CoAdvantage- In a recent article about how to protect at-risk workers from COVID-19 while still complying with all applicable labor laws, we brought up the concept of “reasonable accommodation.” Because the idea of reasonable accommodation is so important in this situation, it’s worth exploring in more detail.
To start, what is reasonable accommodation?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor:
“Under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process. These modifications enable an individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity not only to get a job, but successfully perform their job tasks to the same extent as people without disabilities.”
With regard to COVID-19, some employees, especially those who belong to a high-risk group like the elderly or those with an underlying chronic health condition, may request some kind of accommodation to protect them from potential exposure. Employers are required to consider these accommodation requests just as they would any request from any other employee whose situation is governed by the ADA.
First, consider eligibility. Under the ADA, the employee must have a history or documented record of a disability. Age alone does not confer eligibility under the ADA, nor does ordinary pregnancy, though employers may choose at their discretion to treat them that way. Employers are not required to collect documentation of the disability but may choose to do so.
Then, determine if the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer. For example, would making the accommodation impose significant financial costs or create workplace disruption? Note, however, that if one accommodation would create an undue hardship, the law expects the employer to make a good faith effort to explore other potential reasonable accommodations. For example, if an employee can’t be removed from the workplace where they interact with colleagues and customers to reduce exposure to COVID-19 without significant work impacts, perhaps supplying them with additional protective measures would be possible.
For more reasonable accommodation information and ADA compliance with regards to COVID-19, review the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the ADA.
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