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Report: Improve treatment of disabled employees in federal workforce

Law firm supporting feds points to progress, but says there is much more work to do.

The federal government is hiring more disabled workers and reducing the number of disability discrimination complaints overall, but it is still struggling to adequately meet the needs of disabled employees, a new study has found.

Tully Rinckey PLLC, a law firm that provides services to federal employees, found in its evaluation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Annual Report on Federal Workforce that discrimination complaints were down 6 percent in fiscal 2011 from fiscal 2010, but up 4 percent over the last five years.

The executive branch hired 18,000 disabled workers in fiscal 2011 -- up 9 percent from the previous year -- which puts the government on pace to meet the goal of an executive order signed by President Obama in July 2010 to hire 100,000 disabled Americans to the federal workforce over five years.

Joanna F. Friedman, a partner at Tully Rinckey, said these are steps in the right direction but there is work yet to be done.

“The federal government can do better at recruiting and hiring new disabled workers as the order requires,” Friedman said. “Also important to retaining disabled workers is the government must ensure it is fostering a healthy and equitable working environment, which is not reflected in the increase of complaints filed on the basis of disability discrimination.”

The areas with the highest increases in complaints were in appointments or hires to new positions and training, which each saw a more than 30 percent increase over the last five years. Disabled federal employees filed many fewer complaints, however, for discrimination in medical examinations, duty hours and assignment of duties.

“These reports . . . show that the federal government can change for the better when it comes to hiring and properly treating disabled individuals,” she said. “But more change is necessary to combat major issues such as harassment, discriminatory terminations and failures to provide reasonable accommodations.”

EEOC pointed to a statement it made when its report was originally released in August, which highlighted that federal offices are dealing with complaints more quickly.

“This report has some encouraging news, particularly looking at how federal agencies have reduced the time for processing EEO complaints,” said Carlton M. Hadden, director EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations.  “While federal agencies must remain focused on ensuring timely processing of EEO complaints, they also must make real their obligation to make their workplaces genuine models of EEO employment.”