Considering lupus and the ADA, telecommuting is a reasonable accommodation that proves to be patient and workplace friendly, especially in challenging economic times. Economic adjustments caused my workplace to shift to 4-10 work weeks, starting each day at 7:00 a.m. Everyone knew the long days would be impossible for me due to my morning lupus symptoms.
Most of my co-workers really embraced the idea of 4-day work weeks and 3-day weekends, and they didn’t mind adding an hour at each end of their work day to accomplish it. That sure wasn’t my reaction! It was unthinkable that my lupus-challenged brain could safely hit the freeway at 6:30 a.m., or to try to handle serious business decisions upon arriving at work that early (presuming safe travel, of course!)
At that early hour, my first daily inkling of “life” ordinarily starts with a coffee cup gently waved in front of me by the kindest man on the face of the earth! “Do you want some coffee?” is the gentle question my husband asks each morning. Sitting beside me on the edge of the bed before he leaves for work, his words and the rousing coffee aroma summon my brain out of the netherworld of deepest sleep.
Shortly, my nearly catatonic brain is slowly recalled back into the real world where awake people reside. Propped up on 2-3 pillows, struggling to grasp the cup with both hands, slow sips of warm brew are infused into me. After the last sip, it might be possible to arise, and then slowly waddle to the kitchen on a painful set of arthritic toes and ankles, seeking cup number two and nourishment.
After two or three more hours, morning exercise, a warm soak, and some mental activity (usually bible reading, web research, blogging or reading work e-mail online) my brain fog and joint stiffness gradually ease and a more productive stage of each day begins. After eye-hand coordination is tested, stirred and stretched through a few minutes spent playing my piano, and when things are in working order, I’m off to work! This whole process takes some serious time each morning.
To get my employer and rheumatologist to support this time-consuming daily accommodation, involved a good deal of candor, openness and communication. My difficulties with morning activities of daily living, and the time and process required to improve my abilities had to be articulated well in both directions.
My employer needed to know the transient nature of each day’s limitations, and understand some of the physiological reasons lupus made me worthless in the mornings. They deserved an explanation why my lupus symptoms lessen as the day progresses, and why I increase in value and ability as an employee with each passing hour of each day. My employer needed to understand, respect and support the significant time required to complete specific activities each morning that help me manage my health and prepare daily to be able to work.
My physician put into writing key statements that succinctly stated a supporting diagnosis, prognosis, recommended accomodations and medical lupus information.
Prior any discussion of our office going to a compressed work week, my schedule had already been modified to accommodate my morning lupus challenges. Under the existing formal ADA accomodation agreement, my work started at 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. and ended to around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. each evening. This schedule maximizes my most productive hours of the day at work.
Stretching to a 10-hour day would have meant starting work way too early, would have been extremely fatiguing, and would not have been reasonable for me in light of my known lupus limitations and health situation.
My adjusted accommodation included negotiating with my employer to keep my 5-8s work week, and telecommuting from home the fifth day. The accommodation was even more reasonable because I was already using a work laptop with VPN remote access, so there was no additional employer cost for telecommuting. Our digital case files make my mobile office complete with just a laptop and a phone.
Now, I benefit from one day per week when I can skip the stress of commute, and work in a more restful, relaxed environment at home.
A component of the previous accommodation included approval of occasional telecommuting on days when my lupus symptoms required a more subdued physical activity, caused me to be physically indisposed or required intermittent rest during the day. My supervisors noted that when telecommuting, my responses to emails were faster, and my productivity was somewhat improved for lack of people-related distractions.
Another unexpected workplace benefit of my new accommodation was that there are more overlapping hours with my subordinates and co-workers due to their extended schedules. Other members of my office are now in the office during later hours that I previously worked alone. Four more hours of common in-office time was gained each week for meeting, etc.
Reaching a reasonable ADA accommodation for lupus patients can be a challenge, but for me it was worth the effort required to document, communicate and develop the dialog necessary to make it happen. The “reasonable” part of “reasonable accommodation” must exist on both sides of the equation, and in my instance required taking a fresh look when major workplace changes were being made.
To reach a successful ADA accommodation for lupus, an employer and lupus-patient both need to consider what is reasonable for the other, and come to a mutual agreement that meets the needs of the patient and the workplace. For me, despite my lupus, it meant staying in the workplace as a productive and valued employee without harming my health.