Federal reasonable accommodation attorney Eric Pines discusses whether you are disabled as a federal employee with a medical condition. As a federal reasonable accommodation lawyer and advocate, this question has often perplexed me. Why is this question so difficult? I mean- either I have a disability or not, right? This is a question that comes up all too often for a federal employee and his or her advocate.
Even more confusing is the fact that the answer to this question depends on for what reason you are asking the question. For example, are you seeking a reasonable accommodation for your disability? Are you applying for disability retirement from OPM or Social Security Disability Insurance from SSA? Are you seeking Worker’s Compensation Benefits? Do you want time off for sick leave or Family Medical Leave Act leave? Each one of these agencies has a unique definition of what is considered disabled and to qualify for benefits or leave.
Let’s begin with the classic protection for disabled employees and ask ourselves…
How do I know if I am considered disabled enough to be entitled to a Reasonable Accommodation (or to be protected from different (disparate) treatment based on being considered disabled)?
Let’s begin with the definition of a disability under the Rehabilitation Act which has incorporated the ADA. The federal government is charged with being a model employer of individuals with disabilities. 29 CFR 1614.203 (a). Employees and applicants are protected from disability discrimination by federal agencies under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Although the Rehabilitation Act provides the protection for federal employees and applicants, the standards for determining whether a violation has occurred are those set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and more recently, the ADA Amendments Act (I will discuss this amendment more in another post).
The definition of disabled in this instance is:
A disability, with regard to an individual, is:
- A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;
- A record of such an impairment; or
- Being regarded as having such an impairment. 42 USC 12102 (1).