Employers are required to consider an employee’s request to telecommute as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission argues.
In July, EEOC filed suit claiming an employer violated the ADA after an employee had unsuccessfully sought permission on three occasions to work from home.
The employee said she needed the option to avoid exposure to fragrances and odors in the workplace that aggravated her asthma and COPD.
The EEOC asserts that the employee’s supervisor rebuffed the requests to telecommute, even though the employee could have been able to perform her essential duties from home.
The commission’s argument is that by rejecting the request to telecommute without first conducting an individualized assessment of the accommodation, the employer had violated the ADA.
Attorney Ellison McCoy of the law firm of Jackson Lewis also warns that employers should not dismiss offhand employees’ claims that they are allergic to certain scents or substances in the workplace.
In addition, once an employee requests a telecommuting option, “employers must engage in a good faith ‘interactive process’ to determine if the accommodation is reasonable or if it creates an undue hardship on the employer,” he adds.
“If the employer ignores the request to telecommute and thus fails to engage in the required ‘interactive process,’ it runs a significant risk of liability for failure to accommodate,” McCoy explains.
On the other hand, he says, the employer who rejects the request to telecommute after engaging in a good-faith interactive process will be in a much more defensible position should litigation result.