Remote Work, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and the Law of Disability Accommodations

Throughout much of 2021, remote work has been a hot topic throughout many industries. Whether a company was extending remote work, ending remote work, or moving to a “hybrid” option, the decisions made by businesses big and small have been in the headlines. For some, returning to the office for 40 hours every week now represents not just an inconvenience, but a very real and possibly very severe health risk. For those people, an employer’s refusal of continued remote work may be more than just a business decision, it may represent illegal discrimination. If you’re a worker in that position, you should check with a knowledgeable Atlanta disability discrimination attorney about your legal options.

R.M. was one of those workers trying to balance work and health. In early March 2020, R.M.’s doctors diagnosed her with a type of chronic lung disorder. A few weeks later, once the pandemic hit with full force, R.M.’s job, that of a health & safety manager at a Newton County pharmaceutical facility, moved from in-person to fully remote.

By summertime, though, the manager’s employer required her and her coworkers to return to the facility. Returning to the physical worksite would mean, according to the manager’s lawsuit, being in “close contact” with many colleagues, including sharing a desk with some of them.

R.M.’s lung disease placed her at an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19 so, given her health and the nature of her job, R.M. asked for an accommodation: she wanted permission to work remotely two days per week and to take extra breaks during the days when she was on-site.

The employer rejected R.M.’s accommodation request and, shortly thereafter, fired her. Other health & safety managers, however, allegedly were allowed to work from home.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued on the manager’s behalf. The EEOC’s lawsuit asserts that the employer violated the law in multiple ways. First, the employer’s refusal represented an illegal failure to accommodate a qualifying disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the EEOC. Second, the employer’s decision to fire the woman shortly after she engaged in the protected activity of seeking a disability accommodation constituted illegal retaliation, according to the complaint.

Among other things, the EEOC sought “monetary damages for back pay, past and future pecuniary losses, inconvenience, emotional pain and suffering, and punitive damages” on the manager’s behalf.

Proof of Inconsistent Application of the Rules May Be a Huge Boon to Your Case

In a case like this, certain pieces of evidence can be particularly powerful. One of these can be proof of inconsistencies in the way your employer carried out its policies. It will be, for example, a lot harder for your employer to argue successfully that granting your request for a remote work accommodation would create an undue burden on it if that employer has already allowed your colleague who has the same job title and workplace duties to work remotely part of each week.

Of course, each lawsuit is unique and the keys to success may vary from case to case. To make you are optimally equipped for success in your discrimination action, look to the Atlanta disability discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our firm has successfully fought for countless workers with disabilities and we’re to get started on your behalf. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation regarding your circumstance.

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