The term telecommute or telecommuting refers to the practice of employees working from a location other than the central office. In recent years, telecommuting or working from home has become more common as a consequence of the pandemic.
Beginning in the 1970s, advancements in technology allowed some people to do their work from home. As the internet and other telecommunication innovations have become more widespread, more and more people have been able to telecommute rather than drive to a physical workplace. Recent events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have also led to an increase in the number of people who work from home.
Telecommuting can bring both positive and negative aspects to a workplace for employers. On the positive end, issues of sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior, or discriminatory actions are easier to address due to the digital footprints they would leave, leading to quicker resolution of complaints. Additionally, employers who allow employees to telecommute can also save money on the costs of an office and all the associated utilities.
On the other hand, telecommuting can make keeping track of hours and overtime compensation difficult. Additionally, employees who make their home their workplace are also liable for OSHA violations that occur in their homes.
Employees benefit from telecommuting in small and large ways. On the one hand, there are the obvious physical benefits of employees not having to wake up as early, not having to pay for gas, and being able to make a comfortable work space in the confines of their own homes. There are also some intangible benefits to working from home, such as being able to take care of a number of smaller issues around the house on a break from monitoring food or pets to simply being able to change into a fresh set of clothes should something spill.
Telecommuting is an attractive option for many reasons, but it also has legal implications. For example, there are tax considerations when designating a space as a home office. The IRS does not allow all “home office” spaces to be tax deductible even if an employee uses the space for their office to telecommute.
While telecommuting can be an optional asset for any employer, it can also sometimes be employed as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under a 1999 enforcement guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers may be required to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees to telecommute for some or all of their working hours.
The EEOC guidance and the ADA cover most businesses with 15 or more employees. According to the guidance, even if companies do not have a policy for telecommuting, it may still be considered to be a reasonable accommodation to allow disabled employees to telecommute.
As with any other reasonable accommodations, the U.S. Department of Labor states that it should be decided through an “interactive process” between the employer and employee. In order to begin the process of acquiring the necessary accommodation, the employee must inform their employer that they have a medical condition that in some way interferes with their ability to perform their duties.
From there, the employer and employee can discuss why telecommuting may or may not be an option for the employee. Additionally, it will need to be determined that telecommuting is the best way to accommodate for the employee’s disability while not causing the employer any undue hardship. The employee may bring up reasons to allow telecommuting such as how their disability makes the job difficult in the workplace and how the employee could perform their duties from home. The employer may request additional information about the employee’s condition including reasonable medical documentation about the disability if it is not evident whether the condition is a disability as defined under the ADA.
If an employer and employee determine that the essential functions of a job can be performed from home and the employee does not have to remove any essential duties in order to work from home, the employer will need to provide the necessary materials for the employee to perform their task. This can include providing technology, materials, or proprietary information.
If an employer refuses to provide an accommodation to an employee with a disability as defined by the ADA, they may be liable for damages. Additionally, if an employer has a telecommuting policy that they exclude certain employees from on the basis of age, sex, national origin, or any other protected class, they may be liable for discrimination.
If you have been refused the opportunity to telecommute, whether due to a disability or other protected classification, you may be able to file a lawsuit in order to achieve justice. In order to file and prevail in your lawsuit, you will need the help of an Employment Law attorney.
An experienced Employment Law attorney can zealously advocate for you in order to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Employment Law attorney can collect and present evidence that demonstrates your arguments in the best light possible in order to secure the outcome to your case that you deserve.