Many employers have discovered the benefits of allowing employees to work at home through telework (also known as telecommuting) programs. Telework has allowed employers to attract and retain valuable workers by boosting employee morale and productivity. Technological advancements have also helped increase telework options.
In its 1999 Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (revised 10/17/02), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that allowing an individual with a disability to work at home may be a form of reasonable accommodation. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation for qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. Reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform a job, or gain equal access to the benefits and privileges of a job. The ADA does not require an employer to provide a specific accommodation if it causes undue hardship, i.e., significant difficulty or expense.
Not all persons with disabilities need – or want – to work at home. And not all jobs can be performed at home. But, allowing an employee to work at home may be a reasonable accommodation where the person’s disability prevents successfully performing the job on-site and the job, or parts of the job, can be performed at home without causing significant difficulty or expense.
This fact sheet explains the ways that employers may use existing telework programs or allow an individual to work at home as a reasonable accommodation.
Does the ADA require employers to have telework programs?
No. The ADA does not require an employer to offer a telework program to all employees. However, if an employer does offer telework, it must allow employees with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in such a program.
In addition, the ADA’s reasonable accommodation obligation, which includes modifying workplace policies, might require an employer to waive certain eligibility requirements or otherwise modify its telework program for someone with a disability who needs to work at home. For example, an employer may generally require that employees work at least one year before they are eligible to participate in a telework program. If a new employee needs to work at home because of a disability, and the job can be performed at home, then an employer may have to waive its one-year rule for this individual.
May permitting an employee to work at home be a reasonable accommodation, even if the employer has no telework program?
Yes. Changing the location where work is performed may fall under the ADA’s reasonable accommodation requirement of modifying workplace policies, even if the employer does not allow other employees to telework. However, an employer is not obligated to adopt an employee’s preferred or requested accommodation and may instead offer alternate accommodations as long as they would be effective. (See Question 6.)
How should an employer determine whether someone may need to work at home as a reasonable accommodation?
This determination should be made through a flexible “interactive process” between the employer and the individual. The process begins with a request. An individual must first inform the employer that s/he has a medical condition that requires some change in the way a job is performed. The individual does not need to use special words, such as “ADA” or “reasonable accommodation” to make this request, but must let the employer know that a medical condition interferes with his/her ability to do the job.
Then, the employer and the individual need to discuss the person’s request so that the employer understands why the disability might necessitate the individual working at home. The individual must explain what limitations from the disability make it difficult to do the job in the workplace, and how the job could still be performed from the employee’s home. The employer may request information about the individual’s medical condition (including reasonable documentation) if it is unclear whether it is a “disability” as defined by the ADA. The employer and employee may wish to discuss other types of accommodations that would allow the person to remain full-time in the workplace. However, in some situations, working at home may be the only effective option for an employee with a disability.
How should an employer determine whether a particular job can be performed at home?
An employer and employee first need to identify and review all of the essential job functions. The essential functions or duties are those tasks that are fundamental to performing a specific job. An employer does not have to remove any essential job duties to permit an employee to work at home. However, it may need to reassign some minor job duties or marginal functions (i.e., those that are not essential to the successful performance of a job) if they cannot be performed outside the workplace and they are the only obstacle to permitting an employee to work at home. If a marginal function needs to be reassigned, an employer may substitute another minor task that the employee with a disability could perform at home in order to keep employee workloads evenly distributed.
After determining what functions are essential, the employer and the individual with a disability should determine whether some or all of the functions can be performed at home. For some jobs, the essential duties can only be performed in the workplace. For example, food servers, cashiers, and truck drivers cannot perform their essential duties from home. But, in many other jobs some or all of the duties can be performed at home.
Several factors should be considered in determining the feasibility of working at home, including the employer’s ability to supervise the employee adequately and whether any duties require use of certain equipment or tools that cannot be replicated at home. Other critical considerations include 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; and whether the position in question requires the employee to have immediate access to documents or other information located only in the workplace. An employer should not, however, deny a request to work at home as a reasonable accommodation solely because a job involves some contact and coordination with other employees. Frequently, meetings can be conducted effectively by telephone and information can be exchanged quickly through e-mail.
If the employer determines that some job duties must be performed in the workplace, then the employer and employee need to decide whether working part-time at home and part-time in the workplace will meet both of their needs. For example, an employee may need to meet face-to-face with clients as part of a job, but other tasks may involve reviewing documents and writing reports. Clearly, the meetings must be done in the workplace, but the employee may be able to review documents and write reports from home.
How frequently may someone with a disability work at home as a reasonable accommodation?
An employee may work at home only to the extent that his/her disability necessitates it. For some people, that may mean one day a week, two half-days, or every day for a particular period of time (e.g., for three months while an employee recovers from treatment or surgery related to a disability). In other instances, the nature of a disability may make it difficult to predict precisely when it will be necessary for an employee to work at home. For example, sometimes the effects of a disability become particularly severe on a periodic but irregular basis. When these flare-ups occur, they sometimes prevent an individual from getting to the workplace. In these instances, an employee might need to work at home on an “as needed” basis, if this can be done without undue hardship.
As part of the interactive process, the employer should discuss with the individual whether the disability necessitates working at home full-time or part-time. (A few individuals may only be able to perform their jobs successfully by working at home full time.) If the disability necessitates working at home part-time, then the employer and employee should develop a schedule that meets both of their needs. Both the employer and the employee should be flexible in working out a schedule so that work is done in a timely way, since an employer does not have to lower production standards for individuals with disabilities who are working at home. The employer and employee also need to discuss how the employee will be supervised.
May an employer make accommodations that enable an employee to work full-time in the workplace rather than granting a request to work at home?
Yes, the employer may select any effective accommodation, even if it is not the one preferred by the employee. Reasonable accommodations include adjustments or changes to the workplace, such as: providing devices or modifying equipment, making workplaces accessible (e.g., installing a ramp), restructuring jobs, modifying work schedules and policies, and providing qualified readers or sign language interpreters. An employer can provide any of these types of reasonable accommodations, or a combination of them, to permit an employee to remain in the workplace. For example, an employee with a disability who needs to use paratransit asks to work at home because the paratransit schedule does not permit the employee to arrive before 10:00 a.m., two hours after the normal starting time. An employer may allow the employee to begin his or her eight-hour shift at 10:00 a.m., rather than granting the request to work at home, if this would work with the paratransit schedule.
How can employers and individuals with disabilities learn more about reasonable accommodation, including working at home?
Employers and individuals with disabilities wishing to learn more about working at home as a reasonable accommodation can contact the EEOC at (202) 663-4691 (voice) and (202) 663-7026 (TTY). General information about reasonable accommodation can be found on EEOC’s website, www.eeoc.gov/policy/guidance.html (Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act; revised 10/17/02). This website also provides guidances on many other aspects of the ADA.
The government-funded Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free service that offers employers and individuals ideas about effective accommodations. The counselors perform individualized searches for workplace accommodations based on a job’s functional requirements, the functional limitations of the individual, environmental factors, and other pertinent information. JAN can be reached at 1-800-526-7234 (voice or TDD); or at www.jan.wvu.edu/soar.