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HRE’s number of the day: remote work accommodations

How many employers are offering work-from-home options upon reopening—and what does it mean for HR leaders?
By: | July 2, 2020 • 2 min read


92: Percentage of employers that now offer a work-from-home option to meet accommodation requests

As businesses begin to reopen, employees returning to the workplace may request reasonable accommodations for medical conditions that place them at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. In response, nearly all employers (92%) are offering a work-from-home option to meet accommodation requests, most of which are from at-risk employees (77%), according to a new XpertHR poll of 276 human resource professionals.

What it means to HR leaders

Remote work has been widespread since the coronavirus pandemic spurred stay-at-home orders. But as employers begin to reopen and ask some employees to return to physical workplaces, they should still offer remote work options as well as other safety precautions.

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That consideration is especially important for at-risk employees, who represent a big portion of the workforce. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently found that one in four workers is at high risk for serious complications from COVID-19 if infected. The foundation’s analysis estimates that 37.7 million workers, or 24% of employed U.S. adults in 2018, are at high risk, including 10 million who are 65 or older and an additional 27.7 million with pre-existing medical conditions.

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Employers are required to provide employees with a place of employment free from recognized hazards—including COVID-19—that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to the employee, says Robert Teachout, XpertHR legal editor.

“Employers must take action if an employee’s health will be jeopardized upon returning to the workplace,” he says. “The employer should eliminate or reduce the risk so that the employee may safely return to work and perform their essential job functions.”

The XpertHR poll found that more than half (59%) of employers have been asked by employees for accommodations. Respondents said most accommodation requests come from employees who are at risk or vulnerable for infection (77%), have a fear of returning to the worksite (61%), face childcare issues (58%), or have a disability (33%).

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.

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