EEOC issues model rules on disability accommodation

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission managers have up to 15 days to process most requests for accommodation from employees with disabilities, under new procedures that could serve as a model for other agencies. The EEOC's procedures, spurred by an executive order that President Clinton issued last year, push more responsibility down to line supervisors, who will draw from a central fund to procure tools to help disabled employees do their jobs. "There is a great deal of emphasis on making reasonable accommodations in as short a time as possible," said Sharon Rennert, an EEOC senior attorney-adviser who helped draft the new procedures. "We should not have some tremendous bureaucratic structure." An employee can request, verbally or in writing, an assistive device, interpreter or other accommodation. The employee's direct supervisor has 15 days to either fulfill the request or reject it as unreasonable. More complicated requests, such as adaptive telecommunications devices or the removal of an architectural barrier, go to the agency's disability program manager under the new procedures. The disability manager has 20 days to fulfill such requests. EEOC job applicants can request accommodations from any EEOC staff person they are dealing with. The EEOC procedures apply only to the agency's own employees and job applicants. But all agencies are required to re-write their procedures for reasonable accommodation requests, under Executive Order 13164, which President Clinton issued last July. Agencies have until July 26 to send a copy of their new accommodation procedures to the EEOC. In October, the EEOC issued guidance on implementing the executive order to federal agencies. Several federal agency managers asked the EEOC to make its own procedures public as an example to other agencies. Accommodation has become a hot topic over the past year in part because new regulations under a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act instruct agencies to make their computers and other technologies accessible to people with disabilities. In addition, a growing body of case law generated by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act is helping employers understand their role in helping people with disabilities in the workplace. In their accommodation request procedures, agencies must explain who is responsible for processing requests; emphasize the importance of open communication between the person making a request and the manager who is handling it; discuss requirements for medical documentation; and establish time frames for processing and providing accommodation. The EEOC's procedures include resources for managers and sample forms that people can use to make formal confirmations of requests. Rennert said other agencies should set up procedures that fit their structures. EEOC's procedures are meant to be "an example of how one agency is meeting its accommodation responsibility," she said.
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