If I have health problems, does my employer have to let me telecommute?

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Question:

I work for a title company, mostly handling paperwork and talking on the phone. I want to telecommute while I'm getting treatment, including weekly chemotherapy, for colon cancer. My boss says "no" -- he's afraid everyone else will ask to work from home if I do. Is this legal?

Answer:

Sounds like some bosses really weren't in line when they handed out the compassion -- or the legal smarts. Because your condition probably qualifies as a disability under the law, you are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA. And that law entitles you to a reasonable accommodation for your disability.

As long as you can still perform the essential functions of your job -- those tasks that make up the basic job requirements -- your employer must try to help you find a way to do your job despite your disability. This may involve making some changes in your work environment or the way you do your work.

Telecommuting is certainly one possible accommodation, especially if you can do all that your job requires in the comfort of your own home. If, after resting up from the chemotherapy, you're able to go into the office one or two days a week, your request will seem even more reasonable.

Your boss's complaint that other workers would also want to work from home doesn't hold water. Even if an employer doesn't allow other employees to work from home, it must allow a worker with a disability to do so if that's the only effective reasonable accommodation available. However, if your boss can think of another accommodation that's reasonable, he can offer that instead.

If you want to learn more about working from home as a reasonable accommodation -- and perhaps print out a little something for your employer to read and weep over -- take a look at the fact sheet on telecommuting prepared by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or "EEOC," the government agency that deals with employment discrimination), at www.eeoc.gov.

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