Reasonable Accommodation for Federal Employees

Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Written by: Attorney Justin Schnitzer

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reasonable accommodation for federal employees

As a federal employee in America, you have the right to reasonable accommodation for a disability. Your disability might affect your senses, your dexterity, your mobility, or might even be a mental health condition. No matter the details, if your disability can be overcome and job duties completed with the help of reasonable accommodation, then your agency is required to provide it (with very limited exceptions).

However, not all supervisors and agency authorities are reasonable. If you have been denied reasonable accommodation or if your federal employer won’t even discuss the possibility, your rights have been denied. The next step is to take legal action. The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer is on your side, and our federal employment attorneys are ready to defend your right to a welcoming and reasonably accommodating federal workplace.

Before we dive into the legalities, let’s understand some common examples of reasonable accommodation for federal employees.

What are examples of reasonable accommodation for federal employees?

Reasonable accommodations might include supplying interpreters, readers, or personal help; modifying job functions; altering the setup of work areas; offering flexible work times or places, like telework; and applying technology and tools designed to accommodate individual requirements at work.

How Can a Federal Employment Attorney Help Me Secure Reasonable Accommodation?

Your federal employer may think they have the final word on your accommodation, but this is not necessarily the case. The accommodation your Agency offers must be effective. (What is considered an effective accommodation is often the subject of litigation) According to your rights defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, you have the right to request, negotiate, and receive an accommodation that would help you overcome your disabilities to perform work tasks that would not overtly cause “undue hardship” for the agency.

Not only that, but every step of the process should be clearly documented by your Agency, so that it can be reviewed and appealed. However, as an employee, you can make a request in any format, whether it be verbally or in writing. A federal employment lawyer can help you prepare a request, appeal a denial, and research and propose alternate accommodations outside the denied solution. They can then help you file a complaint with the EEOC to ensure your employer is held legally accountable with for flatly refusing to accommodate your disability.

The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer is staffed with skilled attorneys who provide dedicated legal services for federal employees across the country. Contact us today or call 202-964-4878 to schedule your free consultation and learn more about how we can help you achieve your legal goals.

What Is Reasonable Accommodation for Federal Employees?

The OPM provides extensive documentation to define reasonable accommodation for federal employees with disabilities. This includes changes in job routines, telework (remote work), assistive technology, service dogs, transportation services, and adjustments to the workplace layout. In other words, the scope for reasonable accommodation is quite large, and so is the potential budget to reasonably accommodate an employee.

  • Changes to Work Routines or Procedures
  • Assistive Technology
  • Workplace Layout Changes
  • Service Animals
  • Telework
  • Special Equipment – ex: An ergonomic chair
  • Transportation Services

What is defined as “reasonable” is anything that would not cause “undue hardship” for the agency. Often, the most drastic changes required may be the installation of ramps or additional handicap parking – two factors that should already have been completed for the sake of accessibility even in old government buildings. Compared to minor construction, things like assistive software, a special chair, or even a service dog are hardly considered sources of hardship for your average government agency.

Most agencies also function on a fairly large budget, and will be able to provide for a disabled employee up to a cost of several thousand dollars in expense. With the ability to propose different accommodations until a reasonable solution is found, denials should be rare. But they are not.

The key to getting the disability accommodation you need starts with a transparent and well-documented request process.

What is the Interactive Process for Requesting Disability Accommodation?

Based on the legal foundations, disability accommodation should be an act of teamwork between a federal employee and employer. There is an established interactive process in which both parties work together to understand the disability, what can accommodate, and which accommodations are the most reasonable for everyone involved.

Step 1 : The employee requests a reasonable accommodation.

  • This may or may not include requesting a specific solution.
  • There is no special form you must fill out or format you must use.
  • You do not need to use the words “reasonable accommodation” (but it may help)
  • The request does not need to be in writing (however, putting the request in writing may be beneficial as your case progresses).

Step 2: The employer requests limited medical information if the need for the accommodation is not readily apparent. 

If the reason for an accommodation isn’t clear, the employer can request certain medical information.

Step 3: The employee provides limited relevant medical documentation to prove the need for an accommodation due to disability.

This information must sufficiently illustrate how the disability impacts their job performance and the rationale behind the accommodation request.

Step 4: The employee and employer will debate over the correct accommodation solution.

  • Each will have the opportunity propose solutions and offer alternatives to the other’s proposals
  • The process will ideally result in a solution that is both helpful to the employee and reasonable for the agency to implement

Step 5: The Employer will approve or deny the proposed accommodation

  • If approved, the employer will then implement the accommodation
  • If denied, a written denial including a reason for denial must be filed.

What Can Go Wrong in a Reasonable Accommodation Request

Ideally, the employee and employer come to an agreement and an accommodation is provided. However, there are four ways that this otherwise productive process can go wrong.

1. The Employer Denies Without Proper Grounds for Hardship

If a federal employee denies your request for accommodation, the most common reason is that they don’t want to expend the effort or make the exceptions necessary to accommodate. If your employer won’t reopen negotiations, you can appeal this type of denial to the EEOC as refusal to provide reasonable accommodations and, therefore, a violation of your federal employee rights.

2. The Employer Denies Because Not All Solutions are Known

Sometimes, there is a reasonable solution, but neither party knows about it. Recent technology or more sophisticated job adjustment schemes are often the solution if your accommodation talks come to an impasse. More research or the help of a disability specialist may be needed.

3. Unreasonable Counteroffers

In some cases, negotiations may also break down because your employer makes unreasonable counter offers – in other words they will not approve your requests and offer solutions that would not effectively accommodate your disability. This can take the shape of indirect denial and may eventually be treated as such.

4. The Employer Approves But Does Not Take Action

Perhaps the worst option, however, is that your employer on-paper approves of your accommodation but then takes months or even years to provide the agreed-upon solution. This can be a method to stall out implementing a solution the employer knows is legally required but doesn’t want to provide. It is the most difficult to appeal, but can be proven as a rights violation with correct documentation.

What to Do If Your Request for Accommodation is Denied

The process to receive reasonable accommodation for federal employees is designed to result in an approved solution. However, if your request is outright denied, you have three potential options. Each option is made easier and more effective with the help of a federal disability lawyer who understands the inner workings of both 

Appeal the Denial

You can file a formal appeal of the denial. This is the best path if you require a specific solution and your employer has flatly refused arguing that it would cause undue hardship for the agency. If your request is realistic and reasonable, you can appeal directly to your supervisor or up the chain of command. 

Your lawyer can help you identify the correct authority figures to take your appeal to. A lawyer’s involvement will also make it clear that you are ready to take legal action if a solution is not found.

Research and Propose Alternate Accommodations

Your second option is to reopen negotiations by researching and submitting a different request for accommodation, asking for a different solution. If you find that your employer has some grounds for objection – or would simply like to work around a solution bias – there are many accommodation options introduced by recent technology and innovations that might overcome the given reason for denial of your last request.

Your lawyer can help you explore alternate accommodation options including grounds for acceptance to make your second request stronger than the first.

File a Complaint with the EEOC

Lastly, if your employer will not move forward on any accommodation that would provide what you need, your lawyer can file a complaint with the EEOC – Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This will start the ball rolling on taking legal action that may identify your employer’s refusal as unlawful at best and disability discrimination at worst.

If Denied Accommodation for Your Disability, You Are Not Alone

Employers may deny accommodations because they think that a federal employee cannot dispute their decision. They are wrong. With a federal employment lawyer by your side, you will be able to plan a variety of maneuvers to get the accommodations you need.

The federal employment lawyers at The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer are dedicated to providing personalized, high-quality legal representation to federal employees nationwide. Contact us today or call 202-964-4878 to schedule your free consultation and learn more about how we can help you achieve your legal goals.

Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Meet the Author:
Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Justin Schnitzer is the managing partner of The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer, and represents individual federal employees and unions in various aspects of federal employment law. His practice is primarily dedicated to federal EEOC and MSPB matters, responses to proposed disciplinary actions and investigations into potential misconduct.