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Is Remote Work A Reasonable Accommodation?

As U.S. cases of COVID-19 continue to fall, a large number of companies are trying to adjust ‘back to normal.’ However, a debate has sprung up about the issue of remote work – having the option has proved beneficial for disabled workers in particular, and many fear that it will disappear upon a “return to normal” even though it can be a reasonable accommodation for many workers. Recently, a former school district employee filed a complaint against the Beaufort County School District, alleging that he was denied the reasonable accommodation of working from home. The outcome of the complaint remains to be seen.

“Resigned” vs “Forced to Resign”

In late May 2021, the former employee filed a charge with the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (HAC), alleging that he was discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, and disabilty. Before the start of the 2020-21 school year, the employee, who has “moderately severe” asthma as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was granted permission to work remotely, along with approximately 165 of his coworkers.

However, this accommodation expired in January, and was not renewed for him, despite being renewed for similarly situated, non-disabled workers (approximately 125 of them). The employee used all his unpaid leave available under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in order to avoid having to be physically present in the elementary school building where he worked, and then “left the district” on February 1 when it ran out. The district alleges that he resigned, while the employee maintains he was forced out due to lack of accommodations.

Is It An Undue Burden?

The South Carolina Human Affairs Law largely follows federal antidiscrimination law. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) states that an employer is required to offer reasonable accommodations to a disabled worker unless the accommodation would be an undue burden – generally, if it would be particularly difficult or expensive to implement. Studies have shown that remote workers are often more productive than those stuck in the office, but the issue requires further study before definitive findings can be established.

It is reasonable to state that at least in most industries, remote work would likely not be seen as an undue burden, as long as an employer can keep a certain measure of control over their employee. However, every case differs, and if the complaint against Beaufort County’s school district eventually goes to trial, the burden of proof will be on the employer to argue that remote work was too burdensome for them to permit in this case.

Contact A South Carolina Employment Discrimination Attorney

While the ultimate outcome of the employee’s complaint has yet to be determined as of this writing, it is important to understand that the idea of a ‘reasonable accommodation’ will differ from case to case, and in yours, it may be appropriate. Calling a South Carolina employment discrimination attorney from the firm of Hitchcock & Potts may be your first step to the accommodations you deserve. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has many years’ experience in these cases, and is ready to try and help you with yours. Call the offices today to schedule a consultation.

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