For the first couple of weeks after we went into self-imposed lockdown my office was scrambling to understand new federal legislation and how it would affect employees and employers. After we got over that initial hurdle, my phone stopped ringing as much as it did before the lockdown, mostly I think because people were settling in to their new work environments and trying to come to terms with the way we work now.
But about a week ago, the phone started ringing again. This time though the questions are different than they were before Covid. I think we are transitioning to a post-Covid world. Similar to what happened after 9/11, we need to adjust our way of thinking.
Back in 2002, if you failed to grasp the seismic changes that were occurring in the world, you were tagged with having a pre-9/11 mindset. That was not a tag you wanted to wear.
Similarly, today you really do not want to have a pre-Covid mindset. We are not going back folks. And before we really start rolling again, we are going to have to battle our way through a recession that is likely going to last for a couple of years. But when we get through it, work is going to be drastically changed and I suspect folks are going to enjoy and embrace more freedoms while innovation sparks and the nimble businesses take off.
I got a call from a friend the other day who presented one of the “new” issues to me. His company just moved into a gleaming new office space a month before the virus hit. It is technologically up to date, comfortable, and beautiful. The building cost millions of dollars to renovate and it is now state of the art.
And just months after it was completed, nobody is working in it. Everybody is working from home. And the real question is whether or not that building will ever run at capacity as an office building. The space may turn out to be valuable, but not as it was originally envisioned.
In any event, one of the folks who works for the organization in the office is disabled. Now, under both state and federal law, employers are obligated to accommodate disabled employees provided that accommodation does not pose an “undue hardship” to the employer, and the accommodations do not change the “essential functions” of the job. Litigation usually results from interpreting “undue hardship” and “essential functions.”
But in this case, the organization has been accommodating the employee’s disability and the relationship has been a good one for both parties. The employee is a good and valuable worker and the employer is getting good value from the work the employee does with the accommodations.
But now the employee has been working from home for the last eight weeks, and it turns out that the employee is just as effective while working at home as he or she would be working in the office. So the employee has requested an accommodation to allow him or her to continue working from home even if the organization’s employees return to work at the office.
And the question is whether or not working from home can be considered a “reasonable accommodation.” I think that this issue is going to continue to arise now that we have seen that good work can be done outside of the typical office. This is just one of the changes that we are going to see coming to our workplaces in our post-Covid world.