Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many workforces to change their structure, people with disabilities were often met with resistance when accommodations to work from home were requested. However, when a global pandemic made employers rethink their office spaces, employers found out that productivity and expense were not as large of a problem as they had thought.
However, while the change to work from home has been positive for those with disabilities, there are some caveats to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s guidelines that employees need to be mindful of in this new normal.
EEOC Disability Accommodations In COVID-19 Era
As the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many traditional office jobs into a remote setting, the EEOC has developed accommodation guidelines. Such guidelines include:
- Employees with a disability may request reasonable accommodations that could offer protection from COVID-19 exposure in the workplace.
- Employees with certain pre-existing mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, may have more difficulty handling the disruptions caused by COVID-19. In order to provide accommodations, employers may ask questions about the disability.
- Employees are not entitled to accommodation in order to avoid exposing a family member who is at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition.
In addition, employers who have faced severe economic hardship can weigh accommodation requests based upon current financial status; however, this does not mean any accommodation that requires money will be denied–employers will need to consider low-to-no cost options for employees with disabilities.
In addition, if the accommodation proses undue hardship on the company because of cost, the employer must explain this. But employees need to be mindful that often, one-time cost or low-cost options exist.
Studies show that most employer accommodations can be as little as $500 or less, as 58% of accommodations come at no extra expense to companies.
While this widespread work from home culture is a good thing for many with disabilities, there are protections for employers, too.
Because of the changing dynamic of COVID-19, under EEOC guidelines, employers are permitted to place an end date on accommodations that resulted from the pandemic–including work from home policies.
Employers may decide to maintain the work from home set up, utilize a trial period, or follow state guidelines and mandates to make adjustments.
Though COVID-19 has caused uncertainty for disabled Americans, it is important to know that even during a global pandemic, you are protected from discrimination. Under federal and state laws, employees are still protected by the:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Rehabilitation Act
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
But if you believe your employer has used the novel coronavirus as a cover for disability discrimination, know that you don’t have to stand for it.
New York Employee Rights Advocate: Brown Kwon & Lam
If you have been a victim of disability discrimination under the guise of COVID-19, contact the New York employee rights attorneys of Brown Kwon & Lam today. We will investigate your claim and seek the justice you deserve.