Q: I have read so much information about remote, hybrid, in-office, I am overwhelmed. Our employer is offering hybrid, but I would like to be fully remote. I have a disability which makes it more of a challenge to travel to the office. I can commute, but it is far easier for me to work at home. I have a good set-up in my home office. I have a private office, great WIFI, several computer screens, an ergonomic chair and the quiet! I feel like I get more done at home, and I save money and time by working from home. Should I be requesting an accommodation?
A: After March, 2020, many employees have different expectations about where and when to work. Many companies had to pivot quickly. Some businesses provided printers to employees working from home. Some businesses sent laptops to employees who were now expected to work from home. Often employees had to find a quiet spot in their home to work, whether it be a spare bedroom or a corner of a basement. Additionally, many employees reported an improved work-life balance. Employees avoided traffic jams and the freedom to walk a dog at lunch time. There were also employers who were required to “go into the office.” Health care workers, first responders and some manufacturing employees had no choice, but to report to their workplaces.
You raise an interesting question. Over the past few years, if you were effective in your role working from home, why wouldn’t that be a reasonable accommodation? As you may know, there are laws (both state and federal) which may apply to your situation. If these laws apply, if may be difficult for your employer to deny this accommodation.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an employer to enter into an interactive dialogue with you to brainstorm options which could make you successful. For example, if you have a visual disability, your company may be required to provide you with a larger screen so that you are able to view the information on the screen. If you are being treated for a chronic condition, the ADA may require your employer to offer you some flexibility in your schedule to receive treatments. If you have a chronic back issue, an ergonomic chair may be an option. However, and this is a big however, simply because you request this accommodation, does not guarantee that this accommodation will be automatically granted. Your employer must assess if the accommodation is reasonable and your employer may offer other options to you. One of the factors in assessing a reasonable accommodation is “undue hardship.” An employer must consider the nature, cost, the structure of the organization, among other factors.
Additionally, your disability must “substantially limit a major life activity.” This life activity could be walking, hearing, standing, speaking or several others.
I would review your employee handbook. There is likely a section on reasonable accommodations or disabilities in the workplace. You may be required to put your request in writing and send it to your supervisor or Human Resources. Your employer may request a meeting with you to brainstorm ideas and options. In your written request, you should ask to work from home, and mention that you have all the necessary equipment as well as a private office. You should also include that you have worked from home for 2 plus years successfully. One argument that some employer present is that the company would struggle with building a culture, when employees work remotely. However, many employers are moving their employees to a permanently remote work arrangement. These employers include 3M, Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, SAP, Microsoft and Dell Technologies.
Many employers will be facing this challenge after many worked virtually for the past few years. Although I didn’t print it, it appears that you live and work in Massachusetts. Here is a link which may be helpful – https://www.mass.gov/service-details/disability-discrimination-in-the-workplace
Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.