ADA | COVID-19 Employee Accommodation Requests

ADA-COVID-19-Employee-Accommodation-Requests

ADA

​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.

CDC 

​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).

How Should You Respond? 

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.

The employee is not required to use the specific words "reasonable accommodation." The employee or a third party — such as the employee's doctor — must request some kind of workplace change or adjustment and link that request to a medical condition.

After reviewing the request, you may request medical documentation to verify existence of a disability and whether a reasonable accommodation can be provided.

The EEOC encourages all parties to be flexible and consider options such as physical changes to the work environment, temporary reassignment of marginal job duties, temporary transfer to a different position, or modifying work schedules or shift assignment. Nevertheless, employers will not be required to provide an accommodation if it would cause an "undue hardship," which means "significant difficulty or expense."

Employees generally will not be able to refuse to return to the workplace based solely on fear of contracting COVID-19.

However, accommodations might be made for employees with preexisting mental health conditions exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. If the employee with a mental health condition requests an accommodation, employers should ask for medical documentation and discuss possible accommodations with the employee.

Employer Dos and Don'ts

  • Do not disclose to a disabled employee's coworkers why you are providing an accommodation to an employee.
  • Do not force employees to accept an accommodation because you believe the employee is in a high-risk category.
  • Do not ask an employee who has a medical condition whether he or she has an impairment and/or needs an accommodation. 
  • Do adopt a policy provided to all employees regarding the availability of accommodations for "at-risk" employees. Describe how an employee who seeks such an accommodation may do so and to whom that request should be directed. You should consider adopting such a policy even if you are already "reopened" for business. 
  • Do maintain documentation of any accommodation requests and your response.

Excelerator® HR professionals can help guide you with your employee accommodation requests. Please contact us for a free consultation.

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