Telecommuting as a Reasonable Accommodation: A Framework for Decision-Making

Shelley A. Kaplan

Although it is a relatively new concept in the workplace, telecommuting, either full time, part time, or over short periods when the need arises, can be an important provision to employees with disabilities. Indeed, telecommuting may be the only form of accommodation that offers employees whose disabilities fluctuate a means to stay consistently and gainfully employed. Lacking consistent policies and procedures for evaluating a request for “flexible” telecommuting, however, a seemingly reasonable request can raise a host of problematic issues and misunderstandings.

This presentation describes one employer’s experience in considering a request for telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation for a particular employee and provides a framework to help employers when evaluating the use of telecommuting as a possible accommodation. It underscores the importance of applying a common business practice—implementation of consistent policies and procedures—when responding to requests for reasonable accommodation. Maintaining an atmosphere that facilitates ongoing discussion and exploration is also critical to finding an accommodation that is both reasonable and effective. Carefully identifying the essential and marginal functions of the job and establishing mutual agreements for accountability and responsibility as well as clearly defined consequences for failure to perform are also key. Drawing on real-life examples from one employer’s experience, this presentation provides a win/win framework for decision-making that facilitates open and ongoing communication between employer and employee.

Presentation Slides:
Slides 1-17
Slides 18-34

Shelley A. Kaplan, MS, CCC. is a Research Associate for the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA) at Georgia Institute of Technology. She is also the Principle Investigator / Project Director (PI/PD) for the Southeast Disability and Business Technical Assistance (DBTAC) a project located at CATEA. Ms. Kaplan is also the Co-Principle Investigator for the GRADE project funded by the U.S. Department’s Office on Postsecondary Education. Ms. Kaplan has authored two fully accessible web-based tutorials entitled, "Welcoming Customers with Disabilities to the One Stop Center" and "ADA Basics." This first course is a self-paced webcourse designed to help One-Stop Center employees develop a better understanding of accessibility and accommodation issues for customers with physical, sensory, psychiatric or cognitive disabilities. The latter course is an intensive 8-week training designed to build the capacity of Information Specialists working in the area of ADA implementation. Both courses were developed to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG) and the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards (Section 508).

Presentation from the 'Workplace Accommodations: State of the Science' conference, September 15-16, 2005, Atlanta, GA