Pandemic Related Accommodations At Workplace in California

covid-19 related accommodations at workplaceCalifornia employers may need to evaluate new kinds of potential disabilities and requests for accomodations as a result of Covid-19. One possible scenario is an employee’s claim that  Covid-19 infection itself is a protected disability as opposed to a temporary illness such as influenza. Employees may also claim that fear of contracting the virus is a disability that must be accommodated. If the employee’s fear is based on an unerlying, qualifying disability that puts an employee at increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19, the employer may need to consider whether reasonable accomomdation is available to address this hightened risk.

Some workers may claim that an employer’s vaccination requirement should not apply to them because of a current medical condition or fear of having an allergic reaction or injury from the vaccine. Employer who require workesr to wear masks or other PPE may be asked to make exceptions to those policies as well. For example, an employee with a latex allergy may seek an accommodation of waering non-latex gloves. Whate the scenario, the same legal principals apply. An employer may require that an employee provides medical information confirming having a disabile condition.

If an employee doesn’t have a disability or sincerely held religious belief  for not being vaccinated, there is no obligation on the part of his employer to honor any request for exemption from the vaccination requirement. California employers that do require vaccinations (except for those employing 25 or fewer employees) must provide supplemental sick leave for time spent to receive a vaccine and for any time the employee can work as a result of symptoms related to a Covid-19 vaccine. Employers are allowed to aks why an employee has missed work, and whether the employee is expeirencing Covidf-19 symptoms.

Another type of reasonable accommodation request that has and will continue to be common is working remotely. The employers will have to determine whether partial or full telecommuting schedule could be a reasonable accommodation without imposing “undue hardship” on operations. If an employee effectively worked remotely for months during the lockdown mandates, it will be hard for many employers to argue that allowing that worker to continue working remotely as an accommodation to a legitimate medical condition would create undue hardship. Employee’s job duties and the necessity of being present in the office should also factor into the overall assessment of whether accommodation request to work remotely can be effectively provided.

As with any other type of reasonable accommodation requests under ADA and FEHA, both sides should consider engaging in a good faith dialogue and exercise some flexibility for find a solution that works for the employee and the employer.

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