Disability-Inclusive Telework for States: State Approaches to Increasing Access & Inclusion

States are increasingly developing and implementing telework policies and programs for state government employees. Every state has some form of telework policy, whether through statutes or regulations, manuals or guidance documents, or policies applicable to emergency situations.

Telework allows states to keep pace with changes in the workforce landscape, attract and retain talent, and achieve cost-savings goals. Telework also can play a key role in helping states hire individuals with disabilities, which can produce a range of monetary and non-monetary benefits for state governments.

In order to realize these benefits, states must ensure that telework is accessible to and usable by its employees with disabilities. While some states already consider individuals with disabilities in their telework policies and programs, states can take additional steps toward ensuring all components of state telework are inclusive. Disability-Inclusive Telework for States: State Approaches to Increasing Access & Inclusion provides guidance to state policymakers on developing more inclusive telework policies and programs. The guide was developed in collaboration with the State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED).

To get started, click on one of the five maps below: Statutes/Regulations, Manuals/GuidanceEmergenciesTelework as a Reasonable Accommodation, or Private Sector. Once you choose a state within any of the maps, a text box will appear with a link to additional resources. To zoom back and return to the state map, simply click on the “x” in the top right corner of the text box. 




Telework as a Reasonable Accommodation

Private Sector

I: The Importance of Inclusive Telework

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), states may need to employ and/or modify telework for individuals with disabilities. That is:

      • When telework is provided as a management option to all employees, state agencies must give employees with disabilities equal access to this benefit. This accommodation may require modification or waiver of particular provisions. For example, prohibiting employees from using their own equipment for telework may need to be modified for employees who use their own assistive technology to perform their jobs.
      • Permitting an employee with a disability to telework may be a reasonable accommodation, even if the state has no telework program or limits its telework program to specific jobs. Changing the location where work is performed may fall under the ADA’s reasonable accommodation requirement of modifying workplace policies, even if the state does not allow other employees to telework. Allowing employees to telework can eliminate workplace barriers, such as inaccessible worksites or challenging commutes.

At a minimum, states may therefore need to employ and/or modify telework policies and programs on an individual basis. In contrast, inclusive telework policies consider the needs of a range of state employees—including those with and without disabilities—from the outset. By ensuring telework policies and programs are inclusive to all, state governments can:

      • Better accommodate a range of employee needs, work styles, and communication preferences, regardless of an employee’s functional abilities
      • More easily continue normal operations during emergency situations such as pandemics and natural disasters by facilitating telework for a range of employees
      • Reduce operating costs for the state by enabling more employees to work from home
      • Attract and retain a more diverse range of talent, particularly as inclusive telework policies are advertised
      • Increase operational performance by attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce
      • Reduce the responsibility of individual managers to modify telework programs by formally aligning overall policies and practices with civil rights laws
      • Provide leadership in modeling employment best practices for other employers in the state

II: Developing Inclusive Telework Policies and Programs

A state agency’s telework program is informed by three components: (A) telework policies, (B) telework agreements, and (C) management of telework programs. To create disability-inclusive telework programs, state policymakers may want to consider three main principles:

      • Clarity in expectations and procedures
      • Flexibility in accommodating individual situations, when needed
      • Universal design in the creation of policies and the selection of telework tools

A: Telework Policies

Telework policies can take the form of statutes/regulations or manuals/guidance, and can be specific to an agency or apply across state government.

Telework policies generally outline the purpose of the telework program; eligibility and participation criteria; processes related to telework; responsibilities of employees and state personnel; and elements to be included in telework agreements (described below).

Suggested Strategies for Inclusion:

      • Explicitly indicating how policies apply to individuals with disabilities, whether it is meant to be inclusive or needs to be modified, so that employees and managers better understand and engage with telework policies.
          • North Dakota allows modification or waiver of policies for employees who work from home as a reasonable accommodation.
          • Alaska and Idaho clarify that policies do not cover reasonable accommodations; those requests should be made through Human Resources staff.
          • California permits full-time telework when accommodating people with disabilities.
          • Delaware directs that additional or modified accommodations be provided to people with disabilities who decide to change their worksite.
          • Arizona and South Carolina clarify that policies are meant as “general frameworks,” and exceptions can be granted on a case-by-case basis.
      • Providing guidelines and requiring clear documentation to ensure telework requests are handled transparently and reduce discrimination in telework denials and approvals.
          • Iowa and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services direct that if a manager denies a telework request, he or she must provide the employee with a written explanation and business-related reason for the decision.
          • Alaska provides a list of business reasons that can reasonably result in a denial.
          • New Hampshire stipulates that employers must indicate steps that employees can take to be eligible for reconsideration.
          • Nebraska directs that telework policies be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner.
      • Allowing employees flexibility in acquiring and utilizing technology and other equipment to better meet the needs of employees.
          • Maryland offers state agencies several options for providing telework equipment, including lending it from the office; providing incentives for teleworkers to purchase their own equipment; subsidizing the purchase of equipment by teleworkers; and purchasing equipment for teleworkers.
          • South Dakota and Minnesota allow employees to use their own equipment for teleworking and indicate that agencies (at their discretion) may provide maintenance and repair of employee-owned equipment.

B: Telework Agreements

These agreements between a manager and an employee establish the terms and conditions of telework. Telework agreements are developed in accordance with state or agency policies but allow individual managers and employees to agree on specific arrangements within the more general policy framework.

Several states provide sample telework agreements for individual agencies to use.

      • Kansas and West Virginia allow customization of the telework schedule, telework location, and duration of the agreement.
      • Delaware includes fields for specifying the systems, equipment, and software required for telework.

Suggested Strategies for Inclusion:

      • Allowing employers and employees to customize particular aspects of telework agreements such as communication methods and means of securing and transporting equipment to better account for an individual’s unique situation.
          • The Kansas Telework Agreement requires documentation of “Furnishings and Supplies” that an agency may provide and communication tools and procedures to be used.
          • Minnesota requires determination of communication expectations and list of any additional instructions, conditions, restrictions, or exceptions relating to the Telework Agreement.
          • Alabama includes a “Special Conditions or Additional Agreements” section.
      • Indicating protocols to allow employees with disabilities to telework during emergency situations to mitigate additional challenges brought on by the extenuating circumstances (such as traveling to the office during a storm).
          • Montana and Virginia stipulate that agency telework agreements should indicate an employee’s status during emergency and weather–related closings.
          • The Idaho Telecommuting Agreement requires indication of whether an employee is expected to telecommute for the duration of an emergency.

C: Management of Telework Programs

Management of telework programs refers to the methods and strategies that agencies use in implementing and operating telework programs. It covers how policies are implemented. While some methods may be codified in state or agency policies, managers may further shape the management of policies through their individual decisions and actions.

Components of telework management include who is designated as a telework coordinator; how managers and employees are trained on telework policies; how technical assistance is provided to off-site employees; and how data are collected and tracked.

      • The New Jersey National Guard assigns the Human Resource Officer responsibility for appointing a Telework Coordinator, and delineates responsibilities for that Coordinator.
      • Virginia encourages agencies to provide telework training to managers and provides links to best practice resources.
      • Utah urges agencies to develop customized Rollout Plans that detail implementation steps and timelines for telework programs.

Suggested Strategies for Inclusion:

      • Training managers to effectively implement and communicate telework policies and best practices, especially related to supporting people with different needs.
          • Minnesota, Virginia, and other states require or recommend that managers receive training on telework policies and best practices.
          • Massachusetts provides links to online telework trainings and best practice guides for managers.
          • Montana offers a course called “Remote Management.”
      • Designating someone such as the ADA Coordinator to coordinate and manage telework accessibility issues.
          • South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and several other states require agencies to designate a Telework Coordinator to oversee implementation of the agency’s telework program and serve as a resource for managers.
      • Coordinating with the state’s assistive technology resources created under Section 4 of the federal Assistive Technology (AT) Act to provide devices for individuals with disabilities (and often their employers).
          • The Wisconsin Assistive Technology Program loans out assistive technology devices to people with disabilities and their employers.
          • Telework Assistance Grants from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services assist people with disabilities in accessing telework equipment during COVID-19.
      • Training technology support personnel on selecting and supporting accessible technology by considering universal design and WCAG 2.0 or higher standards in selecting technology platforms; and to troubleshoot the assistive technology devices used by employees.
          • The Texas Department of Information Resources in response to COVID-19, encourages agencies to audit IT applications and tools to ensure they are inclusive and accessible to employees with disabilities.
          • The federal Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) initiative provides guidelines and resources around telework accessibility, including digital communications.

III: The Fiscal Impacts of State Telework

An average employer can save thousands of dollars per year for each employee who telecommutes. Savings can range from $6,500 for one employee who teleworks once-per-week, to $11,000 for an employee who telecommutes half-time. These cost savings arise from:

States have saved millions of dollars by implementing telework programs.

      • Utah launched a statewide teleworking program in 2019, based on results from a pilot program that resulted in a 20% increase in employee performance as a result. The Governor’s Office estimates 30% of all telework-eligible employees or 2,555 people will participate in the initial roll-out of the program, reducing office space needs by nearly 64,000 square feet and saving the state tens of millions of dollars.
      • Tennessee implemented an Alternative Workplace Solutions (AWS) program in 2016. Six thousand state employees have participated in the program, which has resulted in a 37% reduction in sick leave, a $6.5 million reduction in real-estate rental costs, and an increase of productivity (according to 60% of managers). In addition, the state plans to sell an office building in downtown Nashville, which is no longer needed, for $40 million to $60 million. Eventually, 27,000 of Tennessee’s 38,000 executive branch employees could be eligible for the program.
      • The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, which employs roughly 3,000 people across multiple locations, estimates that the Department has saved between $300,000 and $500,000 annually as the result of the shift to telework brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. These cost savings come largely from reduced expenditures on facility maintenance, utilities, and printing.