The ADA, COVID-19, and Common Questions from Employers About Reasonable Accommodations

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COVID-19 has caused employers to take a fresh look at the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in response to the nation’s first experience with a pandemic. Although many employees were able to work at home during the pandemic, millions were laid off to protect the health and welfare of both themselves and their communities. As states and employers begin opening up after the initial wave of COVID-19 recedes, many employees who were laid off are now returning to work.

Throughout the pandemic, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has been fielding numerous questions from employers about reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities during the COVID-19 health emergency. JAN provides compliance assistance and practical strategies for accommodating individuals with disabilities to employers.

Questions JAN received from employers followed common themes:

  • Must employers provide reasonable accommodations under the ADA in response to the pandemic coronavirus situation?
  • Who can receive reasonable accommodations under the ADA?
  • Can employers require disability-related documentation when an accommodation is requested under the ADA to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus?

Brush up on your own knowledge of the ADA and how it may impact employees as they continue, resume, or seek new employment by reviewing summaries of JAN’s response to these common employer questions.

Question

Question:
Must employers provide reasonable accommodations under the ADA in response to the pandemic coronavirus situation?

Answer

Short Answer:
Yes. When an employer receives a request for accommodation to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, an employer must consider this request under the ADA and engage in the interactive process to provide reasonable accommodations, barring undue hardship.

Question

Question:
Who can receive reasonable accommodations under the ADA?

Answer

Short Answer:
An individual must have an “actual” or a “record of” a disability, as defined by the ADA Amendments Act, to be eligible to receive workplace reasonable accommodations under the federal ADA. There must also be some connection between the impairment and specific need for accommodation. For example, the individual might have an underlying impairment and limitation that would lead to serious complications if the person were infected with coronavirus.

Caregivers of individuals with disabilities are not entitled to receive workplace reasonable accommodations under the federal ADA, but may be entitled to leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the recently passed federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Question

Question:
Can employers require disability-related documentation when an accommodation is requested under the ADA to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus?

Answer

Short Answer:
Employers have the right to request ADA documentation when asked to provide an accommodation. But, employers may want to consider whether this documentation is
necessary given possible the possible health risks of visiting a health care provider, as well as potential limited access to a health care provider.

Note that disability-related documentation is not required in order to approve an accommodation under the ADA, but employers may ask for information to establish the right to
receive an accommodation.

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