While I am often asked about the intersecting connection between the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Disability Retirement laws under FERS & CSRS, and the issue of accommodations, my short answer is that the two areas of law rarely directly intersect. “Accommodation issues” under disability retirement law rarely present a problem in a practical sense.
The term itself is rarely applied properly; the best way that I can describe what the term “accommodation” means, in its technical application, is by giving the classic example: A secretary who suffers from a chronic back condition is unable to perform her secretarial duties because of the high level of distractability from her chronic pain. The agency purchases an expensive, ergonomic chair, which relieves the chronic pain; she is able to perform the essential elements of her job. She has thus been “accommodated”. Thus, the definition of “accommodation” is essentially where the Agency does X such that X allows for employee Y to continue to perform the essential elements of Y’s job. Further, an accommodation cannot be a temporary or modified assignment; in fact, it is not an “assignment” at all — it is something which the Agency does for you such that you can continue to perform your job.
Thus, as a practical matter, it is rare that an Agency will be able to accommodate an individual. Further, when it comes to psychiatric disabilities, it will be rarer still -especially when the essential elements of one’s job requires the cognitive capabilities which are precisely that which is impacted by the psychiatric medical conditions. As such, the issue of accommodations is rarely a real issue, and further, people who are attempting to enforce the provisions of the ADA are not those who are truly seeking disability retirement, anyway. It is the very opposite — they are trying to preserve their jobs, and to force the Agency to provide an “accommodation” under the law.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire