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Worried about Working with Cancer During Covid-19?

Q: How can I request to work from home as an ADA reasonable accommodation with the health threat of Covid-19? I can work efficiently from home, but that option has not been offered to other employees at my work. As someone currently receiving cancer treatment and with a weakened immune system, I can’t risk exposure to Covid-19. HR’s perspective is that there is not currently an outbreak in their community.

I haven’t formally requested an ADA reasonable accommodation, but I am on FMLA with intermittent leave to attend chemo appointments and a day to recover? Can I request working from home under my FMLA leave or would I need to have an ADA accommodation request in place to be better protected?

covid-work from home

A: While Triage Cancer does not provide any legal advice, we can offer some points to think through

First, you would need to consider:

  • If you actually want to take the time off (and not work) then you would be looking at taking time off under the FMLA or a state leave law.
  • If you are asking for a change in your workspace (e.g., telecommuting from home or working from a different location), that type of request is an example of a potential reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Most people going through cancer treatment have a compromised immune system, at least for a period of time. So, a request to telecommute for a period of time isn’t unusual. However, because of the uncertain nature of Covid-19 and how things will play out, an indefinite request to telecommute may not be seen as a reasonable accommodation. Courts have found that attendance is an essential job function. But we are also in unchartered waters and the landscape is changing day by day. More and more employers are having their employees work from home to prevent community spread.

For information about accommodations, I would point you to our Employment Resources page. We even have a five-minute animated video on managing side effects at work, which explains reasonable accommodations.

And, for additional details on accommodations and tips on how to approach employers, we recommend the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) as a resource: www.askjan.org.

Late breaking news: The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill to create a paid leave system as a result of Covid-19. The U.S. Senate will likely vote on the bill this week and it may be signed by the President.  Stay tuned for details . . .

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