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Can We Reduce Hours and Pay to Accommodate a Disability?

Accommodate a Disability

Question: We have an employee who has an illness covered by the Americans with Disability Act. The employee provided us with a letter from her doctor stating that she needs to be able to work from home 2 to 3 days per week. This employee is a Team Lead and we need her to be in the office each day supervising her team.

Would it be reasonable to demote her, change her to part-time status, and only pay for the hours she works in our office?

Answer: 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 her to work from home in her 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. You’ll want to be more careful about a “demotion.” Can she still manage the few days a week she’s in the office? If so, you should consider whether a demotion is necessary, as it could certainly appear discriminatory.

If allowing her to work in her current capacity as a part-time employee is not feasible, a demotion may be reasonable. In that case, if she is an exempt employee currently, you should come up with a fair hourly rate of pay in line with the nature of the work that she will be performing and temporarily transfer her to a part-time, non-exempt position. Just keep in mind that if she’s non-exempt, you’ll need to pay her for all time worked, even if she’s not in the office. And she will be an overtime-eligible employee.

Before you decide what to do, you and the employee’s manager should sit down with her in an interactive process meeting. In that meeting, you can explain why working from home in her current capacity is not feasible and brainstorm other options with her. 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 her 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.

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