Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Answer: How is Covid-19 changing the standard of “reasonable accommodation?” Will I be able to keep working from home once Covid-19 is over? What will be the lasting effects on the workplace after Covid-19 is over?
During the Covid-19 outbreak the American and Global workplace has seen many setbacks and hardships. But at the same time, with Covid-19 forcing millions of Americans to work from home, we, as a country, have seen an extraordinary burst of resilience. That is who we are as a country, and as a people. Specifically, Ohioans have shown an extraordinary drive to keep businesses open and keep each other safe with social distancing. It is incredible to say the least.
The regular readers of our lawyers’ blog know that the Spitz law firm has been tracking the impact of Covid-19, and its impact on employment law for quite some time now. (see More Coronavirus (Covid-19) Tips For Employees, Coronavirus: What Will Happen At Work?; Our Handling Of The Coronavirus (Covid-19) Outbreak; Employment Law: Legislative COVID-19 Response; Coronavirus (Covid-19): Our Firm is Thinking of You and Your Families). If you think you have been wrongfully fired, call our attorneys now for a free wrongful termination consultation.
As a state, we can hope that after all of this, when we return to some sense of normalcy, that our resolve as a state to thrive will continue. Businesses have had to be more innovative than ever. Our employment lawyers have discussed the long-term implications of large scale work from home, this week. It seems inevitable that things in the workplace and work expectations will change after Covid-19. For example, many employers pre-Covid-19 refused to acknowledge or attempt to make telework a feasible option for employees. As we all know, Covid-19 has proved on a large scale, although it is not perfect, working from home is a viable option when push comes to shove.
For me, the wheels are always turning in our attorneys’ heads. How can employment condition changes caused by the Coronavirus epidemic to help our employee clients? How can our lawyers help people even better when this is over? One lasting effect that our employment law attorneys reasonably expect to happen is for employers to offer working from home as a reasonable accommodation for folks with disabilities.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), an employee who has a qualifying disability, may ask an employer for a “reasonable accommodation” in order for them to perform their job. (See My Job Is Discriminates Against Me Because I’m Disabled!; Top Disability Discrimination Lawyer: Is It Disability Discrimination If My Job Will Not Accommodate My Anti-Social Disorder?; and Is It Wrongful Termination To Fire Disabled Workers?). A reasonable accommodation can be many things. It could be modifying a facility to make it handicap accessible, it could be a modified work schedule, or getting different equipment to help with a job. Our lawyers cannot even tell you how many of our clients that the Spitz law firm has had in the past who suffer from anxiety, or depression, or just had surgery and need to recover but were denied the opportunity to work from home because the employer did not want to make it work.
Before Covid-19 our employment discrimination lawyers heard excuse after excuse as to why working from home was an “undue burden” to companies. After this pandemic is finished, our employment lawyers honestly do not see how many companies could argue that working from home would be an undue burden. An undue burden or undue hardship means that it would cost the company significant difficulty or expense in providing the particular accommodation.
After Covid-19 those arguments are gone. The shelter in place order from Governor DeWine proved that work from home on a massive scale is possible. And, at the same time, it completely destroyed conventional arguments against working from home as a reasonable accommodation.
Let’s look at some examples. For the first employee, let’s call him Jim, was diagnosed with cancer. Jim worked as an accountant and typically did all of his work on the computer. When he needed chemotherapy treatments, he requested a reasonable accommodation. He was still qualified to do his job, but because of the havoc the chemotherapy was taking on his body, he needed to work from the comfort of his home. When he asked his boss if he could work from home three days a week during his course of chemotherapy treatments, his boss said that he could not work from home because it would be “too disruptive to their workforce.” Ultimately, Jim was fired because it was too difficult for him to go into work every day of the week, maintain his work, and receive chemotherapy treatments.
In a post Covid-19 world, this seems like a completely unreasonable excuse to fire someone. Working from home takes practice and discipline, but good results are possible when working from home. If this happens now, our attorneys would jump on a failure to accommodate and wrongful termination claim.
The second hypothetical employee, let’s call her Sarah, has severe anxiety. She is a customer service agent and works in a call center. Sarah was in the process of asking for a reasonable accommodation but needed help. At the time, she was using intermittent Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) to cover appointments with her therapist and days when she could not leave her house due to anxiety. At the time, her work had a strict, “no work from home policy.” But now their entire call center is working remotely due to Covid-19. Sarah’s quality of life, like many others who have mental illnesses can greatly benefit after Covid-19 from working from home. Sarah’s boss denied her reasonable accommodation to work from home because, “it would be too costly to the employer to set up telework.” Because of Covid-19, many companies have invested in remote server systems and other business tools to make remote telework possible. It would be incredibly difficult for Sarah’s boss to argue post-Covid-19 that she could not be set up for telework, or that it would be too costly, since the infrastructure already exists because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The last example employee is Ben. Ben worked as a salesperson, but his company was not large enough to qualify for FMLA. Ben also has Crohn’s disease. Ben has debilitating flare ups that are completely out of his control. He does everything right, he takes medication, regulates his diet meticulously and works out regularly but he still has flare ups. When Ben has flare ups, he cannot leave his house. When he started his new job at a new company, his boss assured his that his Crohn’s would not be an issue and that they would work with him. But after his third flare up in one year- his boss suddenly changed his tune. Ben ran through all of his PTO time, and sick leave and was quickly out. Ben asked his boss if working from home during his flare ups would be a possibility. Ben said that he could still do every part of his job- make calls, reach out to clients, make pitches, from home. The only thing he would have to skip is in person meetings during one of his flare ups. Ben only had roughly one or two in-person meetings per week. For Ben’s boss, that was not good enough. He refused to let Ben work from home as a reasonable accommodation because the in-person meetings were an essential part of the job.
Obviously, in person meetings are important, but they are not everything. Also, Ben only had occasional flare ups. He was not asking to stop in person meetings completely, but only to postpone occasional meetings. If Ben were to make these same requests now, there would be no real way to deny working from home as a reasonable accommodation. There are so many meetings that can be conducted via video chat, Zoom, Teams, or phone call that employers once thought impossible. Of course, face to face interaction is best, but this outbreak has shown all of us that we can be innovative and still make the necessary connections that businesses depend on.
In the future, one we recover from Covid-19 and can return back to “normal” working from home will be a more viable option. Even after Covid-19 is eventually gone, our team of attorneys firmly believe working from home is here to stay.
Having to live with a disability is difficult enough without worrying about the effect it may have on your job. If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. The best option is not to wait. Call our office at 866-797-6040 to get help now. the Spitz law firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.
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