A woman participates in telework. She's sitting on her couch working on her laptop. There is a end table next to her with papers and pens on it.

Can Working from Home Be a Reasonable Accommodation?

Are you considering asking your employer for telework as a reasonable accommodation? This blog will break down what you need to know, including how the law provides access to accommodations.

What is Teleworking?

Working from home, or teleworking, has certainly become something more common after the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers who thought that their employees could not possibly be able to effectively work from home, found ways to make adjustments for employees, to allow those businesses to continue to operate.

Teleworking can also include working from a different location than an employee’s normal workplace. For example, working at an office location that is closer to an employee’s treatment site could be considered teleworking.

What are Reasonable Accommodations?

Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability. The accommodation has to allow the employee to perform “essential job functions” and cannot cause an “undue hardship” to the employer.

Teleworking is something that individuals with cancer have long accessed as a reasonable accommodation to continue to do their job, while in treatment or dealing with long-term or late-term side effects from treatment.

As COVID-19 has gone on, many employers have asked employees who were working from home,
to return to the workplace. Individuals with compromised immune systems have asked for
telework accommodations to be able to continue to do their job remotely to protect their

Am I Eligible to Telework?

When trying to decide if you are going to ask your employer if you can telework, you should consider these questions:

  • Do you have a disability under the ADA?
    • A disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
  • Can you do all of the essential functions of your job from home?
    • Can you be adequately supervised?
    • Do your job responsibilities require you to have access to special equipment or tools that you can’t access at home?
  • Are there any unique aspects of your job that would make telework difficult?
    • For example, does your job require immediate access to documents that only exist in the workplace?
  • What does your job description say about needing to be physically at your workplace?
  • Have you ever worked from home before? If so, was it successful?
  • Has anyone else in your role worked from home before?
  • Are there any other accommodations that would be effective?
    • For example, if you are concerned about being exposed to other people at work, could working different hours minimize your exposure?

How Do I Ask to Telework as an Accommodation?

Before asking to telework as a reasonable accommodation, you should check your employee handbook to see if there is a specific process your employer wants you to use.

If there isn’t, then you need to decide if you want to ask your direct supervisor for the accommodation, or if you want to talk to human resources. Depending on where you work, there may be someone else in a leadership role that you would want to ask.

When you ask for the accommodation, you need to share enough information about your medical condition that explains why teleworking would be helpful to you. But that doesn’t mean you have to share your cancer diagnosis.

For more information about disclosure decisions, read our Quick Guide to Disclosure, Privacy, and Medical Certification Forms.

When you ask for the accommodation, it starts the “interactive process,” which is like a negotiation with your employer to figure out what would be an effective accommodation to help you continue to do your job.

It can be helpful to be flexible and open-minded in thinking about other accommodations that would work for you. It may even be useful to come up with a list of accommodations that would work, other than teleworking, just to cover your bases.

If you are given the accommodation to telework, it may be helpful to confirm it in writing. If you employer doesn’t formalize the agreement in writing, you can simply send an email to the person who you spoke with, thanking them for working out the accommodation that was agreed to. This will help document the accommodation.

What Do I Do if My Employer Says No?

If your employer denies your request to telework, it is important to ask your employer why it was denied.

  • Maybe the employer needed more information
  • Maybe the request isn’t reasonable
  • Maybe it will cause an undue hardship

Depending on why the request was denied, you may be able to appeal the decision. Check your employee handbook to see if there is a process for appealing.

If you need help talking to your employer about teleworking, you can contact the Job Accommodation Network. If you think that your employer is not giving you an accommodation that you are eligible for, you can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

For more information about accommodations, see our Quick Guide to the ADA and Reasonable Accommodations.

For more information about working with a serious medical condition like cancer, visit our Employment Resources.

About Triage Cancer

Triage Cancer is a national, nonprofit providing free education to people diagnosed with cancer, caregivers, and health care professionals on cancer-related legal and practical issues. Through eventsmaterials, and resources, Triage Cancer is dedicated to helping people move beyond diagnosis.

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