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Accommodating the Return to Work

Client Alert

It has been two months since Ohio declared coronavirus an emergency, and although it is clear things will not be fully back to "normal" anytime soon, the state of Ohio is rolling out the reopening process for businesses with a number of new guidelines and restrictions. As businesses reopen, employers and employees will face difficult decisions about returning to work, including reasonable accommodation concerns under the Americans with Disabilities Act and state law equivalents. The EEOC recently updated its question and answer document with additional guidance regarding this issue, available here.   

As explained in prior BMD client alerts, an employee's fear of coronavirus, by itself, does not provide a legal basis for accommodation or refusal to work. For a discussion of how an employee's refusal to work or return to work affects the analysis of unemployment claims, see Bryan Meek's article available here. However, if an employee has an underlying medical condition that puts them at higher risk for severe illness due to coronavirus, they may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation. For example, having an immuno-compromised condition greatly increases the risk for an employee who regularly interacts with coworkers or the public. The employee should communicate to their employer regarding the medical condition and corresponding need, and the employer may then ask questions or request medical documentation to determine if a reasonable accommodation is appropriate. Questions may include how the disability creates a limitation, how the requested accommodation will address the limitation, and whether other forms of accommodation could be effective in enabling the employee to perform essential job functions.   

The EEOC's updated Q&A provides a number of examples of accommodations for individuals at higher risk related to coronavirus, including the following:

  • additional or enhanced protective gowns, masks, gloves, or modified protective gear;
  • barriers or increased space providing separation between an employee with a disability and others;
  • elimination or substitution of particular “marginal” job functions (note that reasonable accommodation does not require elimination of "essential" job functions);
  • temporary modification of work schedules or remote work; or
  • relocating an employee's work location or station.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and the EEOC is encouraging employers and employees to be "creative and flexible" in working out accommodations. As with any other accommodation request, employers should engage in an interactive process with their employees. There is no legal obligation to provide a particular accommodation if it poses an "undue hardship" on the employer or there is a "direct threat" to health or safety to the individual or others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation. Although coronavirus has significantly affected the analysis of reasonable accommodation and direct threat, the same framework for the interactive process remains in place and should be utilized. 

For more information, please contact Russell Rendall at 216.658.2205 or rtrendall@bmdllc.com.


“In for a Penny, in for a Pound” is No Longer the Case for Florida Lawyers

On April 1, 2024, newly adopted Rule 1.041 to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedures goes into effect which creates a procedure for an attorney to appear in a limited manner in civil proceedings.  Currently, when a Florida attorney appears in a civil proceeding, he or she is reasonable for handling all aspects of the case for their client.  This new rule authorizes an attorney to file a notice limiting the attorney’s appearance to particular proceedings or specified matters prior to any appearance before the court.  For example, an attorney can now appear for the limited purpose of filing and arguing a motion to dismiss.  Once the motion to dismiss is heard by the court, the attorney may file a notice of termination of limited appearance and will have no further obligations in the case.

Enhancing Privacy Protections for Substance Use Disorder Patient Records

On February 8, 2024, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) finalized updated rules to 42 CFR Part 2 (“Part 2”) for the protection of Substance Use Disorder (“SUD”) patient records. The updated rules reflect the requirement that the Part 2 rules be more closely aligned with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) privacy, breach notification, and enforcement rules as mandated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020.

Columbus, Ohio Ordinance Prohibits Employers from Inquiries into an Applicant’s Salary History

Effective March 1, 2024, Columbus employers are prohibited from inquiring into an applicant’s salary history. Specifically, the ordinance provides that it is an unlawful discriminatory practice to:

The Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board’s Latest Batch of Rules: What Providers Should Know

The Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board has introduced new rules and amendments, covering various aspects such as CDCA certificate requirements, expanded services for LCDCs and CDCAs, remote supervision, and reciprocity application requirements. Notable changes include revised criteria for obtaining a CDCA certification, expanded services for LCDCs and CDCAs, and updated ethical obligations for licensees and certificate holders, including non-discrimination, confidentiality, and anti-sexual harassment measures.

Governor Mike DeWine and The Ohio State University Introduce the SOAR Study on Ohio Mental Illness

On January 19, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and The Ohio State University announced a new research initiative, the State of Ohio Adversity and Resilience (“SOAR”) study, which will investigate all factors influencing Ohio’s mental illness and addiction epidemic.