Get the Reasonable Accommodations You Need

Federal Employee Reasonable Accommodations for Disabilities

Getting Reasonable accommodations from a difficult employer can be frustrating if not impossible. But accommodations are too important to ignore. It’s not a ‘nice to have,’ it’s a necessity. 

This is About Your Career

Disability accommodations provide a bridge for federal employees. That’s a central purpose of the law. Without accommodations, employees with disabilities face enormous hurdles at work that others either are unaware of or ignore.

Many federal employees need these accommodation to do their jobs. Not just today, but ten, twenty, or forty years from now. Not receiving an accommodation can leave an employee with little choice but to leave employment.

Does this sound familiar? If you’ve read this far, you’re probably concerned about something like this happening to you or someone close to you.

Get Advice that Works

Most federal employees (and HR managers, frankly) know someone who got an accommodation, and that’s the basis for their understanding of the accommodations process. 

The problem with this experience-based approach is that it often does not work. It makes getting typical accommodations easier, but for those employees who face difficult situations, the accommodations experience can be frustrating to say the least. 

The ADA and other disabilities laws are about principles that apply broadly to every situation, not just the ones that HR has dealt with before. Applying them is not particularly difficult if you understand them. Getting others to understand those principles, and how they apply in your situation, is the critical step. 

Ready? Get a Free Consultation.

There’s Good News

The good news is you can turn this around. You don’t have to accept whatever ineffective accommodation the agency has given you. You are entitled to better treatment. How? Educate, Educate, Educate. It’s really that simple.

Get Yourself Educated.

First, educate yourself. It’s no good if you don’t know the basics.

Want to know what other mistakes management is making? Take a look at the Five Myths that Federal Managers Believe about Reasonable Accommodations. These myths are responsible for probably 90% of the EEO cases for reasonable accommodations. 

Are you having difficulty with telework accommodations? Take a look at this blog post I wrote about telework accommodations: 4 days per Week of Telework is Not Enough for Those Who Need 100% Telework. The bottom line is that giving less than 100% telework to employees who need and deserve full-time telework is not acceptable.

Did you request accommodations, and suddenly you’re being required to come in to the office? Check out my post on Fake Essential Functions. Management can’t deny a reasonable accommodation based on essential functions that you just made up or that don’t apply.

Are you being forced to take leave when a reasonable accommodation would meet your needs? Check out Illegal Enforced Leave & Medical Evaluations of Current Employees. There’s a lot that agencies can, and often do, get wrong about accommodating employees.

Still waiting on an accommodation after months? Check out my post on Delays in Reasonable Accommodations. This is far too common, and it ends up costing employees years of working life. Don’t let that happen to you.

Want to hear something else that shocks virtually every manager? As a disabled federal employee with a need for an accommodation, You are entitled to be treated differently if required to accommodate your disability effectively.

How can that be? Don’t we have to treat everyone the same? Accommodations often require exceptions to policies and practices or a change in the working environment. One common change is telework. Agency management has to make an exception to telework policies if required to do so for disability accommodation reasons. Or does your management think that office policy trumps federal statutory law?

Another shocker – Management has to accommodate the specific needs of this employee and her restrictions. That means there are no blanket policies. It also means that management has an obligation to understand the precise restrictions an employee has due to his disability. 

There’s a lot more to unpack. I’ve included some recent blog posts below if you’re interested. 

There’s a lot more to unpack. I’ve included some recent blog posts below if you’re interested. 

Educate Management

Knowing the basics about your own rights is the first step. The next step is convincing someone in management to agree with you. 

That may be as hard as it sounds. Managers have an allergy to being told what to do. They think they’ve worked hard to get where they are. The Agency has entrusted them with responsibility. They’re going to make their own decision. 

Sometimes you have to be able to go over your immediate supervisor’s head. A lot of first-time managers are not terribly well trained. They have not had an EEO case brought against them. They don’t know anyone who has. 

That starts to change as you go up the management chain. Managers who have higher levels of authority tend to have more experience. They also are not the person who is the target of the complaint. That’s helpful. If they don’t get it, you need to move on.

That’s when you call in the reserves. Or the Marines. However you want to think of the people with cooler heads. The lawyers. Yep, those jerks are (hopefully) going to help you. But you know what? They might be the only ones who are willing to be the voice in the wilderness.

Ready? Get a Free Consultation.

 

Educate the Lawyers & Judges

This is the final step. If you educating yourself and educating management doesn’t work, then you need to keep moving.  Keep educating. Get the allies you need to get the accommodations you deserve.

I wish I could say that this is the easiest step. It’s not. The lawyers are usually not there waiting for you to knock on their door. They usually are only interested in listening to you when you get in front of a judge. 

You need to do your homework and make sure that the case is presented as good as you can get it by the time you get there. This means getting a good investigation and having strong, well-formed claims. 

It also means having an advocate who can help you get there. It starts before you even request an accommodation. Get your medical professionals on board. Understand what you need and what the agency can do to provide it. Understand what is not going to work before you request it. 

Then be ready to be pushy. Don’t allow them to delay. Don’t allow them to conduct an interactive meeting through a completely one-sided discussion. Management has to work with you, not against you. 

Here’s Your Five-Step Plan to Get Started

I have a 5-point plan for fixing reasonable accommodations. Not all of this may apply to your situation, but some of it will.

1. Ask for the right accommodations. I work with my clients to figure out what the right accommodation is for their situation. We connect your actual job requirements and duties to the restrictions that your medical conditions present, and consider a variety of potential workarounds (that is, accommodations) that you can request. Do it right. Don’t hide it. Be up front about what you want and why you want it. This can solve a lot of problems down the road.

2. Work with your doctors. Doctors typically don’t understand what your day-to-day work requirements are. You need to help them understand what it is that you need to do your job, and what not. If you can’t lift 20 pounds or stand for more than 30 minutes without making things worse, the doctor needs to be able to say that. I help draft documents for your doctors to review and edit to ensure that they are being specific about what your restrictions are in the most helpful way possible.

3. Engage in the interactive process. Management doesn’t know how your disability impacts you the way that you do. Sometimes you have to explain that. Sometimes you have to explain what the requirements for disability accommodation are. Sometimes you have to be (legally) threatening. Everyone in management is trained to treat everyone equally. This avoids charges of favoritism or worse. But the ADA requires management to treat people with disabilities differently. It’s not a common situation. This can be difficult for management to grasp, so you may need to educate them.

4. File an EEO Complaint. If all of that doesn’t work, you have to go to the barricades. But you don’t want to take this step until you’re sure that you’ve crossed all of your T’s and dotted all of your I’s. At this point, you need to be sure all of your loops are closed. If not, the Agency will figure that out and exploit it in litigation. You don’t want that. You want to have the strongest case possible before filing a complaint. After the complaint, it is much harder to fix any issues.

5. Mediate early and often. Once you get to mediation, the Agency will often engage legal. This means someone who knows something about these kinds of cases, and is willing to be educated, gets involved. Agency attorneys can have a lot of pull and can be quite persuasive. The key is for you to persuade them first.

Is this important? Well, that depends. Does your disability potentially affect your performance? What happens if you don’t get the accommodation you need? Will it get harder or easier in the future?

The answer to the last question is almost always that it gets harder. You need a standing desk now, but in six months the pain could be so bad you need to take situational telework, then full-time telework. I can tell you from first-hand experience that the first one takes almost nothing to get, and the last one can take months full of threatening emails and painful days at work.

This plan I laid out above works. I know because I’ve seen it. It works if even if you eventually need disability retirement. It works if you ultimately need to litigate. And it works for employees because it puts the lowest cost resolutions first. You shouldn’t have to pay to make the Agency do the right thing. But waiting and then paying a lawyer thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars to litigate a tough case is almost never the right solution.

I am here to help. As I like to tell people, this is my day job. I shoulder some of the burden. All of those questions get answered like ‘Am I doing the right thing?’  You have someone to call. I love doing this work. Because I get to help people.

If you are still interested in working with me, just reach out. We can figure out a plan that works right for you. And figuring this out as soon as you can is worth it to protect your future.

Don’t wait. Get the help you need. Find someone who understands your situation and what you need for reasonable accommodations. 

Ready? Get a Free Consultation.

Federal Employee Free Phone Consultation

Find a time to talk about your case with a lawyer, not an intake coordinator. 

Here’s what you should know:

  • This is completely free, no cost, no obligation on your part (Lawyers can’t expect payment without an agreement)
  • You get helpful information about your federal EEO case 
  • This is the start of the process to find an attorney to represent you