According to the CDC, approximately 83% of people under 65 who have died from COVID-19 have had an underlying medical condition such as heart disease or diabetes. That puts people with certain disabilities at serious risk.
There are a lot of workers who suffer from disabilities that put them at greater risk from COVID-19. According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are at least 27 million workers under 65 who meet that definition in the U.S.
These people may need workplace accommodations to minimize their exposure to the pandemic. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to provide reasonable workplace accommodations unless doing so would cause undue hardship, which basically means significant difficulty and expense.
Is your company ready to provide these accommodations? If you have 15 or more employees, you should get ready to deal with more accommodation requests.
What accommodations may be required?
As of yet, there is little guidance from the courts on what accommodations may be considered reasonable. However, the EEOC says that reasonable accommodations are required by the ADA when:
- Employees have preexisting disabilities that put them at higher risk from COVID-19
- Employees have preexisting disabilities, such as anxiety or other mental health disorders, that make it more difficult to deal with the disruption of COVID-19
- Employees have disabilities that are exacerbated by the pandemic
The kinds of accommodations that may be required depend in large part on an interactive process between employer and employee. Setting up a reasonable accommodation is a negotiation between the parties, with the employee proposing an accommodation and the employer agreeing or countering with an offer of another accommodation that would also be effective. Therefore, it’s difficult to say precisely what accommodations you may be required to provide.
That said, common COVID-19 disability accommodations include:
- Allowing telework, where possible
- Requiring masks in the workplace
- Setting up one-way aisles to limit close contact between co-workers
- Creating barriers to the virus, such as plexiglass
- Modifying work schedules to reduce the number of people a worker comes into contact with
- Temporarily eliminating marginal job duties
- Following CDC guidance to reduce exposure
It is possible that employees who already have accommodations in place will need additional accommodations due to COVID-19.
During the process of setting up a reasonable accommodation, you can still engage in an interactive process and request information to verify the disability and need for the accommodation. Temporary accommodations can be made if there is urgency to providing the accommodation and the usual process will take longer. You should still engage in the normal interactive process, however.
If you have questions about reasonable accommodations, contact an experienced employment law attorney.