The ADA & Remote Work
Updated: May 17, 2021
By Robert Turner
March 1, 2021
Employers have become intimately familiar with the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) since its enactment in 1990. In the fiscal year 2020, for example, the EEOC received 24,324 claims of disability discrimination. See https://www.eeoc.gov/statistics/americans disabilities-act-1990-ada-charges-charges-filed-eeoc-includes-concurrent. However, what employers may not be familiar with is the ADA’s impact on the work-from-home reality many are facing.
In the “pre-pandemic” case of Tchankpa v. Ascena Retail Group, Inc., the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals made clear that the ADA is meant to protect disabled workers – not provide incapable employees an avenue to hold their employer hostage.
The employee Plaintiff in Tchankpa claimed a shoulder injury required him to work remotely. The employer asked for medical documentation to substantiate that claim. However, that documentation showed that Tchankpa could work eight hours a day, five days a week, provided he was given breaks. Wanting to comply with the ADA’s mandates, Ascena offered Tchankpa flexible hours or a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation. Tchankpa refused and insisted that work-from-home was the only acceptable accommodations.
The Sixth Circuit disagreed and explained that the “ADA is not a weapon that employees can wield to pressure employers into granting unnecessary accommodations or reconfiguring their business operations.” As the Court elegantly explained, “the ADA shields disabled employees from discrimination—it does not permit carte blanche litigation.”
Tchankpa should remind employers that, while remote-work may be necessary for some in the post-COVID world, it is not always the only feasible accommodation.
Also, importantly, employers should keep in mind the ADA does not require employers to accommodate individuals by shifting an essential job function onto others. If an employee cannot perform his or her essential job functions – even remotely – an employer has no obligation to accommodate. Belasco v. Warrensville Heights City Sch. Dist., 634 F. App’x 507, 516 (6th Cir. 2015).
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