Compliance Showcase: Open/Agile Environments

DMEC Staff@Work

Open/Agile Workspaces: ADA Accommodation Challenges and Opportunities

By Marjory Robertson, JD

AVP and Senior Counsel
Sun Life Financial

As more employers implement “open” or “agile” work environments, this creates both challenges and opportunities in regard to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations.

On the one hand, open workspaces present challenges for employees due to factors such as additional noise, interruptions, and adverse reactions to lighting. Some of these issues can be solved using simple technology solutions such as white noise machines, noise cancelling headphones, and local lighting.

On the other hand, an agile work environment creates more opportunities to provide accommodations through work-from-home and flexible scheduling arrangements. These are supported by technologies such as videoconferencing cameras and network systems that facilitate work-from-home.

Some employees fully embrace this new collaborative workplace; however, others have challenges that can affect their health, including issues with increased noise and anxiety about loss of personal space and the loss of a physical “home” either in the form of a desk or office for personal belongings and documentation.

Some solutions are available that employers can use to address employee needs. For example, desk covers, shields, or specially-coated glass can be an effective accommodation to address adverse reactions to lighting. A number of potential accommodations can help alleviate the effects of increased office noise, such as noise-canceling headphones and “quiet” keyboards. Employers may also add soundproofing above ceiling tiles or use white-noise solutions such as stand-alone units or larger systems.

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