Remote Work and the ADA: A New Horizon for Workplace Accommodations

Jul 14, 2023

"What is a workplace?" seems like an easy question, but with technology advancing quickly, it's not as simple as it used to be. Just a few years ago, a workplace usually meant an office, a shop, or a factory. But today, with a laptop and an internet connection, your workplace could be your home, a coffee shop, or anywhere else!

This shift toward remote work has made us think differently about how we work and what support employees may need. This is especially true for people with disabilities, who are protected by laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law requires employers to make reasonable changes, called "accommodations," to help employees with disabilities do their jobs.

In the past, people often thought of accommodations as physical changes, like adding a ramp for someone who uses a wheelchair. But as more of us work from home, some people are starting to wonder if working remotely might be a reasonable accommodation too.

This is a big change. Not long ago, courts didn't think that working from home was a reasonable accommodation. A case from 1995, Vande Zande v. Wisconsin Department of Administration, helped set this rule. In that case, a worker asked to work from home while she recovered from a medical condition, but the court decided that this wasn't a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The Court said “no jury could in our view be permitted to stretch the concept of reasonable accommodation so far” as to include telework.

However, even before the pandemic made many of us work from home, courts began to reconsider this idea. For instance, in a case called EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., the court said that the word "attendance" at work didn't always mean being physically present, thanks to technology like cellphones and email. And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, more people began working from home, making this idea even more common.

In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said that if an employer let employees work from home during the pandemic, that might mean that working from home is a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. A recent case, Mobley v. St. Luke's Health System, Inc., shows how courts are thinking about this issue. In that case, the court said that working from home might be a reasonable accommodation, especially for an employee who had already been working from home successfully.

But each case is unique, and what works for one person might not work for another. This is why it's crucial to talk with an experienced attorney if you think you need an accommodation to do your job. An attorney can help you understand how the law might apply to your situation. At Community Law Office, we’re experts in workplace accommodations under the ADA. If you feel you need an accommodation or have already been denied an accommodation, reach out at (319) 200-7050 to discuss your options.

As technology changes and more people work from home, the law is changing too. This can affect both workers and employers, and it's crucial to stay informed about these changes. The future of work is changing, and so are our ideas about what a reasonable accommodation might look like. The law must keep up with these changes, and so must we.

(Note: This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.)