Many people with disabilities face barriers before they even get their foot in the door. But the hiring process is only one form of disability discrimination.
Employers -- including federal agencies and government contractors -- are legally obligated to accommodate disabilities. But what is considered a “reasonable” accommodation? What if the employer says no?
What does disability accommodation look like?
Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to enable individuals with a disability to (a) compete for a job, (b) access the workplace, (c) perform the functions of the job and (d) enjoy the perks and privileges of the job.
The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission offers these examples of disability accommodations:
- A wheelchair ramp or handicap-accessible bathroom
- Specialized equipment or workstation alterations
- Dictation software for a person with carpal tunnel syndrome
- An interpreter or TTY software for a hearing-impaired person
- Changing or eliminating some job tasks
- Dividing the work day or allowing for extra breaks
- Working from home (telecommuting)
- Reassignment to a vacant position
What is the process for requesting accommodations?
Many applicants are hesitant to ask for accommodations during the hiring process. They don’t want to jeopardize their shot, or may not know what accommodations are needed until they start the job.
A request for accommodations can be made at any time, orally or in writing. Once the request is made to a supervisor or manager, it must be forwarded to the agency’s designated Disability Program Manager. The DPM must accept the request and forward it to the appropriate parties. The DPM must respond to the employee within 10 days to discuss viable solutions.
What does failure to accommodate look like?
If management ignores or flatly refuses a reasonable request, that constitutes discrimination. The law requires employers to make a good faith attempt to work with the disabled employee. If the accommodation is not feasible because of cost or other factors, the employer is obligated to offer alternatives or consider compromises. Under the law, refusing to engage in an interactive process is considered failure to accommodate.
For federal employees, all requests for accommodation go through the EEOC. Sometimes the EEOC authorizes an accommodation that differs from the original request. This is not considered failure to accommodate.
What are the remedies for disability discrimination or inadequate accommodation?
If the EEOC denies a request, it must give a detailed explanation why. The employee can request reconsideration through an informal process. If the decision is still unsatisfactory, or if there has been an adverse action, the employee can initiate a formal appeal or grievance through the EEOC or the Merit Systems Protection Board.
If a government contractor or other private employer denies a reasonable request, the remedies vary. The employee could sue to force the employer to provide accommodation. If the employee was let go, reassigned or harassed after requesting accommodations, they could sue for reinstatement or sue for damages for wrongful termination or retaliation.
People with disabilities want to work and contribute and be valued, just like everyone else. If the accommodations would be effective and would not cause the agency or company undue hardship, the law requires it.
The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan, P.C., literally wrote the book on federal employment law. They are well versed in all aspects of disability law in the workplace, representing government workers nationwide as well as private sector employees in the D.C. area.