Why Should New Hampshire Return to Business as Usual?
By Romy Eberle
Months have passed since Governor Chris Sununu’s original stay-at-home order went into effect in response to the pandemic. The order, which closed the physical workplace and barred in-person operations of all non-essential businesses, caused many employers to adopt accommodations that allowed their employees to work from the safety of their homes. By forcing people all over the state to shelter in place, the coronavirus introduced Granite Staters to what many people with disabilities have long required to work successfully.
This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); an historic event that deserves consideration as we take steps to reopen the economy. The employment section of the ADA is meant to reduce or eliminate the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from obtaining and maintaining employment. The ADA requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified people with disabilities so long as the employee can still do the essential functions of the job. The accommodation must also not create an undue burden for the employer, e.g., if the requested accommodation is excessively difficult for the employer to implement or is prohibitively expensive.
Individuals with disabilities have long fought for – and often denied – flexibilities that have become a “new normal” during the coronavirus: flexible work hours, remote working environments, and alternative communication formats. This leaves advocates and workers with disabilities wondering if this could mark a turning point for the Granite State by offering more flexible work accommodations. Or, once the pandemic is over, will we return to business as usual?
Tim Sink, President of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, believes the new norm will likely be somewhere in the middle. “I think it will be a mix of how we used to do business and combining it with the best of what we’ve learned during this crucial period,” says Sink. Like the rest of the country, the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce made several adjustments to remain open during the pandemic, such as hosting virtual board meetings, using Zoom in place of in-person meetings, and offering flexible work hours to employees. “We had to scramble,” says Sink, “but we did it, and now that it’s in place, we can do it again.”
The ability to work from home has been particularly impactful for those with mobility challenges. Chad Payette, a dedicated and talented office assistant in Concord, says, “Working from home is great.” Although he does miss his colleagues, Payette has saved significant time by telecommuting. “It’s easier to work more hours from home for somebody like me who needs an aid to drive me to work and help set up my station.” Payette imagines that some of the employment barriers that people with spinal injuries often face, such as reliable transportation and physical workspace adjustments, may be lessened if working from home is more widely offered.
The pandemic has generated real solutions for better employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and our successes should be leveraged, not forgotten once the state reopens.
• NH DHHS COVID-19 Tools for Businesses and Employers
• SourcesAmerica (2020). How COVID-19 is Reshaping the Future of Work for Persons with Disabilities
Disclaimer: This article does not contain legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice.