Reasonable Accommodations for COVID-19
Each Prince George’s County agency is required to appoint an ADA Coordinator who is responsible for ensuring that the agency complies with County and federal disability rights laws. Agency ADA Coordinators should refer to Administrative Procedure 142 when processing all reasonable accommodation requests.
Reasonable accommodations requested related to COVID-19 related issues should be treated in the same manner as those that were received during the ordinary course of business. While we expect an increase in volume, in form, and function, reasonable accommodations requested during this time are no different.
Under the ADA, an individual is living with a disability when (1) experiencing a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities or bodily functions, (2) has a record of such impairment, or (3) perceived to have such an impairment. This is a purposefully broad definition intended to have wide application.
In practical terms, an individual is living with a disability when the impairment substantially limits the individual’s ability to perform a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population. Title I of the ADA, which applies to employment, requires agencies to provide reasonable accommodations that enable qualified individuals to perform the essential functions of the position with or without accommodations.
To be eligible for a reasonable accommodation under Title I, the employee needs to establish:
- The presence of a disability (or a record thereof) that impacts the ability to perform essential functions of the position,
- The accommodation will enable the employee to perform those essential functions, and
- The request does not cause the agency undue hardship.
An employee has the right to request a reasonable accommodation throughout situational telework due to the health emergency as well as during and after the transition back to the workplace. An agency is obligated to participate in the interactive process, consider equally effective alternatives, and evaluate each request on a case-by-case basis, including those for additional or altered accommodation. Agencies can grant requests on a temporary or permanent basis.
Agencies are urged to be flexible and creative to the extent practicable when processing reasonable accommodation requests. The pandemic has been challenging and stressful and people are still processing the physical and mental trauma. Many may not realize they need an accommodation until they return to the workplace and others may not be able to articulate what accommodation they need. Remember that no “magic words” are needed to trigger an agency’s obligation to consider a reasonable accommodation request – an agency is on notice when it becomes objectively clear that an employee wants or requires assistance performing the essential functions of the position due to a disability.
Requests for Documentation from Employees with Disabilities
An agency is entitled to ask for information to establish the employee’s eligibility for an accommodation – verification of a non-obvious disability or non-obvious need for an animal to perform the essential functions of the position. No documentation may be requested for any element that is obvious.
While the ADA does not require such documentation for an employer to grant a request for a non-obvious disability or a non-obvious related need for the accommodation, ODR recommends that agency ADA Coordinators request reliable verification from an appropriate professional establishing any non-obvious element. Medical records and access to health care providers are generally not needed to make this determination and should not be requested as a regular course. Any concerns with the verification documents should be addressed with the employee during the interactive process.
Employees may not be able to get to their medical provider to gather medical documentation. Agencies should consider accepting other types of documentation during the health emergency:
- The agency should consider whether it already has sufficient information regarding the employee’s disability on file to respond to their request.
- The agency can accept medical documentation from a past visit if relevant to the current reasonable accommodation request.
- The agency can accept a telemedicine consult appointment form that establishes the disability and/or need for accommodation.
- The agency can accept notification of a positive COVID-19 test.
- The agency can approve the accommodation without formal documentation from the employee if it has good reason to believe that the requested accommodation would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of their job.
- Employees must still be able to perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodations.
COVID-19 Vaccination Exemptions for Medical or Religious Reasons
Employees may be exempted from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for medical or religious reasons. To qualify, employees must make an exemption request through their agency’s ADA Coordinator or HR Liaison, respectively, and become exempt only when issued an exemption in writing.
Exemption requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis consistent with appropriate laws and procedures. Individuals who request a medical exemption must be able to explain the reason an exemption is needed and need to provide reasonable documentary proof from the employee’s health care provider. Individuals seeking an accommodation due to sincerely held religious beliefs must make the agency aware of the need for an exemption based on a conflict between the employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs and the vaccination requirement.
If a medical or religious exemption is granted, the employee will receive an individualized accommodation with information on the public health measures that they will need to take, which will include following the County's COVID-19 Testing Protocol and COVID-19 Mask Guidelines for unvaccinated employees.