Even before the arrival of COVID-19, the talent marketplace had been evolving in recent years to include a broader, more dispersed, and more remote workforce. With this shift has come a growing understanding that the ability to work remotely is more than just a perk for high-performing teams. It's fundamental to making work accessible.
The New Remote Workforce
The past decade and a half have seen a dramatic increase in the number of remote workers in the USA. In fact, "the number of people telecommuting in the U.S. increased 159 percent between 2005 and 2017" alone.
Passed almost thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was the first comprehensive federal law that addressed the needs of individuals with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination in employment, communications, public services, and public accommodations. Modeled in large part after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title I of the ADA generally prohibited discrimination against employees with disabilities but also imposed additional obligations for employers to provide reasonable accommodations for their employees with disabilities.
Despite the important public policy behind the ADA and the general support it received, the ADA has proved to be one of the more difficult and time-consuming laws for employers from a compliance standpoint, and has garnered a sizable amount of litigation between employers and their employees.
The federal WARN Act of 1988 applies to any business that employs 100 or more employees. The law contains special rules for the counting of part-time employees in determining whether an employer is covered by the law. It contains two exceptions to the 60-day notice requirement that could potentially apply to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020 history is repeating itself: because COVID-19 was first identified in China, people in the USA are scapegoating people of Chinese origin (and even people of Asian descent generally) for the spread of the disease. There have already been numerous reports of people of Chinese descent being discriminated against (for example, in the form of plummeting patronage of Chinatown districts in many cities) and publicly attacked.
These examples highlight the xenophobia that manifests in public spaces and discourse during these outbreaks, but the same kinds of issues can arise in private spaces as well—including the workplace.