Coronavirus at Work: FAQs Around Disabilities

By Workplace Initiative Team

Updated March 23, 2020

During the coronavirus pandemic, you might be wondering how your HR team can approach the coronavirus and employees who may have disabilities. To support you, we’ve collected key resources from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and others.

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to the coronavirus?

Here are two important EEOC documents related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the workplace. Note that the EEOC has determined that the current pandemic meets the “direct threat” standard. Review these documents for detailed guidance.

How can my workplace make accommodations?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidance for employers on their website. They have specific advice for different sectors, such as health care providers and schools and daycare facilities.

At the recommendation of public officials, many offices have closed their physical locations, and employees are working remotely. Some remote work may require video calls, which can be a barrier for some employees with disabilities. Transcribing video calls can make them more accessible for all employees. Here’s a list of other work-from-home tools that include accessibility features, too.

Some requests to work from home because of coronavirus may be related to an employee’s disability. One example might be a disability that causes a person to be at higher risk of infection or serious complications from the virus. Another example might be a mental health condition.

In these cases, work to provide reasonable accommodations. The EEOC provides guidance around how to approach remote work as a reasonable accommodation. 

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What if the employee can’t do the job remotely? 

Sometimes, the “essential functions” of the job may be difficult to perform remotely.

In these cases, the employer should engage in what’s called an “interactive process.” That means working with the employee to see if there’s a reasonable accommodation that works for everyone.

A reasonable accommodation doesn’t have to be the specific accommodation requested by the employee, if there’s another accommodation that would work just as well. The EEOC has detailed guidance around accommodations.

As of March 23, the EEOC has said, “The rapid spread of COVID-19 has disrupted normal work routines and may have resulted in unexpected or increased requests for reasonable accommodation.” Review their fact sheet for more information.

What about school closings?

With schools closed across the United States, employees who have children might have extra childcare duties during work hours. This is especially hard on employees who have children with disabilities. For example, if the school was providing physical therapy, the employee might ask for time off so they can take the child to physical therapy themselves.

According to the Job Accommodation Network, the ADA only applies to employees and job applicants. That means the ADA doesn’t cover an employee on the basis of a family member’s disability.

However, there are a number of other laws that may apply. It’s important to be aware of the Family Medical Leave Act. There may also be other laws, including state laws, that come into play.

For more information about coronavirus at work, check out this coronavirus FAQ from our partner, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The coronavirus pandemic is a quickly changing current event. We’ll update this page as we have more information.