How to Handle Return to Work Accommodation Requests

An Influx of Accommodation Requests

As we see COVID-19 restrictions begin to fall off, and more regular functions resume, it’s only natural to see some of our workforce return to in-office work. Some employees, however have become accustomed to their new way of working and aren’t too keen to switch out their comfortable workspace for a more formal environment. Because of this, some workers are resisting and inundating HR with accommodation requests under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These requests must be handled on a case-by-case basis, even if the requested accommodations are all for continued remote work.

In normal times, these requests probably would have been made over an extended period of time, but now will be received all at once when a target date for reopening is set. This presents a significant problem for some employers as they are not currently set up to handle the new influx of accommodation requests all at once.

What Can Employers Do?

Employers should plan ahead for this situation, and get as many things as possible in place prior to their return to work date. Before requiring in-person attendance, share your policies with your employees well in advance to give your HR and legal teams sufficient time to process and assess all accommodation requests.

It is important for employers to evaluate each accommodation request on a case-by-case basis and to engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine whether a reasonable accommodation should be provided.

Evaluate requests based on factors such as:
  • The type of accommodation requested.
  • The job position.
  • The duration of the request.
  • Whether the requested accommodation would sufficiently mitigate a direct threat to the workplace.
  • Whether the requested accommodation would create an undue burden on the business.

The Most Important Part

Make sure to always DOCUMENT your conversations with employees about accommodations. This will be most important when the employer finds the accommodation request to be unreasonable and denies it.

When in doubt, make sure to stay consistent in your process, address every request individually & promptly, and document all conversations and actions taken.

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