3d render, abstract fantasy cloudscape on a sunny day, white clouds fly under the red gates on the blue sky. Square portal construction.

Workplace Accommodations in a Post-COVID Era

By Scott J. Schweikart

The silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has opened the door to new opportunities to improve our society. For example, office changes brought about by the pandemic — e.g., remote working or telecommuting — made life easier for many workers with disabilities. However, as more of the workforce begins returning to the office, there are notable examples of employers pushing back on the increased accommodations realized during the pandemic, indicating that some gains in accommodation will continue to be hard fought. In an effort to rid our society of harmful inequities, the struggle for these rights has important value.

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Ponta Grossa/PR/Brazil - July 15th 2020: Home office, working from home layout during covid-19 pandemic

Employers Should Bear Responsibility for Making Remote Work Environments Accessible

By Christopher A. Riddle

Remote work meaningfully facilitates inclusion of people with disabilities in the labor market.

But, to truly fulfill its promise, employers must also take steps to ensure that remote work accommodations are not made at the expense of the employee, simply because their labor is conducted in their own home.

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Lady Justice blindfolded with scales.

Achieving Economic Security for Disabled People During COVID-19 and Beyond

By Robyn Powell

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the pervasive inequities experienced by historically marginalized communities, including people with disabilities.

Activists, legal professionals, scholars, and policymakers must critically examine the limitations of our current disability laws and policies, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to elucidate why disabled people continue to endure these inequities, including those related to economic insecurity.

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View over woman' shoulder seated at desk, videoconferencing on computer.

Our New Remote Workplace Culture Creates Opportunities for Disabled Employees

By Arlene S. Kanter

While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken an enormous toll on the nation, it has also opened an unprecedented opportunity to transform our workplaces and offer greater flexibility for employees with and without disabilities.

This shift in our workplace culture presents employment opportunities for disabled people that they may not have had in the past, even with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK: MAY 18, 2020: A jogger runs past a banner by the Battery Park City Authority reminding park visitors to please wear face masks.

Negotiating Masks in the Workplace: When the ADA Does and Does Not Apply

By Katherine Macfarlane

Workplaces are, by and large, no longer safe for employees who are high-risk for serious illness or death from COVID-19.

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was common for workplaces to require masks, at least in shared spaces. Two years later, though the pandemic is still ongoing, mask requirements are now far less prevalent as a result of the politicization of masks, so-called mask fatigue, and new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This move to relax masking rules presents significant dangers to those most vulnerable to severe outcomes from COVID-19. High-risk employees still need their co-workers to wear masks. They must now negotiate for safe workplaces in a social and political climate that is increasingly indifferent (or actively hostile) to their needs.

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Top view of white cubicles in modern office with white walls and carpeted floor. 3d rendering.

Managing Cognitive Decline Concerns in the Workplace

By Sharona Hoffman

As the American population ages, employers must contend with the growing challenge of cognitive decline in the workplace.

Cognitive decline becomes more common as individuals age. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years after age 65, and almost one-third of people over 85 have the disease. And, as detailed in my book, Aging with a Plan: How a Little Thought Today Can Vastly Improve Your Tomorrow, the American population is aging. By 2034, about 77 million people will be seniors, accounting for 21% of U.S. residents.

Additionally, many professionals work past retirement age. For example, over 31% of physicians are over 60, and 15% of attorneys are over 65. The average age of federal judges is 69.

Considered together, these trends substantiate concerns about the increasing prevalence of cognitive decline in the workplace. Recent research provides further support: when Yale New Haven Hospital tested clinicians on staff who were seventy and older, it found that almost 13% had significant cognitive deficits.

Older employees often bring a wealth of experience and highly refined skills to their jobs. They can therefore add great strength to the workforce. Yet, employees with cognitive decline can cause a multitude of complex challenges in the workplace. They can threaten workplace productivity, workforce morale, and even public safety.

How might employers address cognitive decline concerns? As I argue in my article “Cognitive Decline and the Workplace” (forthcoming in the Wake Forest Law Review), there are several options, but many are legally and ethically problematic.

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Photo of doctor's exam room.

Using Health Justice to Identify Inequities Experienced by Employees with Disabilities

By Katherine Macfarlane

Disability discrimination negatively impacts the health of people with disabilities, yet disability law often overlooks discrimination’s health consequences. A health justice framework does not. It recognizes that discrimination impacts health, and then goes a step further, highlighting how legal systems are complicit in perpetuating health injustice. That wider lens better captures the lived experiences of those who experience discrimination, including people with disabilities.

My own work explores disability law’s insistence that disability be confirmed through medical examination. Without confirmation from a health care provider, disability does not exist, and reasonable accommodations need not be provided. A health justice framework has deepened my understanding of the harm those encounters impose. Identifying the full scope of the harm people with disabilities endure is the first step toward dismantling the systems that cause it.

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Top view of white cubicles in modern office with white walls and carpeted floor. 3d rendering.

Challenges Faced by Employees with Disabilities amid the Return to In-Person Work

By Doron Dorfman

Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are calling workers who had been fulfilling their roles remotely back into the office.

In May 2021, for example, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase told employees that by July, they were expected to come back into their offices for at least a few days a week, adding that remote work “just doesn’t work for those who want to hustle. It doesn’t work for spontaneous idea generation. It doesn’t work for culture.” In July 2021, Apple announced its plan to require employees to be in the office at least three days a week.

These calls for getting back to the office raise particular quandaries for employees with disabilities, many of whom have disproportionally borne the brunt of pandemic layoffs.

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Herndon, USA - April 27, 2020: Virginia Fairfax County building exterior sign entrance to Mom's Organic Market store with request to wear face mask due to covid-19 pandemic.

Are Employers That Ditch Mask Mandates Liable for COVID-19 Infections at Work?

By Chloe Reichel

Last week, in response to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance indicating that vaccinated individuals need not wear face coverings indoors, a number of states and businesses swiftly did away with indoor mask mandates.

Widespread criticism followed, focusing on the dangerous policy vacuum that now exists. The CDC has suggested unvaccinated individuals follow an honor system and continue masking — but such an honor system is difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.

In the absence of indoor mask policies, individuals face increased risk of exposure to the virus. And some groups are particularly at risk of contracting the virus now, including immunocompromised individuals, for whom vaccines may not confer protection, and children under the age of 12, for whom a vaccine has not yet been authorized.

To better understand the new guidance and its implications for workers who are no longer protected by mask mandates, I spoke with Sharona Hoffman, an expert in health and employment law. Hoffman is the Edgar A. Hahn Professor of Law, a professor of bioethics, and Co-Director of Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. In our interview, Hoffman explained whether an employer may be held liable if an employee contracts COVID-19 after an occupational exposure, and highlighted other key issues to anticipate regarding COVID-19 and the workplace.

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Person receiving vaccine.

Complex Regulations Push Employers Toward Voluntary Vaccination Programs, Not Mandates

By Lauren Hammer Breslow, JD, MPH

As COVID-19 vaccines become increasingly available, employers have been thrust into the spotlight on the public health question of whether or not to mandate vaccination for employees.

Despite strong evidence that mandatory vaccines best serve public health, a rubric of laws making mandatory programs complicated to deploy is leading many employers to favor vaccine encouragement policies.

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