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We all know that under the American’s with Disabilities Act that employers have to make an effort to accommodate disabled employees in order to allow them to perform work they are capable of performing with or without an accommodation. What if that accommodation was a remote control robot that roamed the office in the employee’s stead? Would you consider it?
Roaming the Office By Robot
In an article in Geekwire, writer Alan Boyle tells us about an office in Bellevue, Washington that is experimenting with remote control robots to allow employees to telecommute but still have a presence in the office. The company Bluedot has a CEO who commutes by robot. He sits in front of his laptop in his home two states away and logs into his robot body in the Bellevue office. He has an office presence, is able to attend meeting, “walk” around the office and talk to employees and even meet with customers. It is the ultimate in telecommuting because rather than being stationary in the office his robot body has a great deal of freedom in moving around the office. Of course he cannot leave the office nor go to lunch with his colleagues he can meet “face-to-face” so to speak with employees. This allows him to gauge facial expressions and body language and his viewers also get some of those visual cues.
Technology As an Accommodation
If this technology allows able bodied executives to telecommute via robot wouldn’t this work for workers that are not so able-bodied? Certainly one of the considerations that goes into making an accommodation decision is the “reasonableness” of the accommodation. Naturally cost is one of the deciding factors. These robots, made by Suitable Technologies, come at different price points. They start at $2000 and can actually be purchased on Amazon. They go up to a pricier $16,000 executive model, but these can be leased.
Will Depend On the Job
Obviously a worker that has a job on an assembly line, or digging ditches, is not going to be able to use this technology. That will not meet the definition of reasonable. However, if you have an executive, an attorney, an advisor, or some other similar type of white collar position this robot technology could certainly be a valid accommodation. If you are paying an employee a six figure salary the cost of these devices will make it hard to argue that they are not reasonable.
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The fact that an employee is bedridden due to an accident or illness is no longer a bar to them still performing effective work. Certainly some other accommodations might need to be made but these in all likelihood would not fall under the definition of essential functions.