Telework has become significantly more popular and sought after in recent years, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some federal agencies reported that during the pandemic, telework hours comprised more than 80% of total work time. At that time, the desire to telework was fueled by health and safety concerns. But many found they preferred teleworking as opposed to working in the office.
For those struggling with an injury or illness, returning to work from the pandemic may be more difficult than others. When the nation entered lockdown, many rejoiced in the ability to work from home. But recently, agencies have been evaluating their telework policy now that the White House is urging them to “increase meaningful in-person work.” While in-person work may be encouraged, many federal employees, like those struggling with a disability, find working in person significantly more difficult than working remotely in the spaces they desire.
What is Telework?
Telework simply means working remotely from a location outside your office. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many agencies provided the necessary resources for employees to perform their duties safely at home. Telework can provide more flexibility and comfort while also improving work-life balance since employees are free to work from anywhere. But since there’s no universal telework policy within the federal government, an agency holds the power to determine if and for how long an employee can telework.
What is Reasonable Accommodation?
Your federal agency has an obligation to provide you with accommodations that would allow you to perform your job duties. This ensures equal opportunities and accessibility for those with disabilities.
A reasonable accommodation could be an ergonomic work chair, special mouse or keyboard, assistive devices, flexible work hours, or even telework. Requesting accommodation varies at every agency but will likely include an interactive back and forth process between you and your supervisor or HR. If you are struggling in your job due to an injury or illness, you have the option to request accommodation, including telework.
Telework May Accommodate You
We have witnessed a trend among federal employees where the transition back to in-person work poses challenges and leads to a notable escalation in symptoms associated with some medical conditions. If you are struggling to work in-person but found that telework helped during the pandemic, you may be able to request a telework accommodation from your agency. This could allow you the freedom to work where you want, whether that be from a more comfortable chair or lying down in bed.
If you are unable to perform all the essential functions of your job position while teleworking, or if your agency is unable to provide you with the ability to telework, you may qualify for Federal Disability Retirement.
What is Federal Disability Retirement?
Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit included in your FERS retirement plan that would allow you to retire early due to a medical condition that is preventing you from performing all the essential functions of your job. One of the application requirements for Federal Disability Retirement is that your agency is unable to accommodate you in your current position.
If you have requested accommodation, like the ability to telework, and your agency cannot provide it, or you still cannot perform your duties, you could still qualify for Federal Disability Retirement.
Harris Federal Law Firm has helped more than 8,000 federal employees apply for Federal Disability Retirement. We have seen many federal employees who were utilizing telework accommodations during the pandemic and were required to return to in-person work, only to find that they could no longer perform their job in person. We’ve also seen many medical conditions progress to the point where telework is no longer accommodating.
We understand how stressful these situations can be, and we urge you to reach out for help. Schedule a FREE consultation today.