The Agency DRAD (Disability Reasonable Accommodation Division) and other RACs (Reasonable Accommodation Coordinators or Committees) for federal employees are responsible for ensuring that employees with disabilities are provided with reasonable accommodations to perform their job duties. Their job is generally, at least on paper, to work with employees and their supervisors to identify what accommodations may be necessary, and then to assess whether those accommodations would cause an undue hardship on the agency. The RACs are also responsible for overseeing the interactive process between the employee and the agency to ensure that the accommodation is effective and meets the employee’s needs.
The problem is when RACs become overconfident in their knowledge and apply a limited knowledge base to accommodations in areas where they are unfamiliar. The case of Wilmer M v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Case No. 0120160352 (Feb. 22, 2018) shows what happens when the RAC gets it wrong. A little mistake in understanding how accommodations law works can have an outsize impact on whether an employee is faced with a discriminatory decision from the Agency.
Wilmer M. (2018) and the RAC problem
In Wilmer M. v. Dep’t of State, the complainant alleged that the Agency failed to provide reasonable accommodations for his military service-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The complainant requested reduced distractions and uninterrupted work time, as well as a quiet work area, an enclosure or private space, or work from home part-time, all to help him perform his job as a passport agent due to his military service-related PTSD. The complainant also requested that his supervisor provide daily feedback at one point of the day, as “constant interruptions” by his supervisor did not allow him to perform his job effectively. He requested a total of 14 separate accommodations for his medical conditions to help him with performing his work as a passport agent.
However, the DRAD (the agency RA coordinator) dismissed many of these requests as “outside the scope of reasonable accommodation” and denied all of the complainant’s requested accommodations. The Agency claimed that they were either outside the scope of reasonable accommodations or would cause an undue hardship.
The EEOC disagreed. The EEOC found instead that the Agency violated the Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide any of the requested reasonable accommodations, and that the Agency’s broad rejection did not reflect the specificity required of an individualized assessment or a consideration of the factors comprising an undue hardship.
Other cases show that reasonable accommodation coordinators can be as harmful as they are helpful. In Pamala L.(2017), a complainant submitted multiple rounds of medical documentation over years, but the reasonable accommodation committee responsible for controlling the RA process, closed the request because she did not submit additional medical documentation. The EEOC found that the RAC’s denial was unlawful. Although an agency is entitled to medical documentation, it already had sufficient medical documentation.
Hostility and Ignorance of RACs
These cases illustrate the importance of questioning DRAC’s and RA coordinators’ statements. This case shows what happens when DRACs and RACs become overconfident in their knowledge and apply their limited knowledge base to accommodations in areas where they are unfamiliar. While they do receive training, they are typically not lawyers and have little or no training on how to interepret specific provisions of the Rehabiliatation Act.
They can also be hostile and not understand the Agency’s obligations. This can have a significant impact on employees with disabilities, who may not receive the accommodations they need to perform their jobs effectively.
To counter the mistakes and hostility of DRACs and RACs, individual employees can educate themselves about their rights under the Rehabilitation Act and advocate for themselves and their needs in the workplace.
It is crucial for RACs and DRACs to engage and think critically about how the Agency can provide reasonable accommodations for federal employees who have disabilities, in order to ensure that such federal employees will be able to perform the essential functions of their positions, and enjoy all the benefits and privileges of employment enjoyed by non-disabled employees. Failure to provide reasonable accommodations can result in a violation of the Rehabilitation Act.
Incompetence can be illegal
If an agency fails to provide reasonable accommodation based on its own lack of information, it is still considered intentional discrimination. Reasonable accommodation coordinators can be just as much at fault as any other management official in this type of discrimination. The agency is responsible for the discrimination even if the coordinator just makes a mistake.
This also has an impact on the well being of the employee. Not being accommodated may lead the employee to leave employment, to take unnecessary leave, or simply to be frustrated, angry or to develop mental health issues. The Agency can be made responsible for all of these.
When an employee with a disability is not provided with reasonable accommodations, it can lead to negative consequences such as leaving employment, taking unnecessary leave, or developing mental health issues. Employers can be held responsible for these consequences. The Wilmer M. v. Dep’t of State case highlights the importance of providing reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
Get Help if You Need It
This case sheds light on the issues faced by federal employees with disabilities concerning reasonable accommodations, particularly the problems with the Disability Reasonable Accommodation Division (DRAD) and other Reasonable Accommodation Coordinators (RACs). RACs can be hostile and not understand the agency’s obligations.
If you are experiencing difficulties in obtaining reasonable accommodations at work, it is essential to seek help. You can consult an attorney who focuses on federal employee disability law and can guide you through the process. They can help you understand your rights under the Rehabilitation Act and advocate for yourself and your needs in the workplace.
Wilmer M. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Case No. 0120160352 (February 22, 2018)
Pamala L. v. United States Postal Service, EEOC Case No. 0120152493 (Nov. 1, 2017)