Training Opportunities

Manager Minute – Managing requests for reasonable accommodations due to COVID-19
June 1, 2020

Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance assistance and practical strategies for accommodating individuals with disabilities during this pandemic public health situation.

JAN can be a helpful resource in addition to HSC’s Campus HR team when navigating requests for reasonable accommodations from employees.

In response to current events, the following questions address only a few ADA and accommodation issues for which employers may need guidance.

As a supervisor, if you receive any requests for accommodations in the workplace as a result of a medical condition, please contact your Campus HR representative before implementing the accommodation. Your Campus HR rep will ensure all steps in the interactive process are completed. A link to the full article is at the end of this Daily News post.

Must employers provide reasonable accommodations under the ADA in response to the pandemic coronavirus situation?

Yes. JAN is hearing from many employers who are inquiring about their responsibilities under the ADA to accommodate employees who have concerns about exposure to the coronavirus. Generally, these questions have centered around individuals who may be at higher risk for developing complications associated with the coronavirus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this includes older adults and individuals who have serious chronic medical conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, and compromised immunity. This means that when an employer receives a request for accommodation to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, an employer must consider this request under the ADA and engage in the interactive process to provide reasonable accommodations, barring undue hardship.

To illustrate this further, consider the following scenario: Parker has cardiovascular disease and diabetes. He works in a highly populated, open workspace and has requested that he be permitted to work at home during this public health situation, due to the risk of exposure to co-workers and the public who may exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus, or who are carriers of the disease. This is a request for accommodation under the ADA and the employer should engage in the interactive process.

The EEOC notes that employees with disabilities may request reasonable accommodations in response to the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. For example, this guidance states that employees with disabilities that put them at high risk for complications may request telework as a reasonable accommodation to reduce their chances of infection during a pandemic.

Who can receive reasonable accommodations under the ADA?

To be eligible to receive workplace reasonable accommodations under the federal ADA, an individual must have an “actual” or a “record of” a disability, as defined by the ADA Amendments Act. Also, there must be some connection between the impairment and specific need for accommodation.

For example, the individual might have an underlying impairment and limitation that, if infected with coronavirus, would lead to serious complications. There is no comprehensive list of such impairments, but individuals with heart disease, diabetes, lung disease or asthma, a weakened immune system, kidney disease, cirrhosis, etc. are considered at higher risk for developing serious complications, according to the CDC. Coronavirus alone may not be considered a disability under the ADA, due to the illness being transitory and having limited impact on major life activities in ordinary circumstances.

People 65 years and older and women who are pregnant are also at higher risk for developing complications from coronavirus but will not qualify to receive accommodations under the ADA solely on the basis of age or ordinary pregnancy. Employers receiving accommodation requests from employees in these higher risk groups will need to consider their responsibilities under state and local requirements, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements.

Caregivers of individuals with disabilities are not entitled to receive workplace reasonable accommodations under the federal ADA but may be entitled to leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the recently passed federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. For example, if a caregiver’s child, spouse, or parent has coronavirus, it’s possible that the FMLA could apply if leave is needed to care for that family member, or because the caregiver has coronavirus.

Keep in mind, in response to the current coronavirus pandemic, employers are making adjustments in the way many people work, including adjustments for people who have no risk of exposure due to a medical reason. Remember, employers have the discretion to make workplace modifications that will benefit employees, public health, and our country.

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