Can an employer be sued for refusing to let an employee work from home?
An employee became sick at work and took two vacation days to see her doctor. She advised her employer that she was diagnosed with Obstructive Lung disease and her doctor recommended that she work from home and take frequent breaks while working. Her doctor wrote that she has limitations in major life activities interfering with her job performance, including frequent coughing episodes and shortness of breath with activity.
Due to COVID, employees only worked in the facility on a rotational basis, and worked from home four days per week. Working from home helped this employee in managing her condition. However, four months later, the employer required all of its staff to return back to working at the facility five days per week.
When this employee worked at the facility, she had close contact with many employees and often shared a desk with co-workers. She requested an ADA accommodation through Human Resources to Work From Home (WFH) two days per week with frequent breaks while working on-site. She requested the accommodation because her past and recent bouts with severe pulmonary disease made her a high-risk for contracting COVID-19.
The employer denied this employee’s WFH request but allowed other employees to WFH.
Two months later the employer terminated the employee, citing performance issues. The employee believed that she could perform all essential functions of her position with an accommodation.
The employee filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging disability discrimination. The EEOC agreed with the employee and found that the employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When the employer failed to conciliate (settle) the matter with the EEOC with terms that were agreeable to the EEOC, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against the employer on behalf of the employee. The lawsuit was filed on September 7, 2021 and the case is EEOC v. ISS Facility Services, Inc., N.D. Ga., No. 1:21-CV-3708-SCJ-RDC.
Employers should understand that the EEOC is pursuing discrimination claims where an employer refuses to allow an employee to work from home as a reasonable accommodation. These type of accommodation requests are on a case-by-case basis, but Florida employers should immediately contact an experienced employment attorney if they are contemplating terminating an employee who has requested to work from home due to COVID.
If you need any assistance in handling disability or religious accommodation requests involving COVID concerning your Florida business, please promptly email the Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. or call us at 1-772-465-5111.
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