RA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

These FAQs accompany DOI Personnel Bulletin (PB) 21-03 Processing Requests for Reasonable Accommodation for Individuals with Disabilities

Reasonable Accommodation Program Policy Updates: Key Changes

Why is the Department modifying the Departmental Reasonable Accommodation policy?

On January 3, 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC or Commission) issued a Final Rule on Affirmative Action for People with Disabilities in Federal Employment to amend the regulations implementing Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 501). The final rule says that agencies of the Federal government must adopt employment goals for individuals with disabilities, with subgoals for individuals with targeted disabilities, provide personal assistance services to certain employees who need them because of a disability, and meet a number of other requirements designed to improve the recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement of individuals with disabilities in the Federal workforce. The Departmental policy for Processing Requests for Reasonable Accommodation for Individuals with Disabilities (PB 21-03) has been revised to comply with Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act’s final rule and strengthens DOI’s policy for processing requests for reasonable accommodation to ensure accessibility. Among other things, changes include gender-neutral language, clearly defined roles, updated and new resources, and revising and incorporating the process for reassignment.

When are the Reasonable Accommodation policy changes effective?

The new Reasonable Accommodation policy changes are effective October 24, 2022.

General Information

What regulation and policy govern a request for a reasonable accommodation?

29 CFR Part 1630 and DOI Personnel Bulletin 21-03 Processing Requests for Reasonable Accommodations for Individuals with Disabilities. PB 21-03 supersedes Civil Rights Directive 2014-02/PB 14-01 Reasonable Accommodation for Individuals with Disabilities (February 20, 2014) and PB 08-09 Procedures for Conducting a Department-Wide Search and Position Reassignment for Cases Involving Reasonable Accommodations (May 5, 2008).

What is a reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment that enables a qualified individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform job duties, or enjoy benefits and privileges of employment. It is what the agency does differently for a qualified employee (or applicant for employment) with a disability to remove a workplace barrier caused by a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. There are three categories of reasonable accommodations: 1) modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for a job; 2) modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job; or 3) modifications or adjustments that enable employees with disabilities to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by similarly situated employees without disabilities.
What does reasonable mean?

Reasonable means effective. This means the accommodation allows a qualified individual with a disability the opportunity to perform the essential functions of the job and have equal access to benefits and privileges of employment. Effective also means equal access to the application process for an applicant with a disability.

How do the regulations define the term “physical or mental impairment”?

The regulations define "physical or mental impairment" as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems, such as neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, immune, circulatory, hemic, lymphatic, skin and endocrine. They also cover any mental or psychological disorder, such as intellectual disability (formerly termed “mental retardation”), organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. [29 CFR § 1630.2(h)]

What does it mean to be a “qualified individual with a disability”?

A “qualified individual with a disability” is an individual who 1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, 2) has all the necessary skills and abilities required to perform the essential functions of their job, and 3) can perform the essential functions of their position with or without an accommodation.

What is meant by an impairment that “substantially limits” a major life activity?

An impairment is a disability if it substantially limits the ability of an individual to perform a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population. This comparison may include the use of scientific, medical, or statistical analysis, but it shall not be required. Determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity requires an individualized assessment, which shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures unless those are the ameliorative effects of ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses. The “substantially limits” standard shall be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage and is not meant to be a demanding standard.

Are some medical impairments/conditions automatically considered a disability?

No. There are no specific impairments or disabilities that are listed in the regulations that are automatically considered a disability.

Coverage

Who does the Reasonable Accommodation policy apply to?

The Departmental Policy applies to all Bureaus and Offices and covers accommodation requests from qualified employees and applicants for employment who have a disability as defined by law.

May I request a reasonable accommodation while on a temporary promotion or detail and if so, who do I make my request to?

Yes. A reasonable accommodation is a change in the work environment (or the way in which things are usually done) to help a person with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment. Employees on a temporary assignment should contact their supervisor or manager and the Servicing Human Resources Office to begin the accommodation process.

Am I entitled to a reasonable accommodation while on a probationary period?

Yes. Reasonable accommodations must be provided to qualified employees regardless of whether they work part- time or full-time or are considered probationary. A Deciding Official cannot deny a reassignment to an employee solely because the employee is serving on a probationary period. In addition, an employee with a disability is also eligible for reassignment to a new position, regardless of whether they are serving in a probationary period, as long as the employee adequately performs the essential functions of the position, with or without reasonable accommodation, before the need for a reassignment arose. The longer the period of time in which an employee has adequately performed the essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation, the more likely it is that reassignment may be appropriate if the employee becomes unable to continue performing the essential functions of the current position due to a disability. If, however, the probationary employee has never adequately performed the essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation, then they are not entitled to reassignment because they were never "qualified" for the original position. In this situation, the employee is similar to an applicant who applies for a job for which they are not qualified, and then requests reassignment. Applicants for employment, unlike employees, are not entitled to reassignment.

Are there circumstances wherein DOI may be responsible for providing reasonable accommodations to contractors who work with the agency?

Whether or not the agency ultimately will have a duty to provide reasonable accommodations to contractors under 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1614 will depend on the specific facts at play in the working relationship.

Specifically, the Commission has applied the common law of agency test to determine whether an individual should be treated as agency employee versus a contractor. See Ma v. Department of Health and Human Services, EEOC Appeal Nos. 01962389 & 01962390 (May 29, 1998) (citing Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. v. Darden, 503 U.S. 318, 323-24 (1992)). The question of whether an employer-employee relationship exists is fact-specific and depends on whether the employer controls the means and manner of the worker’s work performance. Under the Commission’s Enforcement Guidance Application of EEO Laws to Contingent Workers Placed by Temporary Employment Agencies and Other Staffing Firms (Dec. 3, 1997), the EEOC recognizes that a “joint employment” relationship may exist where both the agency and the staffing firm may be joint employers. Thus, a federal agency will qualify as a joint employer of an individual if it has the requisite means and manner of control over the individual’s work, whether or not the individual is on the federal payroll. For example, an agency may be considered an employer of the worker if: (1) it supplies the workspace, equipment, and supplies; and (2) it has the right to control the details of the work performed, to make or change assignments, and to terminate the relationship. If the facts show that a joint employment relationship exists, the failure to provide an accommodation may result in a finding of discrimination against the agency.

Additionally, EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance: Application of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to Contingent Workers Placed by Temporary Agencies and Other Staffing Firms notes that a federal agency is obligated to provide a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship, where that agency qualifies as a joint employer of staffing firm workers. In addition, EEOC Enforcement Guidance, Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship, Q&A (7), provides that it may be mutually beneficial for the federal agency and staffing firms to specify in their contract which entity will provide reasonable accommodations and how the costs of accommodations will be shared. In order to prevent unnecessary delays in providing accommodations to staffing firm workers, agencies and staffing firms should resolve each other’s responsibilities before a request is actually received.

Making a Request for Reasonable Accommodation

Must a request for reasonable accommodation be made in writing?

No, an individual may request a reasonable accommodation orally or in writing at any time, need not fill out any specific form in order for the interactive process to begin, and need not have a particular accommodation in mind before making a request. If a request is received verbally, supervisors and managers should memorialize the request using the Request Confirmation Form.

When should an individual with a disability request a reasonable accommodation?

An individual with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation at any time during the application process or during the period of employment. The ADA/Rehabilitation Act does not preclude an employee with a disability from requesting a reasonable accommodation because they did not ask for one when applying for a job or after receiving a job offer. Rather, an individual with a disability should request a reasonable accommodation when they know that there is a workplace barrier that is preventing them, due to a disability, from effectively competing for a position, performing a job, or gaining equal access to a benefit of employment. As a practical matter, it may be in an employee's interest to request a reasonable accommodation before performance suffers or conduct problems occur.

Under the Rehabilitation Act, the duty of the Agency to provide reasonable accommodation is an ongoing one. Thus, an individual with a disability may request an accommodation whenever they choose. An individual may also request to modify a current reasonable accommodation, when necessary. That request will trigger the Agency’s obligation to start the interactive process outlined in the policy.

When must DOI ask whether a reasonable accommodation is needed when an employee has not asked for one?

As a general rule, the individual with a disability -- who has the most knowledge about the need for reasonable accommodation -- must inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.

However, an employer should initiate the reasonable accommodation interactive process without being asked if the employer: (1) knows that the employee has a disability, (2) knows, or has reason to know, that the employee is experiencing workplace problems because of the disability, and (3) knows, or has reason to know, that the disability prevents the employee from requesting a reasonable accommodation. If the individual with a disability states that they do not need a reasonable accommodation, the employer will have fulfilled its obligation.

Reasonable Accommodation Request Process

What is the interactive process?

The interactive process is the collaborative effort by which the Deciding Official and individual, who requests an accommodation, engage in dialogue to clarify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and identify potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations. The interactive process may include an analysis of the particular job to determine its purpose and essential functions; a consultation with the individual to ascertain the precise job-related limitations imposed by the individual’s disability and how those limitations could be overcome with a reasonable accommodation; an identification of potential accommodations and, in conjunction with the individual, an assessment of the effectiveness of those accommodations in enabling the individual to perform the essential functions of the job; the consideration of the preference of the individual; the selection and implementation of an accommodation that is appropriate for the individual and the employer; and whether the accommodation poses an undue hardship.

How quickly must a request for a reasonable accommodation be processed?

It is the goal of DOI to provide reasonable accommodations as quickly as possible to remove the workplace barriers for a qualified employee or applicant with a disability. Full, open and ongoing communication between the requestor, the Deciding Official, and the SHRO is an important component of the accommodation process and helps to ensure that there is a full exchange of relevant information upon which appropriate decisions can be made. This is usually referred to as the interactive process and is especially important when the specific limitation, problem or obstacle is not clear.

Generally, when requests do not require supporting medical information, the Deciding Official should determine, in consultation with the SHRO, whether and what type of reasonable accommodation should be granted and provide a decision as soon as possible but not longer than 15 business days from receipt of the request, absent extenuating circumstances. If supporting medical documentation is needed, a decision should be provided as soon as possible but no longer than 15 business days from the date sufficient medical documentation is received or should have been received unless an extension is requested and granted.

What extenuating circumstances could warrant an extension of the timeframes for reasonable accommodations?

There may be situations in which meeting the timeframes for processing requests or providing a reasonable accommodation may not be possible because of extenuating circumstances. Extenuating circumstances are factors that could not reasonably have been anticipated or avoided in advance of the request for a reasonable accommodation. Extenuating circumstances cover situations in which unforeseen or unavoidable events prevent prompt processing of a request and provision of an accommodation. When extenuating circumstances are present, the time for processing will be extended as reasonably necessary. The Deciding Official must notify the employee or applicant of the reason for the delay, and the approximate date on which a decision, or provision of the accommodation, is expected.

Must the Deciding Official provide the accommodation requested by the employee or applicant?

No. Individuals protected under the Rehabilitation Act are not entitled to the accommodation of their choice, but rather to an “effective” (reasonable) accommodation. The Deciding Official and the employee or applicant should discuss via the interactive process why the specific accommodation being requested is needed and how that accommodation will allow the individual to perform the essential job duties in a satisfactory manner. As part of the interactive process, the Deciding Official may offer alternative suggestions for reasonable accommodation and discuss their effectiveness with the requestor. When the Deciding Official offers a substitute that is different from what the employee requested during the interactive process, the Deciding Official should also explain the reasons that the Deciding Official believes that the substitute accommodation would be effective.

Is DOI required to inform an individual of the decision made regarding their reasonable accommodation request?

Yes. When a decision regarding an individual’s request for accommodation is made, the Deciding Official is required to inform the employee or applicant in writing. In the event that a request is denied, the Deciding Official must include the specific reason why the request was denied and inform the individual of their right to appeal as well as other available avenues of redress.

Are there other resources (outside of DOI) available to me to learn more about the accommodation process?

Yes, besides the Servicing Human Resources Office (SHRO) and the Disability Program Managers in Bureau/Office Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Offices, there are many resources outside of DOI available to employees and supervisors/managers to learn more about reasonable accommodation in general, including the:

Types of Reasonable Accommodations

Can teleworking be considered a reasonable accommodation?

Yes. Teleworking may be considered a reasonable accommodation when the employee’s limitations resulting from the disabling medical condition prevent the employee from successfully performing the job on-site and the essential functions of the job, or parts of the job, can be performed in a teleworking status without causing an undue hardship. The employee and the Deciding Official should discuss why this accommodation is needed as it relates to the functional limitations. The discussion must also include whether the employee’s work is portable and can be performed in a teleworking status.

How frequently may someone with a disability telework as a reasonable accommodation?

An employee may telework only to the extent that the disability necessitates it and the employee is otherwise eligible for telework (e.g., there is sufficient portable work). For some employees, that may mean one day a week, two-half days, or every day for a period (e.g., for three months while an employee recovers from treatment or surgery related to a disability). In other instances, the nature of the disability may make it difficult to predict precisely when it will be necessary for an employee to telework. For example, sometimes the effects of a disability become particularly severe on a periodic but irregular basis. When these flare-ups occur, they sometimes prevent an employee from getting to the workplace. In these situations, an employee might need to telework on an “as-needed” basis if the can perform the essential functions of the job and this accommodation does not cause an undue hardship.

May I request that my employee(s) resubmit their request(s) for accommodation to me due to a change in supervision?

Generally, no. A change in supervision alone does not necessitate the need for an employee to re-request an accommodation previously approved/implemented. Employees should recognize that a new supervisor may not have much or any insight into their reasonable accommodation need and may wish to ensure that a new supervisor is aware of an accommodation previously approved/implemented. Conversely, a new supervisor may find it necessary to communicate with the SHRO regarding previously approved/implemented accommodations.

If, an employee changes positions (e.g., reassignment from one bureau to another or change in position/duties), an employee may need to request a new accommodation, as necessary and appropriate, especially where the position has different essential duties.

Is it a reasonable accommodation to make sure that an employee takes medication as prescribed?

No. Medication monitoring is not a reasonable accommodation. Employers have no obligation to monitor medication because doing so does not remove a workplace barrier. Similarly, an employer has no responsibility to monitor an employee's medical treatment or ensure that they are receiving appropriate treatment because such treatment does not involve modifying workplace barriers.

It may be a form of reasonable accommodation, however, to give an employee a break in order that they may take medication, or to grant leave so that an employee may obtain treatment.

Is DOI relieved of its obligation to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability who fails to take medication, to obtain medical treatment, or to use an assistive device (such as a hearing aid)?

No. The ADA requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to remove workplace barriers, regardless of what effect medication, other medical treatment, or assistive devices may have on an employee's ability to perform the job.

However, if an employee with a disability, with or without reasonable accommodation, cannot perform the essential functions of the position or poses a direct threat in the absence of medication, treatment, or an assistive device, then the employee may be determined unqualified.

Must DOI provide a reasonable accommodation that is needed because of the side effects of medication or treatment related to the disability, or because of symptoms or other medical conditions resulting from the underlying disability?

Yes. The side effects caused by the medication that an employee must take because of the disability are limitations resulting from the disability. Reasonable accommodation extends to all limitations resulting from a disability. Similarly, any symptoms or related medical conditions resulting from the disability that cause limitations may also require reasonable accommodation.

May I request to bring a service animal to work as a reasonable accommodation?

While there is a definition of service animal and specific guidelines in part of the ADA, it is not in the part that deals with employment. However, a request from an individual to bring a service animal to work should be processed like any other request for reasonable accommodation. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Visit the ADA.gov website to read more about Service Animals. You can also visit the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) to review FAQs on Service Animals as Workplace Accommodations. Please note the guidance provided by JAN is based in-part on information from the EEOC and does not represent the EEOC’s formal position on these issues or legal advice.

Issues with Providing an Accommodation

What if the accommodation proposed by the requestor is not effective?

Where an individual requests a particular accommodation that is not effective or would pose an undue hardship, or is otherwise not legally required (e.g., removing an essential job function), some Deciding Officials may mistakenly discontinue the interactive process. Instead, the agency must continue the interactive process, exploring alternatives until either a reasonable accommodation is identified or the Deciding Official determines no accommodation is available.

What is the informal dispute resolution process?

DOI’s informal dispute resolution process includes the option to first request reconsideration from the Deciding Official and, if necessary, the opportunity to appeal to the next level of Management. DOI encourages the use of informal dispute resolution to allow individuals with disabilities to obtain prompt reconsideration of denials of reasonable accommodation. Deciding Officials must also inform individuals with disabilities that they have the right to file an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint pursuant to 29 CFR 1614 within 45 calendar days from receipt of the denial notification.

 

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