My colleague, Gabe Jiran, (go read his impressive background here, I’ll wait) recently gave a presentation on telecommuting and I asked Gabe to share his thoughts on a notable topic that came up for discussion there.  Thus, in this post, Gabe discusses whether telecommuting could be a “reasonable accommodation.”

With today’s technology, employees seem to be able to work anywhere and at any time.

Often, the employee is simply trying to get work done whenever possible and to fit work into a busy schedule.

However, when does an employer have to allow an employee to work at home or “telecommute” due to a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)?

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (“EEOC”) has issued guidance on the subject.  And reading this guidance, it becomes pretty clear that, from the EEOC’s perspective, allowing an employee to telecommute is a reasonable accommodation even if your company does not have a telecommuting policy.

The key is determining whether telecommuting is reasonable under the circumstances.

Obviously, certain jobs do not lend themselves to telecommuting. For example, a truck driver cannot do his job remotely from home. However, many times the answer is not that clear.

According to the EEOC, employers need to consider several factors, including the ability to supervise the employee and whether any duties require the use of certain equipment or tools that cannot be replicated at home.

Other considerations include whether the employee’s job requires interaction and coordination of work with other employees, whether in-person interaction with clients or customers is necessary, and whether the employee must have immediate access to documents or other information located only in the workplace.

As with any analysis under the ADA, bright line rules are disfavored and employers need to make decisions on a case by case basis. The interactive process with employees is crucial in this situation, and you and your company should keep an open mind.

Even if you can’t have an employee telecommute on a full-time basis, you should consider part-time arrangements where possible.

In the end, your company has the ability to manage its employees and should therefore have a plan in place if it is going to allow telecommuting.

If you are interested in learning more about telecommuting, check out this link for a recent webinar on the topic: The Virtual Workforce: A Reality Check for Employers Dealing with Telecommuting Employees.