Federal employees with disabilities can find it challenging to navigate the workplace, especially when it comes to requesting reasonable accommodations. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities unless it would cause undue hardship. However, employees may not always use the “magic words” when requesting accommodations, which can lead to confusion and misunderstandings.
First of all, it’s important to understand what constitutes a request for reasonable accommodations. According to EEOC Enforcement Guidance, a request for accommodation is any statement that an individual needs an adjustment or change at work or in the application process for a reason related to a qualifying medical condition. This means that an employee does not need to use specific language or the exact words “reasonable accommodation” to make a request. It can be an oral request, an email, or a letter from a doctor.
It’s also worth noting that there is no specific form that employees must use to make a request for reasonable accommodation. While some employers may have their own forms, employees are not required to use them. The key is to communicate the need for accommodation in a clear and explicit manner, whether it’s in writing or verbally. This allows the employer to understand the nature of the request and what accommodations are needed to ensure that the employee can perform their job duties effectively.
The EEOC has taken a liberal approach to what constitutes a request for reasonable accommodation. For example, in the case of Waneta F. v. Brennan, Postmaster Gen., the Commission found that a pregnant employee’s request for light duty was a request for reasonable accommodation. Similarly, in Kreger v. Donahoe, the Commission found that an employee’s statement that she could not perform her job duties due to a flare-up in her condition was a request for accommodation, not a refusal to do her job.
Generally, when an employee makes a request for reasonable accommodation, the employer must engage in an interactive process to determine the appropriate accommodation. This process involves communication between the employer and employee to identify the specific limitations caused by the disability and what accommodations are necessary to overcome those limitations. While the employee is not required to suggest a specific accommodation, they are encouraged to provide input on what accommodations would be most effective.
If an employer believes that a requested accommodation would impose an undue hardship, they must demonstrate that the accommodation would be too difficult or expensive to implement. The undue hardship defense requires the employer to show that the accommodation would be significantly disruptive to the business, cause significant financial difficulty, or fundamentally alter the nature of the business.
Federal employees with disabilities have the right to request reasonable accommodations that will allow them to perform their job duties effectively. While they may not need to use specific language or forms when making a request, they should communicate their needs clearly and explicitly. Employers are required to engage in an interactive process to determine appropriate accommodations, and the undue hardship defense requires them to demonstrate that an accommodation would impose a significant burden on the business. In many cases, it would benefit federal employees to work with legal counsel experienced in navigating the reasonable accommodation process.