Work from Home and Disability Discrimination Claims
September 27, 2021
By: Frank Harty
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it has commenced its first pandemic-related disability discrimination suit based on the refusal to allow a plaintiff to work remotely as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This is the first of what is predicted to be a rash of claims brought by plaintiffs who want to work remotely on a permanent basis as an accommodation under the ADA. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, EEOC v. ISS Facility Services, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:21-cv-3708-SCJ-RDC).
The Commission filed action against a Danish facilities management company with U.S. headquarters based in Texas. The suit claims the plaintiff was unlawfully denied remote work as an accommodation for her disability. It also alleges that the plaintiff was fired for requesting the accommodation.
In a press release, an EEOC regional attorney stated “the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities to ensure those with disabilities have an equal opportunity to work to their full ability.” The petition alleged that the company failed to accommodate the plaintiff’s pulmonary condition that placed her at greater risk if she were to contract COVID-19. The suit alleges the company refused to allow the plaintiff to work from home despite the fact that co-workers in the same position were allowed to work remotely.
Employers have been reminded since the onset of the pandemic that allowing or requiring remote work would increase the risk associated with work-from-home requests for accommodations under disability discrimination laws. Prudent employers have been careful to inform employees that working from home would only be allowed as a temporary response to the pandemic. Careful employers also adopted comprehensive work-from-home policies to be applied when an employee requested remote work as a permanent accommodation for an alleged disability. We will continue to monitor developments in this dynamic area of the law.