Recently a potential client, (we’ll call her Mary) contacted our firm because her Federal Agency employer was preparing to remove her from federal service due to an alleged “medical inability to perform” after she requested a reasonable accommodation. Let me back up:
In order to be eligible for a reasonable accommodation for a disability you need to prove that:
- You are a qualified individual with a disability (e.g., that you are limited in one or more major life activities such as walking, standing, sitting, concentrating, sleeping, working, etc.);
- You are able to perform the essential functions of your position with or without an accommodation; and
- Your requested accommodation does not present an undue hardship on your employer.
Another critical principle to be aware of is that an employee is not entitled to the accommodation of his/her choice. Rather, the employer need only provide an “effective” accommodation.
If after engaging in an interactive process with your employer it is determined that you are not able to perform the essential functions of the position with or without an accommodation, the employer must look into providing the accommodation of last resort – reassignment. That is, the employer must conduct a search for a vacant, funded position in which to reassign you, either at your existing grade level or at a lower grade level.
Here is where it gets tricky. If it is indeed true that even with an accommodation you are unable to perform the essential functions of your existing position and your employer is unable to find a vacant, funded position for reassignment then your employer is legally permitted to remove you from federal service based upon your medical inability to perform. While this type of removal action is not based on misconduct or performance, the effect is the same – you no longer have your job.
Turning to Mary’s case, she suffered from a multiple physical and mental disabilities which made it difficult to complete her case load each day. Her physician, thinking that he was being helpful and not being familiar with the law, overstated her disabilities and demanded that her case load be reduced to levels that would constitute an undue hardship on her employer. The employer recognized the hardship, determined that Mary could not perform the essential functions of the position, and after conducting a search, was unable to fund a vacant, funded position for reassignment. If you have gotten this far, you know what came next. That’s right – the Agency proposed her removal from federal service based upon her medical inability to perform.
Fortunately for Mary, she retained our services before it was too late and we are able to work with her, her physician, and her management team and prove that the initial medical documentation that Mary submitted was an ideal, but was not actually necessary. We continued our engagement in the interactive process and working together, we were able to come up with a reasonable accommodation that sufficiently accommodated Mary and did not present an undue hardship on the Agency.
If you suffer from a physical or mental impairment and believe that a reasonable accommodation could help you at work contact Snider & Associates, LLC, today.