EEOC issues proposal on ADA and federal work force

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to clarify the application of the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) to federal government workers.

When the ADA’s employment provisions were enacted in Title I of the law, some of the legal requirements of the ADA differed from the Rehabilitation Act, even though the two laws shared the same purpose — ending employment discrimination based on disability. In 1992, Congress made the laws the same by amending the Rehabilitation Act to apply the ADA standards to federal employment.

New rule addresses reassignment

The NPRM updates the EEOC’s Rehabilitation Act regulation to incorporate this change. It is responsive to feedback from federal stakeholders seeking clarification, especially on the topic of reassignment. The proposed regulation would highlight changes in the law. These are some examples:

• The ADA provides that reassignment is a reasonable accommodation subject only to the limit of undue hardship. The regulatory limits on reassignment of federal employees with disabilities, formerly included in 29 C.F.R. § 1614.203(g), have been deleted.

• The ADA defines the term "direct threat," providing that an employer may disqualify an individual from employment based on health or safety concerns only if the employer can demonstrate that the person poses "a significant risk of substantial harm" to self or others, even with reasonable accommodation. Under the old Section 501 regulation, the individual was required to prove that he or she could safely perform the job, as part of establishing that he or she was a "qualified individual with a disability."

• The application of the ADA’s nondiscrimination standards has no impact on federal affirmative action obligations or programs.

Title I of the ADA prohibits private employers, state, and local governments; employment agencies; and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms and conditions of employment. Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits employment discrimination against employees and applicants with disabilities in the federal sector.