This resource covers United States policies that apply to telework accessibility. In short, U.S. policies require most private and public employers who offer telework to ensure their telework tools are accessible.
Examples of these digital tools include videoconferencing platforms, virtual chat systems, and cloud computing services like shared file drives.
Employer Obligations to Employees
Employers are not required to offer a telework program to all employees. For example, employers may ask staff to accrue one year of service before they become eligible to telework. Employers may also designate job functions that staff must complete on-site.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance for employers that do offer telework programs. The EEOC notes that “if an employer does offer telework, it must allow employees with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in such a program.”
In this guidance document, the EEOC also recognizes that telework can serve as a reasonable accommodation in many instances. This interpretation stems from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC has said the ADA “requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation for qualified applicants and employees with disabilities.” Telework can be an accommodation when the person’s disability “prevents successfully performing the job on-site and the job, or parts of the job, can be performed at home without causing significant difficulty or expense.” That being said, some people with disabilities may prefer on-site accommodations rather than telework as a solution. The best practice is to provide all employees an equal opportunity to participate in the workplace—whether on-site, remote, or a mix of both.
In December 2020, EEOC also published specific guidance on What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.
In most cases, U.S. policies require private and public employers to buy and use accessible information and communication technologies (ICT). In particular, the federal government has recognized that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access to information and electronic technologies is a civil right and a vital employment issue for individuals with disabilities.
Other relevant federal laws include:
- The Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act)
- Section 255 of the Communications Act
- The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)
- The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA)
Freelancers and Gig Economy Platforms
Unlike employees, independent contractors aren’t covered by the nondiscrimination provisions of Title I of the ADA (employment discrimination) because they are self-employed. Independent contractors, also known as “freelancers” or “gig economy workers,” complete tasks on a project-by-project or client-by-client basis.
In many cases, freelancers share and sell their services and goods on web-based platforms. These web-based platforms serve as marketplaces for how companies, workers, and other users interact in the gig economy. In such cases, the freelancer is considered to be a customer, and the web-based platform is the vendor. However, the ADA may still apply in this situation, though the legal landscape is still evolving. Under Title III of the ADA, the freelancer could state their claim as a customer seeking fair access to the marketplace offered on the web-based platform (rather than as employees seeking fair employment opportunities).
For more details, see Universal Access to the Gig Economy for People with Disabilities.
Resources for Employers and Employees
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued specific guidance in December 2020 on What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.
- The Council of State Governments (CSG) offers guidance on this issue in Disability-Inclusive Telework for States: State Approaches to Increasing Access & Inclusion.
Implementing Digital Accessibility
- Employers can find resources and tips for making their virtual spaces more accessible using PEAT’s Telework & Accessibility Guide and Staff Training Guide.
- For resources in working with vendors to purchase accessible ICT, see our Buy-IT! Guide.
- Our resource, “How is the Department of Justice Addressing Website and ICT Accessibility?” includes detailed guidance for employers and other covered entities to proactively comply with existing rules and guidance related to ICT and the ADA.
Accommodations and Assistive Technology
- The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers both employers and individuals free, private guidance through the accommodations process. Their resources include the Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR), which allows individuals to explore various accommodation options based on their unique situation and circumstances.
- Many employees may find it easiest to use personal devices with the accessibility features they need while working remotely. Read the article Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Accessibility to learn more about best practices for handing BYOD requests.