There are at least two circumstances when an employee is almost certainly not going to be able to get telework as a reasonable accommodation. There are few hard lines in ADA reasonable accommodations cases. But needing a security clearance or being required to handle mail and visitors means that full-time telework is likely to be an ‘undue burden.’
Agencies do have to make reasonable accommodations for known disabilities of employees. However, an agency is not required to provide a particular reasonable accommodation if it would be an ‘undue burden’ on the agency.
A Requirement for Admin Office Work is a Problem for Telework Accommodations
If the employee is expected to do work that requires him to be in the office, that probably is going to be a solid reason for denying reasonable accommodations. For example, reading mail and receiving visitors, or attending meetings with key stakeholders usually requires presence in the office.
The EEOC will look into the particular circumstances to see if physical presence is really required. But some jobs do require someone to be in the office to handle office at least some of the time. One of the key questions is whether someone else would have to do the job if telework were granted.
In a recent case, the EEOC found that an employee could not be granted telework under the ADA because of her duties in the office. She requested telework but had to be in the office for certain duties on certain days in a rotation. The EEOC found:
. . . Complainant claimed that she was denied her reasonable accommodation request to telework . . . . Complainant claimed that she could come in to the office during the mornings . . . to process mail and forward the office phones to her mobile phone, and then telework the rest of the office day. . . . Upon review, we find that allowing Complainant to telework as she requested constitutes an undue hardship since such action would compromise the efficiency of the office and result in [the supervisor] being overwhelmed with work without any [ ] support.Karry S. v. Department of Justice (ATF), EEOC Appeal No. 0120143245 (February 16, 2017).
Needing Access to Classified Information is a Big Barrier to Telework Accommodations
A second reason that an employee will not be able to telework from home is because the job requires access to classified information. Essentially, if you need a security clearance to do the essential functions of your job, then telework is probably not going to be a viable option.
The EEOC issued a decision in a recent case confirming that teleworking is not appropriate where the employee needs access to classified information. The EEOC held:
Complainant initially requested to telework or to work remotely. However, we find that this would not constitute a reasonable accommodation, because Complainant’s job duties required a secure environment to access sensitive information and because the [employees] needed to work in close proximity to each other, [ ] management, and [ ] Criminal Investigators.Ralph B. v. Dept. of Homeland Security (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), Agency, Appeal No. 0120182433 (January 23, 2020).
Short of these situations, though, the EEOC has said that telework can be a viable reasonable accommodation. Many agencies overlook the possibilities for overtime work because of pre-conceived notions about what work. Other times they believe that telework is precluded because of agency policy. The ADA is federal law and therefore trumps agency policy.
If you believe that telework would be an appropriate accommodation for you, an attorney can help you analyze your situation. Reasonable accommodations can be tricky, but with the right assistance many agencies are able to see the light.