The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (which include the requirement for reasonable accommodation and non-discrimination based on disability, and rules about employer medical examinations and inquiries), continue to apply during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they do not interfere with or prevent employers from following the guidelines and recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or state and local health authorities.
The ADA states that an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability unless the accommodation causes undue hardship.
The EEOC, which enforces the ADA in the workplace, has advised that it is unclear whether COVID-19 is or could be a disability under the ADA as the virus is new and much is still unknown.
That said, the ADA's reasonable accommodation requirement is playing a role in workplaces navigating COVID-19's impact.
In its COVID-19 guidance, the EEOC notes that persons with certain impairments are at greater risk from COVID-19 and, as a result, may be entitled to an accommodation.
A report from the CDC underscores the importance of accommodations. Individuals with underlying medical impairments such as heart disease and diabetes were hospitalized at six times the rate of, and died 12 times as often as, otherwise healthy individuals. The CDC identified several medical conditions that might place individuals at higher risk, including serious heart disease, diabetes, asthma, kidney disease, hemoglobin disorders, liver disease, severe obesity and immune compromised (including cancer treatments, HIV and immune deficiencies).
You should anticipate employee accommodation requests from people who have not previously indicated an underlying medical condition — conditions for which no prior accommodation was needed.Your duty to provide a reasonable accommodation is not triggered unless the employee requests it.
Excelerator® HR professionals can help guide you with your employee accommodation requests. Please contact us for a free consultation.