ADA may entitle workers to telecommute as a reasonable accommodation if they have an underlying impairment that puts them at higher risk for severe illness from the coronavirus. The article states that the accommodation doesn’t necessarily have to be permanent, especially once a vaccine is developed and available. 

In other words, if the essential tasks for a role can be done from home, telework can be considered a reasonable accommodation for qualified workers. However, if not, SHRM states that “employers might consider going beyond what the ADA requires” and reassign the employee or temporarily adjust their essential job functions during the telework period. 

Likewise, in guidelines issued by the EEOC, other reasonable accommodations to reduce an employee’s exposure to COVID-19 can include: 

  1. Restructuring marginal job duties
  2. Temporary transfers to a new position
  3. Modifying a work schedule or shift assignment

Importantly, employers are permitted to request medical documentation or ask questions during the pandemic to determine if an employee has a disability as defined by the ADA. The EEOC is explicit that this provision only applies if the disability is not obvious or already known.


What is an Underlying Medical Condition for Severe Illness from COVID-19?

The CDC states the following underlying conditions put people at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19: 

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease 
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Immunocompromised state from a solid organ transplant
  • Obesity 
  • Serious heart conditions (heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies)
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes 

Other conditions might contribute to an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including asthma, pregnancy, and cystic fibrosis (the full list can be found at But because the coronavirus is new, limited data is available to determine the true impact of these other conditions.


Other Important Notes HR Should Know About Reasonable Accommodations During COVID-19

Remember that the ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees and protects workers from retaliation by employers. Retaliation can take place in many forms, including: 

  • Suspension
  • Failure to promote
  • Demotion 
  • Pay cut 
  • Disciplinary action

Telework as a reasonable accommodation has its limits. For example, a person without a disability isn’t entitled by the ADA to work from home as a reasonable accommodation if they’re protecting a family member with a disability who may be at higher risk of COVID-10 illness. 

As mentioned above, the EEOC also indicates that employers are not required “to provide a particular reasonable accommodation if it poses an undue hardship,” meaning it’s significantly difficult or expensive to implement. Examples of undue hardship include conducting a needs assessment, acquiring difficult-to-find items, providing temporary assignments to employees, removing marginal functions, or hiring temporary staff for specialized positions.

COVID-19 Return to Work Readiness Checklist

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