According to the lawsuit, the employee, who has chronic obstructive lung disease and other physical impairments, worked as a Health, Safety & Environmental Quality Manager at a company facility. Beginning in March 2020 and through June 1, 2020, the Company required all of its employees to work remotely four days per week due to the COVID-19. Beginning June 1, 2020, the Company required all employees to return to working five days per week. The employee then requested an accommodation to work from home two days per week and to take frequent breaks while working onsite due to her pulmonary condition, which made her high-risk for contracting COVID-19. Although the Company allowed others in the same position to work from home, it denied the employee’s request and, shortly thereafter, fired her.
Generally, an employer is not required to provide an employee with the specific accommodation requested, but may offer alternative accommodations, so long as the accommodation provided is effective, which should be discussed during the ADA interactive process to determine whether there are alternatives to, for example, working from home, e.g., proper social distancing. Unless a job indisputably cannot be performed at home, employers should engage in the the interactive process to determine whether working from home is a reasonable accommodation that does not pose undue hardship on the operations, and whether any alternative accommodations would be effective.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already demonstrated in many instances that certain positions not previously seen as remote positions can be effectively performed at home, creating a renewed focus on and need to reassess the reasonableness of such requests for an accommodation.