EEOC Recommendations: COVID-19 Requests for Telework, Leave, or Job Modifications

EEOC Recommendations: COVID-19 Requests for Telework, Leave, or Job Modifications

On March 27, the EEOC hosted an informational webinar to respond to questions related to COVID-19. All answers consider the current regulations as of March 27. You can watch the webinar here. 

The laws from EEOC do not hinder the COVID-19 regulations from CDC nor state or local public health authorities. Employers should continue to keep up with CDC and local/state government regulations, as things are rapidly changing. 

Here is a summary of the EEOC’s webinar questions on handling COVID-19 related questions on telework, leave, or job modifications:

What are an employer’s ADA obligations when an employee says that he has a disability that puts him at greater risk of severe illness if he contracts COVID-19 and asks for reasonable accommodation? 

  • The CDC has provided a number of medical conditions, such as chronic lung conditions, as potentially putting individuals at higher risk. Therefore, this is clearly a request for reasonable modification (change in the workplace due to medical condition). Because the ADA would not require an accommodation where the employee has no disability, the employer may verify that an employee does have a disability, as well as verifying that the accommodation is needed because the particular disability may put the individual at higher risk. This would also be the case if an employee claims that an existing disability is exacerbated by the current situation. 
  • For employers seeking documentation from a health care provider to support the employee’s request, they should remember that because of the health crisis many doctors may have difficulty responding quickly. There may be other ways to verify the existence of the disability, such as a health insurance record or a prescription. While waiting for the documentation, the employer may want to provide the modification on a temporary basis. 

What if an employee says that they live in the same household with someone who is at greater risk due to a disability? 

  • The employee only has a right to reasonable accommodation due to his own disability. However, the employer should consider if it is treating the employee differently than other employees with a similar need before it responds to the request.

What practical considerations should employers and employees keep in mind about the interactive process in the current COVID-19 situation? 

  • The “interactive process” refers to how employers and employees discuss requests for accommodations. Some requests may need an employer’s prompt attention, should an employee be at higher risk. Employers may grant requests based on a temporary basis, while the discussion or documentation is pending. Everyone should be as flexible and creative as possible. 
  • For federal agencies, the current COVID-19 crisis constitutes a circumstance that can justify exceeding the normal timelines they must follow to respond to requests for reasonable accommodations. 

If a company requires all of its employees to telework, is the employer required to provide an employee with the same reasonable accommodations it provides in the workplace? 

  • The employer and employee should discuss what the employee needs and why, and discuss whether the same or a different accomodation could suffice in the home setting. If a teleworking policy is temporary or set for an unknown duration, some requests may not be feasible. If possible, providing interim accommodations would be appropriate. 

Once telework status is no longer necessary, does an employer have to grant a request to an employer with a disability who wants to continue working remotely? 

  • No. If there is no disability-limited limitation to provide teleworking options, then the employer does not have to grant that request.  

If you’d like legal counsel to ask questions about the crisis or to plan for your next steps as a business, schedule a consultation with us.