Our society is constantly changing. However, ensuring equitable rights and opportunities for everyone is still a top priority. This includes individuals with disabilities.
If you are a federal employee with a disability, then you need to know about the full scope of your rights.
Let’s explore the existing federal laws and how they protect you in the workplace.
What Are My Rights as a Disabled Employee?
There are a significant number of disability rights for federal employees. Most of these rights stem from two laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA is a comprehensive civil rights law that was first enacted by Congress in 1990. It prohibits discrimination based on disability across various public and private sectors.
Just a few examples are employment, transportation, and telecommunications. That means you cannot receive different treatment just because you have a disability.
However, to receive protection under the ADA, an individual must have a disability. In the context of the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
You are also considered disabled under the ADA if you:
- Have a history of an impairment that limits one or more major life activities; or
- Are perceived by others as having such an impairment.
Title I of the ADA is particularly useful for federal employees. This section requires employers with more than 15 employees to provide equal employment opportunities to qualified disabled individuals.
This includes non-discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other aspects of employment.
Employers must also provide reasonable accommodations for employees with known disabilities. The only exception is when accommodating the employee would cause undue hardship for the employer.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Although the ADA has broad applicability to all kinds of employers, the Rehabilitation Act explicitly targets federal sector activities.
Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. It also mandates federal agencies to take proactive steps in hiring, placing, and advancing individuals with disabilities.
The Rehabilitation Act’s legal standards for discrimination in the federal workplace are the same as those standards in the ADA.
Of particular note for federal employees is Section 504. This section stipulates that no qualified individual with a disability shall suffer discrimination through any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Similarly, individuals with disabilities cannot be the target of discrimination under any program or activity conducted by any executive agency or the United States Postal Service.
Just like the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act calls for reasonable accommodation for known physical or mental limitations unless such accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operations of the recipient’s program.
Interplay Between the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act
As you may have already noticed, the Rehabilitation Act and ADA complement each other very well.
Although the ADA does not cover federal agencies in the executive branch, the Rehabilitation Act fills this gap.
In doing so, it extends protections to federal employees similar to the disability rights for employees under the ADA.
Federal employees can lodge any discrimination complaint with their agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) counselor within 45 days of the discriminatory action.
It’s also worth noting that Congress significantly broadened the ADA’s definition of disability under the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) in 2008.
Part of the reason for the ADAAA was to align the ADA more closely with the Rehabilitation Act’s broader scope. This was a significant milestone in ensuring that the laws fully encompass those they were designed to protect.
The Takeaway for Federal Employees
In essence, federal employees with disabilities receive protection from two robust laws – the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.
Both laws work toward ensuring equal opportunities, inclusivity, and fair treatment inside and outside the federal workplace. However, the path to justice starts with awareness. Knowing your rights under these laws is the first step in maintaining a fair and equitable workplace.
Whether it’s about seeking a reasonable accommodation or combating discriminatory practices, don’t hesitate to assert your rights.
A disability does not define your potential or your worth, and the law is here to uphold your right to equal treatment under the law.
Get the Legal Help You Need Today
At the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, our outstanding legal team possesses a deep understanding of disability rights for federal employees. We can also help you determine whether you are eligible for federal employee disability retirement benefits.
Whatever the exact issue, we are deeply committed to supporting federal employees with disabilities. Our highest priority is to ensure they receive the rights given to them by the law.
During your consultation, our lawyers will work to hear your concerns and outline your legal options.