I read on the U.S. Department of Labor website that unions help employees improve the workplace with “enhancements” such as “flexible scheduling, protections against harassment and safer working conditions – that improve the quality of jobs and workers’ well-being.”
However, a union non-profit that touts itself as a provider of help to workers with health problems allegedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against an employee based on her disability, breast cancer.
Now, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing!
Do as I say, not as I do?
According to the EEOC press release, the employer shunned the request to telework from a 10-year employee undergoing radiation treatments for cancer:
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, after [the employer] required its employees to return to in-person work after a long period of COVID-related telework, it denied the employee’s ADA accommodation request to remain on telework for several months while she was undergoing radiation treatments and was immunosuppressed. After being required to return to the office, the employee was repeatedly left off staff emails notifying personnel of COVID-19 exposures, despite her requests to be notified. The employee, who had been with [the employer] for nearly a decade, was finally forced to resign because of the risk to her health, the EEOC alleged.
According to the complaint, the employer never discussed the employee’s accommodation request with her or sought additional information from her or her oncologist about her requested accommodation. Instead, it flatly denied the request.
The press release touts that “the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability. It requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations if doing so would not pose an undue hardship,” which may mean “complying with the temporary medical restrictions of employees who are receiving ongoing treatments for serious medical conditions.”
As a general rule, the ADA does not require employers to have a telework program. Conversely, employers can have an in-person attendance policy for legitimate reasons supporting the business.
But anytime an employee requests a telework accommodation, the employer must discuss that person’s request with them in good faith — rather than dismiss it out of hand — to understand at least why the disability might necessitate the individual working at home and how long the employee may need the accommodation.
The ADA does not require an employer to permanently relax one or more essential functions of the job. However, a temporary multi-month telework request may be reasonable, especially if the employee has a history of teleworking and successfully performing her job remotely.