- American Security Insurance Company, a subsidiary of global risk manager Assurant, Inc., violated federal disability discrimination law when it fired an employee because of her diabetes, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit.
- After Stephens was allowed to work from home as an accommodation for her Type II diabetes, a company supervisor "constantly chastised" Donna Stephens, "criticized her performance without basis" and then fired her, the EEOC said.
- The alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which forbids employers from making employment decisions based on an employee's disability, the EEOC said.
Allowing an individual with a disability to work from home can be a reasonable accommodation, the EEOC notes on one of its factsheets. The ADA does not require an employer to give an employee an accommodation if it causes significant difficulty or expense.
In addition, telework beyond that provided to others can be a reasonable accommodation. The ADA's obligation for employers to provide a reasonable accommodation can include modifying workplace policies and might require an employer to waive telework eligibility requirements or provide other modifications to its telework program for someone with a disability who needs to work at home, the federal agency says.
The ADA favors an interactive process for deciding on an accommodation. To determine whether an employee needs to work from home, employers and employees should engage in the interactive process, discussing the request for telework and including, if needed, more information about the employee's medical condition. In some situations, the EEOC says, "working at home may be the only effective option for an employee with a disability."
But telework for an employee with a disability doesn't have to be a full-time option; it can be on an "as-needed basis." The EEOC says that for some people, telework as a reasonable accommodation may require only one day a week of telework, while another accommodation may require full-time telework for a limited period. The federal agency suggests that both the employer and the employee need to be flexible in working out a schedule so that the employer does not have to lower production standards for workers with a disability who are working at home.
Courts have agreed that telecommuting is a reasonable option. The 6th Circuit concluded that 10 weeks' remote work was a reasonable accommodation for an employer's in-house attorney following surgery. However, the same Circuit held a few years earlier that telecommuting wasn't a reasonable accommodation when regular and predictable on-site attendance was an essential function of the job.
Managers and supervisors are a leading cause of employment discrimination claims. Periodic compliance training on the applicable local, state and federal laws can prevent requests for accommodation from turning into expensive lawsuits.