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Accommodation and Compliance: Travel on the Job

Introduction

Employees with a variety of impairments may have difficulty traveling on the job. For example, an employee with anxiety may find it stressful to travel, an employee with a back impairment may have difficulty sitting when traveling, an employee who is blind may need alternative transportation or help navigating in a strange city, or an employee who uses a wheelchair may need accessible transportation.

In some jobs, traveling is an essential part of the job; therefore, the employee needs to be able to travel to be qualified for his/her position. In other jobs employees may travel, but there are other ways to perform the job without traveling.

When an employer requires on-the-job travel, the employer is responsible for providing accommodations such as alternative methods of transportation. Employers must provide accommodations unless they can show that the accommodations pose undue hardship. The following discusses some of the issues regarding travel-related accommodations:

Do employers have to provide accommodations for on-the-job travel such as driving to home visits? 

Employers are responsible for accommodations such as alternative methods of transportation for work-related travel when driving is not an essential function of the job. For example, an employer must consider alternative transportation for a social worker who cannot drive due to vertigo; the essential function is completing the home visits, not driving. Employers must provide accommodations unless they can show that the accommodations pose undue hardship.

Do employers have to provide accommodations for employees with disabilities for work-related air-travel? What about paying for first class tickets? 

Assuming the employees meet the definition of disability under the ADA, employers would have to consider paying for accommodations needed for work-related travel, for example purchasing two seats side by side for an employee with obesity. As with any accommodation, employers can look for undue hardship.  

Regarding paying for first class tickets, employers can look for options. The employer should take a look at what the problem is and then explore possible solutions. For example, if effective, an employer might opt to purchase two coach seats. An employer could also look at business class or first class, but if purchasing two coach seats would be less expensive than business or first class and it would meet the employee’s needs, then the employer gets to choose when there is more than one effective accommodation.  

Do employers have to provide personal attendant care for work-related travel? 

According to informal guidance from the EEOC, the ADA does not require employers to provide personal attendant care on the job because reasonable accommodation does not require employers to provide personal need items or services. However, when an employee travels for work and incurs personal attendant care expenses beyond his/her usual expenses when not traveling for work, there is a good argument that the employer must pay the added costs. 

Accommodation Ideas

The following are some accommodation ideas that might be effective for individuals who travel for work:

For an employee who typically is scheduled to travel by air, he/she might be able to use other modes of transportation, such as bus, taxi, rental car and train. Other accommodation possibilities might be audio conferencing and videoconferencing. If it is not essential that an employee physically be present at another location, either of these might be effective accommodations. 

In some cases, the work might be done without traveling. Video and Web conferencing are becoming more and more popular in the corporate world. It allows people who are at two or more sites to have real-time communication, not just "talk" to each other by conventional telephones. It enables the people at one site to see a video picture of the people at other sites and communicate in real-time. 

If neither the above suggestions nor other alternative accommodations are effective, another option might be reassignment to a vacant position that does not require traveling. 

The person with the disability might want to take the initiative to talk to her/his doctor to determine if there are treatments that can help overcome this new fear of flying or traveling.
 

Situations and Solutions:

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