COVID-19’s Permanent Impact on the Workplace
By Marjory Robertson, Esq.
AVP and Senior Counsel
Sun Life U.S.
As we start to see the potential to bring COVID-19 under control through vaccinations and other control measures, let’s reflect on how COVID-19 has changed the workplace, in some ways permanently.
Telework Is Here to Stay
The COVID-19 pandemic has made teleworking mainstream for millions of work-from-home (WFH) employees and employers in the United States. Skeptical employees believed they could not be productive outside an office, and many managers harbored suspicions that teleworkers slack off. Both have been mutually forced to expand their horizons.
Many jobs can be performed very well remotely, which has disrupted societal and legal perceptions of telework. Before the pandemic, many employers argued in Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) court cases that working in the office is an essential job function. Courts often embraced this without requiring evidence. A number of prominent jurists regularly commented that “every job” requires on-site attendance in the office. We now know that simply isn’t true.
In summer 2020, anxious employers asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if they must allow employees to continue working from home once the pandemic is over. The EEOC guidance says that if an employer relieved an employee of an essential office-based job function to allow that employee to work from home due to the pandemic, the employer can again require the employee to perform that essential function and, accordingly, require that they return to the office once the pandemic is over.
However, the EEOC also stated that if an employee has been successfully performing all of the essential job functions from home during the pandemic, this is very relevant in evaluating whether telework is a reasonable accommodation. Employers take note; teleworking may become a mainstay ADA accommodation.
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