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Legal Insider: Reasonable Accommodations for Federal Employees

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq. and Melissa L. Watkins, Esq.

Federal employees, whether part-time or full-time, with a qualifying disability are entitled to reasonable accommodations.

Reasonable accommodations are changes in the work environment or in the way things are done in the workplace to assist disabled individuals in participating fully in the employment environment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has a nice article on the subject here.

Examples of potential reasonable accommodations:

  • Making existing facilities accessible
  • Job restructuring
  • Part-time or modified work schedules
  • Use of leave
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment
  • Changing tests, training materials or policies
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters
  • Reassignment to a vacant position
  • Accommodations to access benefits and privileges of employment. Examples of benefits and privileges of employment include training, services, credit unions, cafeterias, lounges, gymnasiums, auditoriums, transportation and parties or other social functions.

A federal agency does not have to eliminate a fundamental duty of the position or lower production standards in the reasonable accommodation process, but the agency may have to provide an accommodation to enable a disabled employee to satisfy the duty or meet the standard if it is reasonable.

Reasonable accommodations must not be unduly burdensome (feasible or plausible), effective in meeting the needs of the disabled individual and they cannot cause undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense) for the agency.

Agencies are not required to provide the exact accommodation that is requested but the accommodation provided must be effective in meeting the needs of the federal employee.

Example of Reasonable Accommodation — A federal employee has an eye disability that makes it difficult for the employee to read small font on a standard computer. The employee requests a computer software tool that magnifies font sizes to make documents easier to read.

This accommodation is reasonable because it is a common-sense solution to remove a workplace barrier when the job can be effectively performed with a larger font size. This accommodation is effective because it addresses the employee’s eyesight disability and enables him/her to perform the job duties. The accommodation does not cause undue hardship because the software is easy to obtain and the cost is minimal to the agency.

Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation

In order to obtain a reasonable accommodation a disabled employee must inform the agency that an accommodation is needed. The request for an accommodation can be made at any time during employment. The process for requesting a reasonable accommodation is very informal and usually occurs through conversations between the employee and the agency.

The request does not have to be in writing, but it is recommended that something in writing be provided for the purposes of record keeping. Agencies may also have a designated form that is provided to federal employees making a reasonable accommodation request. An agency may not cause unnecessary delay in responding to a request for accommodation.

An agency’s failure to participate in a dialogue (otherwise known as the “interactive process”) about accommodation after a request is made or the causing of undue delay could result in liability for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.

Generally, a federal employee requesting a reasonable accommodation is not required to submit medical evidence. However, in certain instances, an agency may require reasonable documentation to verify the disability and the type of accommodation that is necessary.

The agency is not allowed to require any more documentation than what is necessary to establish a disability and that the disability necessitates a reasonable accommodation. Agencies may not demand documentation when the disability and the need for reasonable accommodation are obvious.

It is very important for federal employees in need of a reasonable accommodation that they seek the advice of an attorney regarding their request in order to ensure compliance with agency-specific procedures.

Legal representation can also be beneficial in addressing reasonable accommodations as they relate to adverse employment actions or termination.

Our law firm represents federal employees seeking reasonable accommodations and in other federal retirement matters.

Conclusion

If you are in need of federal employee retirement law representation, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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