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Volume 107, Issue 7

Article

Remote Work and the Future of Disability Accommodations

Arlene S. Kanter, Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence (2005–07), Syracuse University; Bond, Schoeneck and King Distinguished Professor of Law (2011–13); Director, Disability Law and Policy Program; Director, International Programs, Syracuse University College of Law

1 Nov 2022

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was originally enacted in 1990, and later amended in 2008, technology had not yet advanced to where it is today. In the past decade, sophisticated computer applications and programs have become commonplace. These advances in technology, have enabled millions of employees to work from home since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. During the pandemic, more than half of the national labor force worked remotely. By most estimates, a significant percentage of the workforce will continue to work remotely, at least part time, even after the pandemic ends. This Article argues that people with disabilities, like their nondisabled colleagues, should enjoy the benefits of our new remote workplace culture.

For employees with disabilities, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) protects their right to accommodations in the workplace. Over the years, courts have been called upon to resolve disputes between disabled employees and their employers regarding whether or not an employee’s request to work remotely is a “reasonable accommodation” under Title I. An examination of the cases from every federal circuit court of appeals over the last decade reveals that most courts rule in favor of employers. However, due to recent changes in the workplace as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, including greater reliance on communication technologies, the author argues that more courts should recognize remote work as a reasonable workplace accommodation for qualified employees. While it is true that not all employees—with or without disabilities—want to work from home, and not all jobs can be done remotely, increasing opportunities for remote work as a reasonable accommodation furthers the goal of the ADA to promote employment and economic self-sufficiency of disabled people. Remote work opportunities also may challenge the ongoing and systemic ableism that exists within many workplaces today. Further, while discussions of the future of remote work have been a “hot topic” during the pandemic, this Article is the first to systemically review and analyze the state of remote work as a disability accommodation under the ADA. This Article incorporates legal analysis and social science evidence in support of its argument for remote work as a reasonable accommodation. This Article concludes with recommendations for changes to the applicable EEOC regulations which would clarify that remote work or “telework,” the term used in the current regulations, is a reasonable accommodation for qualified employees under Title I of the ADA. Such changes are necessary to re-envision remote work as the future of disability accommodations under the ADA.

To read this article, please click here: Remote Work and the Future of Disability Accommodations.

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