Reasonable Accomodations at Work Due to COVID-19
This article was written by Texas Legal Services Center.
The information on this website is not a substitute for, and does not replace the advice or representation of, a licensed attorney. Legal information is not the same as legal advice, which is the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances.
Yes, you may request to work from home to avoid contact with others due to COVID-19. In fact, many Texans are already required to work from home under the “stay-at-home” orders issued by cities and counties across Texas. Most of the major cities in Texas, have all ordered that non-essential workplaces remain closed with employees working remotely, if possible, or not at all. You can click on this link to see whether your county or city has issued an order.
Essential businesses, which are those that are needed to maintain public health, safety and welfare or to continue the operations of critical infrastructure, may keep their workplaces open. Your employer should announce to you and all employees if it is considered an essential business and plans to remain open. The state of Texas has not yet issued a “stay-at-home” order but may do so soon. If that happens, it’s very likely that the state will also mandate that workplaces of non-essential businesses be closed.
If you work for an essential business you may be asked to go into the workplace. You always have the right to request to work from home, though your employer is not always required to grant it. Employers do have to provide reasonable accommodations to employees that need the accommodations because of a disability.
If you are asking to work from home as a reasonable accommodation for a disability, your employer has to work with you to figure out whether your request to work from home will be granted. The law, which is called the Americans with Disabilities Act, requires your employer to discuss your request with you in a process called the interactive process. Both you and your employer must engage in good faith to consider and discuss the particular set of circumstances and the possible accommodations. While each employee’s situation is different, every employer must discuss and consider a request for an accommodation due to a disability, and must grant accommodations that are reasonable and enable the employee to do his or her job.
As part of the process, you may be asked to provide information from your healthcare provider about your medical condition and the limitations or restrictions you have because of your medical condition. Employers are not allowed to ask for more medical or health information than they need in order to figure out whether to grant your accommodation request, though; so if you think your employer is asking for too much medical information, you should reach out to an attorney to discuss what information employers can and cannot ask for.
If you have a chronic health problem that makes you at higher risk for COVID-19, you have a right under the Americans with Disabilities Act to request to work from home as an accommodation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has made clear through its website that employees with disabilities that put them at high risk from complications of the pandemic may request to work from home as a reasonable accommodation to reduce their chances of infection.
This does not mean that your employer must grant the request. If your job cannot be performed at home (if you are a cashier, a cook, or a store manager, to name a few examples), your employer does not have to grant the request to work from home. In this case, you should consider requesting other accommodations that will help reduce the risk of infection such as masks, gloves, increased distance from co-workers, more frequent cleanings, different shifts, or hand sanitizer. These are examples of accommodations that employers should provide for employees with disabilities.
If your job can be performed from home, your employer should grant the request unless it imposes an undue hardship on the employer.
You have the right to request that your employer provide latex-free gloves. Unless it imposes an undue hardship on the business, your employer should provide latex-free gloves. You should be prepared for it to take some time, however, for the employer to be able to get the latex-free gloves, given the demand for protective gloves due to COVID-19.
Only employers with 15 or more employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. If you work for an employer with less than 15 employees, your employer is not required to provide any reasonable accommodations, including working from home.