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How Remote Work will Affect Workplace Accommodations

Technology has enabled many employees at all levels to work anytime and anywhere. For some jobs, the ability to work is no longer dependent on being at a work place, and many employees can be just as productive in a living room as they are in a conference room.

For employers who didn’t have a remote work policy in place before the COVID-19 pandemic, this concept may difficult to conceive.  For some employers, work was location-dependent and employees had to either be physically present to be productive.

Many employers however, have implemented operating models that permit employees to perform their work at home. For some employees, the pandemic has blurred work-life boundaries. They need to continue to be productive in their role and maintain work-life balance. Some employers may be faced with determining what post COVID-19 looks like for their organization and their remote work policy. Employers will also have to establish the impact to their organization’s duty to accommodate remote work for employees who need it, provided the accommodation doesn’t result in undue hardship for the employer.

Employers are obligated to accommodate employees who require workplace accommodation. This could include working remotely, which for some employers would have caused significant disruption prior to the pandemic, but now may be an option. The fact that some employers have been able to pivot during the pandemic may create administrative (and potential legal) challenges for them as the state of pandemic lessens.

Redefining actively at work

Some organizations may not be able to rely on the need for traditional work in an office space to consider their workforce to be actively at work.  In fact, most group benefit plans define actively working as being able to perform all of the usual and customary duties of the occupation for the scheduled number of hours. It does not stipulate how the work is performed or if there is an essential place to perform the work. Instead, there is emphasis on the need for the tasks to be usual and customary specific to the organization in order to achieve the job.  Unless work is place-dependent on clients as opposed to employees, eligibility for actively at work may lend itself to the possibility of discrimination following the coronavirus outbreak. Some employers will now need to re-evaluate their ability to accommodate remote work requests when under normal circumstances such a request would have been declined. 

This new reality has inadvertently created an inclusive culture where employee needs, functional or otherwise, are being met and the work is still being done. The power of technology has accelerated digital business and changed the characteristics of work duties and tasks enabling them to be done remotely.

Jessica Gobran is the Director of Disability at People Corporation.
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