Many federal employees have difficulty obtaining reasonable accommodations from their federal employers because of unnecessary delays. Because the issue is in management’s hands, employees face particular difficulties getting even simple accommodations approved. But avoiding unnecessary delays can be critical to providing accommodations and avoiding charges of unlawful discrimination.
Management often ignores issues
One common problem is that management ignores the issue. Many individuals have had issues where they request an accommodation, and management delays for months just making a decision about it.
Often this is because management does not appreciate the impact of the lack of accommodation on the employee, who has often been able to deal with the situation just fine until now. Like all people, management is busy and someone else’s accommodation is not their top priority.
Management’s delays can lead to frustration on behalf of employees, who view the delay as a sign of bad faith.
Another common issue is that once the accommodation has been approved, management makes a request for an accommodation and then never follows up on that request. Management feels that they have done their due diligence by requesting for example equipment.
Failing to prioritize employee requests can lead to delays and ADA violations
On the other end, the person receiving the request for accommodative equipment may feel overwhelmed. The Agency likely does not prioritize acting quickly on reasonable accommodations. The Agency thinks that as long as progress is being made there is no cause for concern. They are doing their best.
The fact is that management and the agency both have different priorities than the employee seeking the accommodation. This happened in the case of Narcisa D. v. CIA (2020). Complainant had carpal tunnel and requested voice recognition software. She did so in October 2014. In the same month management approved the request. So far so good.
However, once the voice recognition software was ordered, the supervisor dropped the ball. The supervisor needed to sign a form to fund the purchase, but did not do so. The agency argued that this was just an “administrative oversight.” The EEOC held instead that this did not excuse the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation timely.
Here, the Agency asserted that it was merely an “administrative oversight” that caused the delay in providing Complainant with the requested software. . . . We find that the Agency’s arguments are without merit. . . . The Supervisor only needed to sign the form authorizing the expenditure for the software. The Supervisor did not do so until April 18, 2015, despite Complainant’s inquiry into the delay. The Supervisor only stated that she forgot to sign the document and noted that, due to the press of business, it may have gotten buried in her emails. Based on the record as a whole in this case, we find that the Agency violated the Rehabilitation Act when it caused an unnecessary delay in responding to Complainant’s request for a reasonable accommodation.
Management needs to be aware that delays can amount to unlawful discrimination and impact their careers
This also presents an issue for managers who have to deal with the administrative side of reasonable accommodation requests. In this case, management claimed that being too busy to approve the funding was a valid excuse. The EEOC obviously felt different.
Managers often argue in reasonable accommodation cases that they lack any ill-intent towards the disabled employee. They often point to the fact that they acted quickly to approve the reasonable accommodation in the first place. Narcisa D. demonstrates how even good intentions can lead to bad outcomes when managers fail to follow up on administrative tasks related to the requested accommodation.
The ADA’s provisions make it per se unlawful discrimination to fail to provide a reasonable accommodation. Intent is not part of the equation. Unlike other forms of discrimination, which require proof of ill intent, or animus, failing to provide a reasonable accommodation is itself conclusive proof of discrimination. A manager can easily neglect an issue only to have it result in a finding of discrimination.
It is important for all sides to recognize the damage that delay does. It can derail careers: on the employee side from poor performance due to not being accommodated, and on the management side from being found to have engaged in illegal discrimination merely by not paying close enough attention to the progress of a reasonable accommodation request.