Question: Our employee has filed an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) request with her psychiatrist to work from home permanently. Do we have to accommodate her? She already has performance issues, and no one else on her team is a permanent remote employee.
Answer: Not necessarily, but you should engage in the interactive process to determine whether permanent work-from-home status is truly needed under the circumstances. Assuming she is actually disabled because of her psychiatric condition, you’ll need to assess whether working from home is a reasonable accommodation or would impose an undue burden on your operations.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has long taken the position that working from home can be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, but reasonableness depends on the circumstances. If on-site work isn’t essential to her position, the telework request may be reasonable. But even if an accommodation is reasonable, it can still be denied if it would amount to an undue hardship for an employer. Courts tend to be less protective of accommodation requests seeking indefinite remote work as opposed to remote work on a limited and defined basis.
Ultimately, to deny the request, you would need to show true undue hardship would result from permanent remote work. Making your case may be more difficult after the COVID-19 pandemic if she and similarly situated coworkers have worked effectively from home over the past year.
Based on the information provided, you should at least engage in the interactive dialogue with her to discuss the request. If she insists on the need for permanent telework, you may have to establish either (1) the job requires in-person performance as an essential job function, or (2) accommodating the permanent work-from-home request will cause an undue hardship. When facing a situation like this, we recommend you speak with experienced counsel before making a final determination.