Pattie Hunt Sinacole explains reasonable accommodation in the workplace

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Is remote work a reasonable accommodation?

Ask the Job Doc.

Q: I’ve read so much about remote, hybrid, and desktop services that I’m overwhelmed. Our employer offers hybrid, but I would like to be fully remote. I have a disability that makes it harder to get to the office. I can commute, but it’s much easier for me to work from home. I have a good setup in my home office. I have a private office, super WIFI, several computer screens, an ergonomic chair and calm! I feel like I get more done at home and save money and time by working from home. Should I apply for accommodation?

A: After March 2020, many employees have different expectations of where and when to work. Many businesses had to pivot quickly. Some companies have provided printers to employees working from home. Some companies sent laptops to employees who now had to work from home. Often, employees had to find a quiet place in their home to work, whether it was a spare bedroom or a corner of the basement. Additionally, many employees reported improved work-life balance. Employees avoided traffic jams and the freedom to walk a dog at lunchtime. There were also employers who were required to “enter the office”. Healthcare workers, first responders and some manufacturing employees had no choice but to report to their workplaces.

You raise an interesting question. Over the past few years, if you’ve been effective in your role working from home, why wouldn’t that be a reasonable accommodation? As you may know, there are laws (state and federal) that may apply to your situation. If these laws apply, it may be difficult for your employer to refuse this accommodation.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an employer to engage in an interactive dialogue with you to think about options that could allow you to be successful. For example, if you are visually impaired, your company may be required to provide you with a larger screen so that you can see the information on the screen. If you are being treated for a chronic condition, the ADA may require your employer to provide you with flexibility in your schedule to receive treatments. If you have a chronic back problem, an ergonomic chair may be an option. However, and this is a big one however, the mere fact that you request this accommodation, does not guarantee that this accommodation will be automatically granted to you. Your employer must assess whether the accommodation is reasonable and your employer may provide you with other options. One of the factors in the assessment of reasonable accommodation is “undue hardship”. An employer must consider the nature, cost, structure of the organization, among other factors.

In addition, your disability must “significantly limit a major life activity.” This life activity can be walking, hearing, standing, talking or many others.

I’ll review your employee handbook. There’s probably a section on reasonable accommodation or disability in the workplace. You may need to put your request in writing and send it to your supervisor or Human Resources. Your employer may request a meeting with you to brainstorm ideas and options. In your written request, you must ask to work from home and mention that you have all the necessary equipment as well as a private office. You must also include that you have successfully worked from home for more than 2 years. An argument made by some employers is that the company would struggle to create a culture when employees are working remotely. However, many employers are moving their employees to a permanent remote working mode. These employers include 3M, Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, SAP, Microsoft, and Dell Technologies.

Many employers will face this challenge after many have worked virtually over the past few years. Although I didn’t print it, it looks like you live and work in Massachusetts. Here is a link that may be useful –

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