Remote Work and the Future of Disability Accommodations

68 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2021 Last revised: 29 Oct 2021

See all articles by Arlene S. Kanter

Arlene S. Kanter

Syracuse University - College of Law

Date Written: July 1, 2021

Abstract

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was originally enacted in 1990 and amended in 2008, technology had not yet advanced to where it is today. Technologies that most people could not have imagined then are now not only commonplace but enabled millions of employees to work from home when the Covid-19 pandemic began. During the pandemic, more than half of the national labor force worked remotely. By all accounts, the number of remote workers will remain significantly higher even after the pandemic ends. This Article argues that people with disabilities should be among the beneficiaries of this new remote workplace culture.

For employees with disabilities, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities protects their right to accommodations in the workplace. In recent years, courts have been called upon to resolve disputes between employers and disabled employees regarding whether or not working from home is a “reasonable accommodation” under the ADA. An examination of the cases from nearly every federal circuit court of appeals over the last decade reveals that most courts rule in favor of employers. However, due to the increasing reliance on communication technologies brought about by the recent pandemic, this author argues that more courts may and should recognize remote work as an appropriate workplace accommodation for qualified employees. While it is true that not all employees—with or without disabilities—want to work from home, and not all jobs can be done remotely, increasing opportunities for remote work for disabled employees furthers the goal of the ADA to promote economic self-sufficiency of disabled people. It is also one way to challenge the ongoing and systemic ableism that exists within society and at many workplaces today. While discussions of the future of remote work have been a “hot topic” during the pandemic, this Article is the first to systemically review and analyze the state of remote work as a disability accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This Article incorporates doctrinal and social science evidence in support of the argument that given the current realities of the post-pandemic workplace, remote work is a reasonable accommodation for qualified disabled employees. The author proposes specific amendments to the applicable EEOC regulations which will clarify that remote work is a reasonable accommodation for qualified employees under Title I of the ADA. The Article concludes that the proposed amendments to the current regulations are necessary to re-envision remote work as the future of disability accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Suggested Citation

Kanter, Arlene S., Remote Work and the Future of Disability Accommodations (July 1, 2021). Cornell Law Review, Vol. 107, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3895798

Arlene S. Kanter (Contact Author)

Syracuse University - College of Law ( email )

Syracuse, NY 13244-1030
United States

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