Constructive Termination in Federal Employment: When Agencies Fail to Provide Reasonable Accommodations

Every day, federal employees across the country (and the world) strive to balance their work responsibilities with their personal health conditions. When health issues affect one’s ability to work in a traditional office environment, reasonable accommodations can make all the difference. However, what options does an employee have when these accommodations are not provided, and the only alternative is continuing to work in pain or even danger?

This dilemma was at the heart of the case between Julietta K., a loan specialist, and the Department of Agriculture. In this case, Julietta K.’s request to telework was denied, leading to a constructive discharge. This story is all too common, making it crucial for federal employees to understand their rights under Reasonable Accommodation law.

Understanding Your Rights: EEOC Accommodations and Constructive Termination Law

The Rehabilitation Act exists to protect employees like Julietta K., who require reasonable accommodations due to health conditions. A federal agency must provide a reasonable accommodation to an individual with a disability unless the accommodation would cause undue hardship. A reasonable accommodation must be effective and may include telework, which is a modification of an employer’s policy concerning where work is performed. The Agency has the burden of proving that telework would cause undue hardship.

constructive discharge occurs when an employee is forced to resign due to intolerable working conditions, which can include the failure to accommodate an employee’s disability. To establish constructive discharge, a complainant must show that a reasonable person in their situation would have found the agency’s actions intolerable, that the agency’s actions were discriminatory, and that their resignation resulted from the agency’s actions.

The EEOC and MSPB have different standards for determining what constitutes a constructive discharge. This means that just because the MSPB may have found that a resignation was voluntary, it does not mean that the EEOC will not find that the resignation was constructive discharge based on discrimination. An MSPB’s decision to the contrary does not necessarily preclude the EEOC from making its own decision based on its legal standards, called res judicata.

Julietta K.’s Case: A Close Look

Julietta K. was a loan specialist with health conditions that made it difficult for her to sit and drive for long periods of time. Her physician recommended that she only travel long distances once a week, and she requested to telework four days per week. The alternative accommodations offered by her agency, such as liberal leave, a sit/stand desk, and two 15-minute health breaks, did not effectively address her limitations on driving once per week.

Despite demonstrating a clear need, the agency denied her telework request and only offered one day of telework per week. This left her with a four-day-a-week commute. Her supervisor informed her that she would have to come to the office four days a week following the denial of her reasonable accommodation, instead of being accommodated while she appealed their decision. She informed her supervisor that the agency’s alternate accommodations would not be effective. She retired soon after the accommodations decision.

In Julietta K.’s case, the EEOC determined that the agency’s refusal to provide effective accommodations—ones that directly addressed her limitations—rendered her working conditions intolerable. This decision holds a profound implication: when an employer’s actions (or lack thereof) force an employee into a corner, it can equate to constructive termination.


Julietta K.’s case serves as a stark reminder of the struggles federal employees may face when seeking reasonable accommodations. It highlights the need for understanding and asserting one’s rights under the Rehabilitation Act and constructive termination law.

As a federal employee, it’s crucial to know that you are protected by law. If you find yourself at a critical point in your career, where your health and job are on the line, remember Julietta K.’s story. You have the right to accommodations that allow you to perform your job without jeopardizing your health. If these are not provided, you may have grounds for constructive termination, just as Julietta K. did.

In the face of adversity, understanding your legal protections can empower you to take the necessary steps towards preserving your career and well-being.

Cited Case

Julietta K. v. Vilsack, Department of Agriculture (Rural Development), EEOC Appeal No. 2022001460 (EEOC Apr. 27, 2023).

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