HR: Employee Handbook: Reasonable Accommodation

What law protects Smithsonian employees and applicants from discrimination based on disability?
Qualified employees and applicants with disabilities are protected from employment discrimination on the basis of disability by Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. This law requires the Smithsonian Institution to provide reasonable accommodation for the known physical or mental limitations of qualified employees and applicants with disabilities, unless to do so would cause undue hardship -- that is, it would require significant difficulty or expense.

What is reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities. Examples of reasonable accommodation include:

  • providing or modifying equipment or devices;
  • providing readers and interpreters;
  • modifying work schedules; and
  • adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies.

Who is considered "an individual with a disability" and "a qualified individual with a disability"?
The law defines an individual with a disability as one who:

  • has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the person's major life activities;
  • has a record of such an impairment; or
  • is regarded as having such an impairment.

A major life activity is a function that the average person in the general population can perform with little or no difficulty. Major life activities include functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, and learning.

A qualified individual with a disability has the skills, experience, education, and other requirements of the job and can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.

How can an individual request a reasonable accommodation?
An employee may request a reasonable accommodation orally or in writing from his/her supervisor, another supervisor in his/her immediate chain of command, the SAO EEO Officer, or the Disability Program Manager in the SI Office of Equal Employment and Minority Affairs. Applicants may request a reasonable accommodation from the Human Resources Specialist, the SAO EEO Officer, the Disability Program Manager, or other individuals in the hiring process. A family member, health professional, or other representative may request an accommodation on behalf of an employee or applicant. (However, the discussions about accommodation will always be held with the employee, unless he/she is incapacitated and cannot participate adequately.)

A request does not have to use any special words. To the extent possible, the request should include a description of the precise job-related limitations imposed by a disability and how those limitations could be overcome by a reasonable accommodation. Employees and applicants may consult the SAO EEO Officer or SI Disability Program Manager for further information on requesting or processing a request for reasonable accommodation.

What process is used to review the request?
When the disability or the need for accommodation is not obvious, the individual may be asked for reasonable medical documentation about his/her disability and functional limitations.

The supervisor or deciding official and the individual with a disability should talk to each other about potential accommodations to clarify the individual's needs. The supervisor or deciding official has the discretion to identify reasonable and appropriate alternatives in consultation with the individual. Thus, an employee who is granted a reasonable accommodation might not receive the exact form of accommodation requested.

All denials of reasonable accommodation requests are made in writing. The decisions specify the reason for the denial, inform the individual of the informal dispute resolution procedures for reconsideration of the decision, and advise the individual that he/she has the right to file an EEO complaint or a Merit Systems Protection Board appeal (Federal employees/applicants only) within applicable time frames.

Who should I contact for additional information?
Contact the SAO EEO Officer or the Disability Program Manager in the SI Office of Equal Employment and Minority Affairs for additional information or for a copy of the Smithsonian Institution's "Procedures for Providing Reasonable Accommodations for Individuals with Disabilities."

The information contained in this brochure is available in large print on white paper, Braille, audiocassette, and computer file. Please contact the Office of Equal Employment and Minority Affairs for information.

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