Is coronavirus considered a disability under ADA?

Must employers provide reasonable accommodations under the ADA in response to the pandemic coronavirus situation? According to JAN (the Job Accommodation Network), the answer is YES.

JAN announced it is hearing from many employers who are inquiring about their responsibilities under the ADA to accommodate employees who have concerns about exposure to the coronavirus. Per JAN, generally, these questions have centered around individuals who may be at higher risk for developing complications associated with the coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this includes older adults and individuals who have serious chronic medical conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, and compromised immunity. Per JAN, this means that when an employer receives a request for accommodation to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, an employer must consider this request under the ADA and engage in the interactive process to provide reasonable accommodations, barring undue hardship.

To illustrate this further, employers can consider the following scenario: Parker has cardiovascular disease and diabetes. He works in a highly populated, open workspace and has requested that he be permitted to work at home during this public health situation, due to the risk of exposure to co-workers and the public who may exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus, or who are carriers of the disease. This is a request for accommodation under the ADA and the employer should engage in the interactive process.

Employers managing the impact of the current coronavirus pandemic on the workplace may be overwhelmed with information right now. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the ADA is a useful guide for employers who have ADA compliance questions. In this guidance the EEOC notes that employees with disabilities may request reasonable accommodations in response to the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. For example, this guidance states that employees with disabilities that put them at high risk for complications may request telework as a reasonable accommodation to reduce their chances of infection during a pandemic. Also, other types of accommodations may be requested for various coronavirus-related reasons, depending on the circumstances.

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