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Challenges Faced by Employees with Disabilities amid the Return to In-Person Work

Bill of Health – by Doron Dorfman, Associate Professor of Law at Syracuse University College of Law: “…calls for getting back to the office raise particular quandaries for employees with disabilities, many of whom have disproportionally borne the brunt of pandemic layoffs. First, there are those who started a new job remotely during the pandemic and require the ability to continue working remotely as a disability accommodation. When it comes to employees with less-apparent disabilities (such as chronic illnesses or mental impairments), these employees might not have disclosed their disability during the recruiting process because the expectation was that they could work from home. They now face a dilemma: should they come out of the disability closet, and to what extent do they need to disclose and claim disability? According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) guidelines for enforcing reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer is entitled to know that the employee has a covered disability and that they require a reasonable accommodation. Therefore, once the employee makes a request for an accommodation, the employer may require reasonable documentation about the employee’s disability and functional limitations. Employers, however, cannot take an “everything but the kitchen sink approach” when requesting documentation. Despite what allegedly was asked of Apple employees, most of the time, employers cannot ask for an employee’s complete medical records, as those contain information that is beyond the scope of determining the disability and necessity of the accommodation. An employee should not sign a waiver or any type of document allowing the employer access to their full records. Instead, the employee should provide an updated doctor’s note describing their impairments and need for accommodations…”

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