Q. One of our employees requested that we accommodate his health condition by allowing him to occasionally work from home. We are concerned that this arrangement will cause his colleagues to become disgruntled. May we deny the request for this reason? If not, what information may we share with the employee’s colleagues so that they are more understanding of the situation?
A. There are certain jobs where the essential duties can be performed only in the workplace (e.g., custodians, cashiers and wait staff), and it would be unreasonable to allow work-from-home arrangements for those positions. However, for some other jobs, essential job functions might be effectively performed from home, and consideration should be given to determine whether working from home is a reasonable accommodation.
If the employee can perform his essential duties outside the workplace, the request may be a reasonable one, and the company may not deny the request out of fear that the accommodation will upset other employees.
Additionally, the company may not disclose the reasons it is allowing the employee to work from home unless the employee expressly and voluntarily consents to this disclosure (preferably in writing). To navigate this situation without running afoul of the ADA and possibly HIPAA (among other statutes), the company may ask the employee for permission to share information with the employee’s colleagues. But if the employee declines, the company should remain silent.
Susan K. Fitzke and Sarah J.Gorajski are shareholders, advising clients out of Littler Mendelson’s Minneapolis office. Contact them at (612) 630-1000 or send email to Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org and Sarah at email@example.com.