Q: An employee provided a doctor’s note to work from home part-time due to their ADA protected disability. Is it permissible to demote them and reduce their hours and pay to accommodate?
A: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that you engage with employees in an “interactive process” to determine what is reasonable accommodation. However, you certainly are not required to allow them to work from home in their current capacity if such an accommodation would be unreasonable.
It is permissible to reduce an employee's work schedule and pay to accommodate a disability, but you’ll want to be more careful about a “demotion.”Can they still manage the few days a week they’re in the office? If so, you should consider whether a demotion is necessary, as it could certainly appear discriminatory.
If allowing them to work in their current capacity as a part-time employee is not feasible, a demotion may be reasonable. In that case, if they are currently an exempt employee, you should come up with a fair hourly rate of pay in line with the nature of the work that they will be performing and temporarily transfer them to a part-time, non-exempt position. Just keep in mind that if they’re non-exempt, you’ll need to pay them for all time worked, even if they’re not in the office. And they will be an overtime-eligible employee.
Before you decide what to do, you and the employee's manager should sit down with them in an interactive process meeting. In that meeting, you can explain why working from home in their current capacity is not feasible and brainstorm other options with them. It's important not to make any commitments in the meeting. Rather, it should be a time when both you and the employee suggest effective accommodations.
After your interactive process meeting, you should meet with their manager to discuss what options are the most viable. It's important to consider the employee's preferences, but this certainly isn't the only consideration when making your decision. Do keep in mind, however, that “reasonable accommodation” under the ADA should be interpreted broadly.
It’s critical for all employers to understand their requirements and their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This free guide for employers is easy to read and full of useful information that will help you have a better grasp of how to comply with the ADA.