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Federal Employee Disability Lawyer

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At The Law Offices of Eric L. Pines, PLLC, our Houston federal employment lawyers are passionate about protecting the rights of federal employees in disability claims. If you are living with a disability, you have a right to reasonable accommodation or reassignment to duties that can be performed in your condition, or to fair disability benefits. Each case is unique, and our extensive knowledge of federal employee rights in disability cases has proven to be of great benefit to the hundreds of federal employees we have represented over our years in practice.

Representing injured and disabled federal employees is our specialty and passion! If you are limited at work by an injury or illness, you likely feel intimidated maneuvering through the maze of federal rules and regulations. Even the seemingly simple step of determining whether you are, in fact, disabled is often a complicated legal determination. The good news is that the Federal laws that govern this area are actually on your side and you have many rights available to assist you with accommodation.

At The Law Offices of Eric L. Pines, PLLC, our attorneys bring a unique combination of experience, client-centered service along with a personally tailored approach to Federal employee disability law. From our Houston office, we represent employees of every federal agency throughout the United States and the World. If you are a federal employee with physical or mental limitations, contact us to discuss your options for getting the right accommodations.

All Aspects of Disability Representation

The legal professionals at The Law Offices of Eric L. Pines, PLLC understand the big picture and can help you with your EEO office, labor relations specialists as well as someone who understands the intricacies of federal laws rules and regulations.

For example, a disabled employee sits somewhere on a continuum of legal needs beginning with:

  • The need for Reasonable Accommodation.
  • The need for Reassignment when no accommodation will work in your position of description of record.
  • The need for OPM Disability Retirement when accommodation or reassignment is not possible.
  • The need for OWCP Workers Compensation when the injury occurred at your federal agency.

Ideally, a disabled employee would seek out an attorney who is versed in all areas of and can assist with any of these areas, and more importantly, a lawyer who can tell them what makes the most sense in their particular situation because of their unique situation.

If you have read this far you probably know that there are few firms that specialize in the nuances of all these areas. At our firm, we pride ourselves on understanding all of these areas and, more importantly, helping the employee determine what is the best route for them to pursue (not what’s the most lucrative choice for the law firm or attorney).

At The Law Offices of Eric L. Pines, PLLC, we recommend a flat fee case review to our clients to help them determine the best path forward to meet their needs. After a case review, a client can decide if they would like to retain our firm to represent them.

What Is Considered a Disability?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 applied the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to federal employees.

While it does not specifically list conditions that qualify as a disability, it does categorize them into the following:

  • Physiological disorders
  • Neurological disorders
  • Psychological disorders
  • Having cancer, epilepsy or an intellectual disability can qualify as an impairment that limits a major life activity as well.
  • The standard for determining whether you have a disability is whether your condition impairs or limits your ability to perform major life activities such as walking, speaking, learning, eating, hearing or seeing.

What Is Disability Discrimination?

You are the victim of disability discrimination when your employer uses your impairment to treat you in an adverse manner that is different from the treatment accorded other similarly situated employees without the impairment or disability. Having an impairment should not be an excuse to refuse to hire or promote you, pay you less money, or deny you benefits that are offered to other non-impaired workers.

It is also discrimination to be harassed, sexually or by bullying, based on your disability, whether the behavior comes from a co-worker, supervisor, a non-employee or a customer. Note that you might not have a viable complaint based only on a few incidents or on one or two casual comments. The harassing conduct must have created an offensive or hostile working environment. If you report the harassment and an adverse employment decision is based on your reporting, it also may constitute an act of disability discrimination.

Requirement of Providing Reasonable Accommodations

Your employer has an obligation to provide you with a reasonable accommodation if you have a disability so that you can perform your job.

A reasonable accommodation is a change in the working environment to enable you to do the job, such as providing:

  • Wheelchair access
  • Readers for visually impaired workers
  • Modified work schedules or air temperature
  • Periodic breaks
  • Working at home
  • A private area to take self-medical tests
  • Extra training
  • A detailed schedule for completing tasks

The employer need not provide the accommodation if it presents an undue hardship in terms of cost and adjustments. This can be based on the employer’s size, resources and needs. An accommodation is acceptable if it is close to what the employee needs.

The Process of Requesting Accommodations for Federal Employees

Employees of federal agencies are afforded the same protections against disability discrimination that non-federal employees enjoy, and in some instances, even more protections. Federal employees receive protection under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which applied the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to federal employees. Although this protection is guaranteed to federal employees, the process of obtaining adequate accommodations for disabilities or OPM disability benefits can be complex.

At The Law Offices of Eric L. Pines, PLLC, our federal employee lawyers can help you with every step of the process, including:

  1. Determining whether you have a disability: The first step, of course, is determining whether you have a disability. Although this seems like a simple determination, the answer changes based on whether you are seeking OPM disability, or just reasonable accommodations. To qualify for accommodations, you must establish that you have a disability as officially defined by the ADA and that you can still perform the essential functions of your job if given reasonable accommodations. The more recent Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) has made it easier than ever for employees to qualify. The standards for OPM disability are stricter, since these benefits are for those who cannot perform the essential functions of their job as a result of the disabilities.
  2. Informing employer of disability/providing medical proof: This can be a formal process involving a reasonable accommodation request form, or a more informal discussion with your office supervisors or managers. At this point, the agency can request medical proof of your disabilities. The Law Offices of Eric L. Pines, PLLC Attorneys can assist you with determining how much medical information an agency can request, and at what point your agency has asked for too much.
  3. The “Interactive Process”: The “Interactive Process” is the technical name for discussions with your supervisor, or the Equal Employment Opportunity/Civil Rights Officer for your employer, regarding your need for medical accommodations (reasonable accommodation). The agency must engage in a back-and-forth discussion, as the parties attempt to negotiate the most mutually equitable solution.
  4. Undue hardship: For every federal employee who has a legitimate disability but who can also perform the essential job duties with reasonable accommodations, the employing agency is required to provide them with effective accommodations, unless doing so would cause the agency undue hardship. However, since the employer in these cases is essentially the federal government, this hardship argument rarely carries much weight. Still, if you meet resistance, you will need to request another discussion about your accommodations or file a case with your agency’s local EEOC/Civil Rights Office. Making the determination as to whether you should file a case is where our office comes in. We are here to help you determine if you have a legal entitlement to the accommodation you are requesting (and even assist you with determining what the best accommodation might be). We are also here to tell you when it is time to file a case against your agency.

Available Accommodation Options for Federal Employees

There are many accommodation options available, depending on the severity of the disability and other factors.

If you are disabled according to the Rehabilitation Act or the ADA, the agency is required to provide reasonable accommodations such as:

  • Telecommuting/working from home
  • Physical accommodations at the workplace

It is important to note that the employing agency must accommodate you with an accommodation that is effective, but not necessarily the best accommodation or the one that you request.

What If No Accommodation Is Possible?

If it would be impossible for you to fulfill your essential functions at work even with these accommodations, or if providing accommodations would somehow present an undue hardship on the agency, you could seek:

  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave: This can be helpful if you have a temporary disability. FMLA will allow you to be absent from work and not disciplined for taking leave for 12 weeks. Although you will not be paid, your employer cannot discharge you or discipline you as a result of your leave.
  • OPM Disability Retirement: This would be appropriate for a long-term disability. OPM Disability is an early retirement option for disabled federal employees. OPM will pay you a monthly annuity based on your salary.

The line between a disability that can be accommodated and one that requires OPM disability is not always clear, and having an expert on your side can be invaluable for a federal employee who is already suffering a medical hardship. Often your human resources and EEO officer do not act in accordance with law and regulation. Having an expert to assist you at this time is essential.

It is noteworthy that sometimes, when an agency cannot provide reasonable accommodations, it may terminate the employee for disciplinary reasons, leaving the employee with great difficulty in seeking OPM disability benefits. If this happens to you, we can help you work with your agency to make sure you are in a much better position to obtain your OPM Disability Retirement benefits.

Litigation, Mediation & Consulting

Our firm is well versed in this area, Mr. Pines has provided numerous federal training seminars in EEO and Reasonable Accommodation to the Veterans Administration, the Army, the Library of Congress and other federal agencies. We can help you in assisting with requests for accommodation, filing informal and formal complaints and all aspects of litigation of EEO claims in federal administrative courts.

Contact The Law Offices of Eric L. Pines, PLLC

At The Law Offices of Eric L. Pines, PLLC, our federal employment attorneys focus exclusively on the rights of federal employees, federal labor unions and federal agencies. We have over 60 years of collective experience in advising and pursuing disability discrimination claims for federal employees.

Call our office today at (888) 898-9902 for an evaluation of your situation.

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