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Best Practices in the Employment of People with Disabilities in the Federal Government JAN welcomes Jeanne Goldberg, Senior Attorney Advisor, from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Basic Provisions. Protections for individuals with disabilities

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Best Practices in the Employment of People with Disabilities in the Federal GovernmentJAN welcomes Jeanne Goldberg, Senior Attorney Advisor, from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

basic provisions
Basic Provisions
  • Protections for individuals with disabilities
  • No disparate treatment or harassment based on a physical or mental impairment (as long as not both transitory and minor)
  • Reasonable accommodation absent undue hardship (for impairments that substantially limit a major life activity)
  • Qualification standards that screen out an individual based on disability must be job-related and consistent with business necessity
basic provisions1
Basic Provisions
  • Protections for all applicants and employees of covered entities:
  • Rules about when employer can ask for medical information, and how much (“disability-related inquiries and medical exams”)
  • Medical information kept confidential
  • No retaliation
  • Employer never has to retain an employee in a position if not “qualified.”
  • To be “qualified,” employee must satisfy the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements, and be able to perform the essential (or fundamental) functions of a position (with accommodation, if needed).


  • This issue most often arises when:
  • Employee requests to be excused from performing job duty due to medical condition; or
  • Employer believes employee is not able to perform job duty due to medical condition


  • Employer never has to eliminate an essential function of a job as an accommodation.
  • Employer never has to or lower production standards (quantity or quality) as an accommodation.
  • Individualized assessment: Do not make assumptions about what an applicant or employee can or cannot do based on their medical condition.


  • But remember:
  • Employee can be “qualified” even if needs accommodation to perform the job.
essential functions
Essential Functions
  • Relevant information in determining whether a function is essential may include:
  • Employer’s judgment
  • Terms of a written position description
  • Terms of a collective bargaining agreement
  • Experience of current or past employees
  • Amount of time spent performing the function
  • Consequences of not performing the function

Essential Functions

  • If accommodation requested involves removing a duty, is it an essential function?
  • If so, it need not be removed, but can employee be accommodated to perform it?
  • If employee cannot be accommodated in current position, can he be reassigned to a vacant position for which he is qualified (the accommodation of last resort)?
safety and fitness concerns
Safety and Fitness Concerns
  • Direct Threat: An employer may reject a job applicant or exclude an employee with a disability from a particular position if the person poses a direct threat to health or safety (i.e., a significant risk of substantial harm to self or others)
  • NOTE: An individual is not a “direct threat” if there is a reasonable accommodation the employer could provide absent undue hardship that would reduce the risk below this level
assessing direct threat
Assessing Direct Threat
  • What to consider:
  • The particular applicant's or employee's present ability to safely perform the essential functions of the job based on objective evidence and reasonable medical judgment
  • The duration of the risk, the nature and severity of the potential harm, the likelihood that the potential harm will occur, and the imminence of the potential harm
recent case illustrations
Recent Case Illustrations
  • Qualified:
  • Wardia v. Dept. of Juvenile Justice (6th Cir. Jan. 3, 2013).
  • Keith v. County of Oakland (6th Cir. Jan. 10, 2013).
  • Scavetta v. King Soopers, Inc. (D. Colo. Jan. 28, 2013).
accommodation requests
Accommodation Requests
  • Recognizing Accommodation Requests:
  • Accommodation request is a request for some sort of change for a medical reason; request need not be in writing and need not contain any “magic words”
  • “Tips” for recognizing requests
recent case illustration
Recent Case Illustration
  • Sufficient Notice:
  • Individual does not have to call medical condition a “disability”; inadequate notice when employee does not say enough for employer to know a medical condition is at issue. Syndnor v. Fairfax County, Va., 2011 WL 836948 (E.D. Va. Mar. 3, 2011).
  • Oral request for accommodation okay despite contrary employer policy. Kravits v. Shinseki, 2012 WL 604169 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 24, 2012).

Recent Case Illustration

  • Insufficient Notice:
  • Plaintiff notified employer of panic disorder and agoraphobia, but never requested any accommodation, stating that “if [the employer] believed that I needed certain accommodations . . . [it] would come to me and say so.” Garner v. Chevron Phillip Chemical Co., 2011 WL 5967244 (S.D. Tex. Nov. 29, 2011).
recent case illustration1
Recent Case Illustration
  • Consequences of Employer’s Failure to Communicate and Clarify:
  • Employer’s failure to tell employee that request submitted on wrong form, or to provide time to return paperwork, can render the employer responsible for the breakdown in the interactive process. Cox v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 441 Fed. Appx. 547 (9th Cir. 2011).

Recent Case Illustration

  • Consequences of Employer’s Failure to Communicate and Clarify:
  • Employer’s denial of request on ground that information provided was not specific enough, without advising employee and asking for the additional details needed, can render the employer responsible for the breakdown in the interactive process. Valle-Arce v. Puerto Rico Ports Auth., 651 F.3d 190 (1st Cir. 2011).
timing of requests
Timing of Requests
  • Request may be made at any time during the application process or during employment, including if the employee is having performance difficulties
  • But accommodation is always prospective – request is too late once performance or conduct warrants termination
  • An employee does not lose the right to request an accommodation because he did not do so during the application stage
  • Employees may make more than one request for reasonable accommodation
  • Does the Requesting Employee Have a Disability?
  • When considering if an individual who has requested accommodation has an impairment that “substantially limits a major life activity” or has a record of same, remember the changes made by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008
  • Now the definition of disability “shall be construed broadly” and “should not demand extensive analysis”


  • Congress Made 4 Changes To “Substantially Limited in a Major Life Activity”:
  • Need not be a “severe” limitation or “significantly restricted”
  • Major life activities include “major bodily functions”
  • Ameliorative effects of mitigating measures not considered
  • Impairments that are “episodic” or “in remission” are substantially limiting if they would be when active
pre adaaa case law
Pre-ADAAA Case Law
  • Don’t Rely on Pre-ADAAA Case Law on Coverage
  • See EEOC revised ADA regulations 29 C.F.R. Part 1630 and Q & A:
  • See webinar handout with examples of post-ADAAA case law
medical information
Medical Information
  • When and How Much Medical Information Can the Employer Ask for in Support of An Accommodation Request?
  • ADAAA has not changed the legal rules regarding when and how much medical information employers can request if accommodation is requested.
  • If not obvious or already known, an employer may obtain reasonable documentation that an employee has a disability and needs the accommodation requested.
medical information1
Medical Information
  • Employer may ask employee to obtain information from treating health care provider, or ask employee to sign limited release allowing employer to contact doctor directly.
  • For example, employer might seek to verify diagnosis and limitations, follow up to clarify limitations as well as what accommodation might be effective, and for how long it may be needed.
accommodation procedures
Accommodation Procedures
  • Required for federal agencies under EO 13164
  • Can be useful for other employers
  • If adopting internal reasonable accommodation procedures outlining your process, consider indicating who is authorized to request and review medical information from employee and/or employee’s health care provider, and to have any follow-up communications
examples of accommodations
Examples of Accommodations
  • Physical modifications
  • Sign language interpreters and readers
  • Assistive technology and modification of equipment or devices
  • Modified work schedules
  • Making exceptions to policies
  • Job restructuring (swapping or eliminating marginal functions)
  • Changing supervisory methods
  • Job coach
  • Telework
  • Leave
  • Reassignment to a vacant position
actions not required
Actions Not Required
  • Lowering production or performance standards (but pro-rate production requirements for period of leave as an accommodation, and provide accommodation if requested to meet the standards)
  • Excusing violations of uniform conduct rules that are job-related and consistent with business necessity (but provide accommodation if requested to meet the standard)
  • Removing an essential function
  • Monitoring an employee’s use of medication
  • Providing personal use items
  • Changing someone’s supervisor (though changing supervisory methods may be required)
  • Actions that would result in undue hardship (i.e., significant difficulty or expense)
undue hardship
Undue Hardship
  • Consider the following factors:
  • Nature and cost of the accommodation (“significant difficulty or expense”)
  • Resources available to the employer overall (not just individual department)
  • Impact of the accommodation on operations
interactive process
Interactive Process
  • Employer should engage in an interactive process with the individual asking for the accommodation.
  • May involve determining (1) whether the requester has a disability, (2) whether requested accommodation is medically needed, and/or (3) what accommodations are possible.
  • Implications of “good faith” provision in 42 U.S.C. Section 1981a.
selecting an accommodation
Selecting an Accommodation
  • Employer has discretion to choose among equally effective accommodations where there is more than one possibility.
keys to the interactive process
Keys to the Interactive Process
  • Respond to requests promptly, as undue delay may constitute a denial of accommodation.
  • Determine the limitations at issue caused by the medical condition for this individual, what accommodation he or she needs for those limitations, and determine if it can be provided without undue hardship.
  • Communicate, exchange information, search for solutions, consult resources as needed.
recent case illustrations1
Recent Case Illustrations
  • Mistakes in the Interactive Process:
  • Flatly turning down requested accommodation and failing to offer available alternative. Colwell v. Rite Aid Corp., 602 F.3d 495 (3d Cir. 2010).
  • Ignoring request because employer believes employee does not have a disability. Zombeck v. Friendship Ridge, 2011 WL 666200 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 14, 2011).
keys to the interactive process1
Keys to the Interactive Process
  • If requestor only knows the problem, not the solution, employer must search for possible accommodations
  • If requestor specifies particular accommodation but it is one that legally need not be provided (e.g., request to lower production standards), employer must offer an alternative accommodation if one exists that would not pose an undue hardship -- search for and consider alternative accommodations
recent case illustration2
Recent Case Illustration
  • Cost Issues:
  • EEOC v. Creative Networks, LLC (D. Ariz. Sept. 20, 2012).
recent case illustration3
Recent Case Illustration
  • Breakdown in the Interactive Process:
  • Goonan v. Federal Reserve Bank of New York (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 7, 2013).
recent case illustrations2
Recent Case Illustrations
  • Attendance Issues:
  • Samper v. Providence St. Mary Vincent Medical Center (9th Cir. 2012).
  • Thomas v. Bala Nursing and Retirement Center (E.D. Pa. 2012).
reactions by co workers
Reactions By Co-Workers
  • Employer cannot disclose disability (or fact that something is being done as a reasonable accommodation) to managers or co-workers without a need to know.
  • Employer cannot deny accommodation because co-workers may be resentful. Carter v. Pathfinder Energy, 662 F.3d 1134 (10th Cir. 2011).
  • Sometimes reasonable accommodation may require providing a change that the employer denies to other employees who request for non-medical reasons. Ekstrand v. School Dist. of Somerset, 2012 WL 2382313 (7th Cir. June 26, 2012).
  • Special rule for seniority systems: US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett (2002).
recent case illustration4
Recent Case Illustration
  • Conduct Issue:
  • McElwee v. County of Orange (2d Cir. Nov. 15, 2012).
  • Accommodation of last resort
  • Position must be vacant
  • Must be equal in terms of pay, status, etc., or as close as possible
  • Is not limited geographically
  • Employee must be qualified for the new position, but does not have to be best qualified
  • Vacant means that the position is available or will become available within a reasonable time
  • Employer does not have to reassign to a position that would be a promotion
  • Employer does not have to bump another employee to create a vacancy
  • Reassignment that would violate seniority system generally is not reasonable
  • Employer does not have to pay cost of relocation, unless it does so for other employees who transfer voluntarily
recent case illustrations3
Recent Case Illustrations
  • Reassignment:
  • Petted v. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, EEOC Appeal No. 0120090266 (Dec. 14, 2011), request for reconsideration denied, EEOC Request No. 0520120240 (Dec. 7, 2012).
  • Sanchez v. Vilsack(10th Cir. Sept. 19, 2012).
contact information
Contact Information

Jeanne Goldberg

Senior Attorney Advisor

Office of Legal Counsel

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission


federal winter webcast series
Federal Winter Webcast Series
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