Last month, the EEOC filed a first of its kind lawsuit in federal court in Georgia based on an employer’s denial of an accommodation request to work from home. In the suit, the employee, a former health and safety manager at a facility services company, alleged that at the start of the pandemic, she requested to work from home as an accommodation for her chronic obstructive lung disease and hypertension. Shortly after her request, the company directed its employees to work from home four days per week. In June 2020, the company required that all staff to return to in-person work at the facility five days per week.
The health and safety manager renewed her request to work from home two days a week as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act due to a heart condition she claimed increased her COVID-19 risk. Her employer denied her accommodation request despite allowing other employees to continue to work from home. One month later, the employer terminated her for performance-based reasons. The employer has not yet filed its response and we will continue to monitor the matter for further developments.
This lawsuit demonstrates the importance to carefully evaluate remote work requests. Because many workplaces have operated effectively under remote arrangements, an employer must be able to demonstrate that continued remote work will create an undue burden for operations to deny a request. Employers are reminded to:
- Review job descriptions, update them to be consistent with actual job duties and be certain they include reference to in-person requirements.
- Engage in a thorough interactive process with an employee requesting a remote work accommodation for a disability related to COVID-19.
- Handle remote requests in a consistent manner and based on legitimate business reasons.
- Terminate employment for legitimate performance and conduct reasons that are well documented.
While this case is in the initial stages of litigation, it highlights the EEOC’s position that an employer’s denial of remote work accommodation requests will receive greater scrutiny, especially if the employee was previously permitted to work remotely.