Telecommuting has been under the microscope in recent years, with several companies making headlines for reversing policies that allowed employees to work remotely. Until recently, employers were not obligated to offer the option to telecommute, or work from home, as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). However, a recent decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit may have brought a change to the reasonable accommodation landscape.

In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) v. Ford Motor Company, the Sixth Circuit ruled that telecommuting may have been a viable reasonable accommodation for the employee involved in the case. The court noted that advances in technology have made telecommuting a more viable solution. 

Alert your clients that they may be required to grant some degree of telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation; neglecting to do so could expose them to legal action. Recommend they consult their disability carrier’s team for additional guidance and best practices.

The challenge: Accommodating an employee with a disability

Explain to your employer customers that allowing employees who are recovering from a disabling condition to telecommute part- or full-time can allow them return to their jobs sooner than expected. Incorporating this accommodation as part of a light-duty, temporary or gradual return-to-work plan can help them return to a sense of normalcy while recovering. In your meetings with clients, provide real-life examples of employees who have benefited from similar accommodations.

For example, a project manager underwent back surgery and, as result of telecommuting, was able to return to work two weeks sooner than anticipated. His normal job duties entailed frequent air travel, interspersed with working remotely. Following his back surgery, he was in extreme pain and unable to fly — but he was able to work from home during his recovery.

The solution: Consulting a disability carrier’s team

In this case, an on-site consultant coordinated with the project manager’s employer to allow him to telecommute. The project manager also was provided with an ergonomic chair and footrest to ease his discomfort. Because the employee worked from home as part of his recovery process, the company retained his skills and expertise because he was able to work through his medical condition.

Serve as a consultant to your customers by putting them in touch with their disability carrier’s team, who may identify an ideal solution for employees needing to work from home due to a disabling injury or illness. Among other areas of expertise, their carrier may be able to:

  • Perform ergonomic evaluations
  • Recommend devices that adapt to employees’ needs
  • Help the employer identify light-duty or temporary jobs that employees can do while they recover

Although working from home is not always an option, explain to your customers it should be a consideration, especially in light of the EEOC v. Ford Motor Company ruling. Plus, an added benefit is that it can foster goodwill among employees.

Sandy Johnson is a disability and productivity consultant with the Workplace Possibilities program at Standard Insurance Company. By meeting with employers and understanding their culture and needs, she matches on-site consultants with employers and oversees services that help injured and ill employees stay at work and return to work as soon as possible.

The Standard is a marketing name for StanCorp Financial Group, Inc. and subsidiaries. Insurance products are offered by Standard Insurance Company of Portland, Ore. in all states except New York, where insurance products are offered by The Standard Life Insurance Company of New York of White Plains, N.Y. Product features and availability vary by state and company, and are solely the responsibility of each subsidiary. Each company is solely responsible for its own financial condition. Standard Insurance Company is licensed to solicit insurance business in all states except New York. The Standard Life Insurance Company of New York is licensed to solicit insurance business in only the state of New York.

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