If you are a FERS federal employee who is considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement, it’s important that you understand the reasonable accommodation process. This process is in place to help employees with disabilities continue to work and perform the essential functions of their job. In order to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement, you must prove that your agency is unable to reasonably accommodate you and help you fulfill those essential duties. This process becomes significantly harder once you are separated from your agency.
This article will outline what the reasonable accommodation process is and what steps to take to ensure a strong Federal Disability Retirement application.
What is Reasonable Accommodation?
Simply put, a reasonable accommodation is any change in your job or work environment that would allow you to continue performing all of the essential functions of your job. The accommodation should make it easier for you to successfully perform your job.
Reasonable accommodations can include, but are not limited to:
- Modifying work site & telework
- Allowing a flexible work schedule
- Acquiring or modifying equipment and devices
- Providing interpreters, readers, or personal assistants
- And more…
For Federal Disability Retirement, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) requires anyone who applies to first exhaust all of their reasonable accommodation options with their agency. This means before you apply you must request a reasonable accommodation from your agency, even if there is no accommodation that would allow you to continue working. Your agency must continue to try to accommodate you even after you have submitted your application for Federal Disability Retirement.
If your agency successfully accommodates you after you have submitted your application to the OPM, you must notify them immediately.
How to request a Reasonable Accommodation
We understand how hard it can be to request an accommodation from your agency, especially if they have been unaware of your disability. To help ease this process, look at this request template as a reference.
Medical documentation is not always required in order to request a reasonable accommodation from your agency, but it can be helpful. Many agencies require you to participate in an “interactive process” which means they may request additional information from you. Any medical restrictions you may have can help provide your agency with a guideline on how to appropriately accommodate you.
Additionally, you do not have to accept an accommodation that does not fall within your medical restrictions. If your agency offers you an accommodation that does not allow you to continue performing all of the essential duties of your position, you can deny it without penalty from the OPM.
What if there is no accommodation for you?
If there is no accommodation that would allow you to continue performing all the essential functions of your job, that can benefit your Federal Disability Retirement case.
The OPM only accepts accommodations as valid if they allow you to successfully perform all of your job duties. A few “accommodations” that the OPM does not accept for Federal Disability Retirement purposes include:
- Using up sick/annual leave instead of working full-time
- Taking away job duties
- Part-time work schedules
Partial accommodation or light/modified duty do not count as valid reasonable accommodations to the Office of Personnel Management and therefore still qualify you for Federal Disability Retirement.
What is a Reassignment?
If there is no accommodation available for you, your agency will automatically start the reassignment process. A valid reassignment to the OPM is an existing position, within the same pay/grade level, in your commuting area, that you are qualified for, and falls within your medical restrictions.
Your agency cannot reassign you to a position that has all your previous job duties, since you cannot perform those.
It is recommended to have a professional review any job offers available to you. Accepting any official position with a disability application pending will automatically withdraw your application.
What if you are no longer employed?
If you resign or are separated before your agency makes a reasonable accommodation or reassignment decision, that can make it very difficult to receive Federal Disability Retirement. In this case you would have to prove to the OPM that there was no accommodation that would allow you to continue performing all the essential duties of your position. It is best for your case to stay employed through whatever means necessary, utilizing LWOP, FMLA, sick, and annual leave before resigning.
Additionally, your agency is required to provide documents to the OPM for your Federal Disability Retirement application, and if you are already separated, it can be difficult to obtain those documents.
You will have to complete a variety of forms throughout the reasonable accommodation process, but our firm is here to take that weight off your shoulders. We will advise you on the reasonable accommodation and reassignment process in a way that is most helpful for Federal Disability Retirement so that you have the best chance at receiving this amazing benefit.
Contact our firm for a FREE consultation today to learn more about Federal Disability Retirement and how it can benefit you.