Does my anxiety disorder require a reasonable accommodation?

For the past 14 months I have been working remotely for my current employer. When I was hired the company had a very liberal viewpoint on flexible work arrangements. Upon receiving my job offer my direct manager informed me that it was fine with him if I worked primarily from home. I have suffered with anxiety for years mostly related to work. In addition to generalized anxiety, I suffer from panic attacks when it comes to public speaking. Part of my job is to present and run meetings quite regularly. I am prescribed medication by a psychiatrist and saw a therapist every 2 weeks for at least 6 months which I stopped due to it being pricey and not seeing much improvement. I have a hard time concentrating most days and often become sick to my stomach in anticipation of important presentations, even with medication. About 4 months ago my employer announced a change in flexible work arrangement policy. They have basically taken an about face on their previous stance and I was notified that as of next month I will be required to report to a specific office. This will require me to drive into a city and search for available parking 4 out of 5 days per week they are allowing us all to keep 1 work from home day. That in itself is panic inducing for me. I haven’t wanted to raise any complaint since my employer is not aware of my disability and I don’t feel comfortable openly discussing it. As the date for the change gets closer, my anxiety has increased. I’m agitated, relying on more frequent medication, suffering from insomnia and loss of appetite. I have worked from home for 14 months with no issue ever brought to me by my superior regarding my performance. I have a home office and my employer has the technology to support this arrangement. There are other employees who are being allowed to continue to work remotely but that determination was made based on their distance from an office location. Do I have a case for a reasonable accommodation? Can my employer fire me for asking for an exemption from the new policy? Part of my hesitation is that it was made very clear that the policy was cut and dry and there would be no special treatment, even for employees like myself who were hired under the understanding that the role was remote.

Asked on November 10, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, Ohio

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

You MAY have a right to a reasonable accommodation, but that depends on whether the accommodation IS reasonable under the circumstances--and also whether you are taking your own reasonable steps to mitigate or reduce the issues.
1) First, forget about what the former policy was: the company is not bound by that and businesses may change policies at will (unless there is a written contract "locking in" the prior policy.
2) The issue is whether given how the company wants to work now and the nature  of your job, it is more efficient--and how much more efficient--to have you work in the office, not from home. A "reasonable accommodation" is one whose negative impact on the company is, as the term implies, "reasonable" or "moderate." If there is some modest loss to productivity, efficiency, communication or teamwork by having you offsite, they can be required to accept that to accommodate you; but they are not required to accept a large loss, since a large-enough loss is not "reasonable." There is no hard-and-fast rule or "bright line" for when the impact on the company is unreasonable; it is judged on a case by case basis. The key point is, you need to consider what is the impact on the company of you working from home; that you *could* work from home or *have* worked from home provides evidence you could continue to do so, but does not prove your case or establish your right to work from home, since if doing so has a large enough impact on how productive, etc. your are, or how well you communicate and integrate and work with other  employees, it may not be reasonable to let you do this.
3) A company does not need to accommodate you if you do take steps to reduce the impact of your disability; in short, you are not allowed to effectively make things worse while asking for an accommodation. You write that you no longer get therapy; stopping therapy may reduce the employer's obligation to accomodate you, since they have the right to demand that you will mee them halfway (so to speak) and actively seek to reduce the problems from your condition.


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