Williams HR Law LLP

Sick but Clicking: Disability Management and Working from Home While Sick

June 7, 2024

The rise of remote and hybrid work arrangements has introduced new challenges for employers, particularly with respect to managing work-from-home accommodation requests and handling situations where employees work from home while sick. As these situations are becoming increasingly common, employers must navigate the complexities of disability management and managing their workplace.

Work-from-Home Accommodation Requests

Employers are increasing receiving work-from-home accommodation requests from employees; however, employees’ medical documentation do not always support such a request.

When medical limitations do not require a work-from-home accommodation, employers do not need to permit the employee to work from home. An employer is not required to provide the employee’s preferred accommodation, but the accommodation should comply with the employee’s limitations and permit the employee to meaningfully participate in the workplace where possible. Even where a work-from-home arrangement is recommended by the employee’s physician, another type of accommodation may be appropriate for the employee.

As such, it is best practice for employers to remain flexible in the accommodations offered and to consider what modifications can be made without simply permitting employees to work from home. Alternative types of accommodation might include:

  • Temporarily permitting the employee to work in a different or private space;
  • Modifying the employee’s responsibilities;
  • Modifying the employee’s work hours;
  • Staggering schedules;
  • Increasing rest periods; or
  • Creating a designated rest area within the workplace.

By consulting with the employee and by remaining flexible, employers can ensure the employee is properly accommodated and at the same time, demonstrate that remote work is not the only viable accommodation option.

Working from Home While Sick

More employees are working from home when they are too sick to attend work in person—the problem is that some employees are too unwell to really work but do not take a sick day.

Addressing these situations requires a nuanced, contextual assessment of factors relating to the workplace and the employee. Some important factors include the organization’s culture, the employer’s workplace policies regarding remote work, and the flexibility of the organization’s hybrid work model.  

Similarly, employers should consider the nature of the workplace, the employee’s position, and the employee’s limitations. Some roles and responsibilities require an in-person presence; therefore, working from home may not be feasible. Additionally, serious symptoms may necessitate taking a sick day if an employee cannot properly perform their responsibilities as required.

Employers should consider the above factors to ensure they find the right standard and response that works well for their organization and their employees.

Takeaways for Employers

For employers facing challenges with managing remote work requests, consider the following practices:

  1. Be Flexible: Employers should remain flexible when offering accommodations, as there are modifications that can be made to the workplace or to how an employee performs their work that should be considered. The more flexible an employer is, the more likely the employer is going to meet their procedural and substantive accommodation obligations while demonstrating to the employee that working from home is not the only valid option.
  2. Set Clear Rules: Employers should establish clear policies on how work should be performed when employees work from home and should set communication and task completion expectations. If employees are unable to meet these expectations while working at home sick, they might need to take a sick day.
  3. Properly Train Managers: Employers should ensure managers are trained to effectively oversee and connect with remote employees, as well as to manage their work consistently.

This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues.

This information is not intended as legal advice.