DISABLED EMPLOYEE BEATS IRS
What is a disabled federal employee to do when her agency does not quickly react to her request for reasonable accommodations to help her deal with a disability which her psychiatrist documented as follows: “Complainant had ADD and depression; that she ‘struggles with attention and concentration, poor memory, disorganization, anxiety, depressed mood, [and] impulsivity’?” One IRS employee took her case to the EEOC and came away with several substantial accommodations as well as in all likelihood money to compensate her for the stress IRS put her through. The employee was a Correspondence Examination Tech GS-7 who did what a lot federal employees do working on the laws they administer. She analyzed and researched case files dealing with tax claims from the public, communicated over the phone and in writing with taxpayers to get additional information, performed complex claim calculations, prepared workpapers to fully document the case, etc.
The employee’s Licensed Clinical Specialist Social Worker told the agency she needed the following accommodations:
- a desk that is in a quiet area and outside of the main flow of traffic,
- work that is focused on the task at hand,
- no multi-tasking whenever possible,
- time to readjust when moving from one thing to another, and
- time to formulate ideas when trying to streamline questions or statements. For a short period of time the agency gave her a cubicle that was relatively quiet, but then moved her back into a high traffic area and started criticizing her performance that was once rated as Outstanding.
When EEOC got the EEO Investigator’s report, it issued a decision that began by reminding IRS that when reasonable accommodations are requested the agency must respond “expeditiously” and listed five factors relevant to assessing whether the delay was legitimate. It then told the agency it had failed to justify why it could not make the following accommodations for this employee:
- Permit her to complete her history notes reporting on taxpayer phone calls after the taxpayer was off the line as opposed to while the taxpayer is still on the line and talking to the employee;
- Eliminate the any “arbitrary number of minutes” standard it has imposed on the employee to complete her history sheet work on each case; and
- Find ways to limit the employee’s time on the phone until after 5 p.m. when most of the other employees have left for the day.
Because the agency had not expeditiously responded to these requested accommodations nor been able to prove any would create an “undue hardship,” EEOC ordered the agency to give all involved managers 8 hours of training in ADA Reasonable Accommodation obligations, consider disciplining the involved managers and report to EEOC on what action IRS finally takes against them, and to conduct an investigation into how the agency’s violation of law had harmed the employees. If harmed, she should be compensated for that damage. Under law she could receive up to $300,000.00 in damage payments.
Given how many federal employees perform customer service work very similar to this IRS employee this case provides a great road map for agencies and employees in how to handle requests for Attention Deficit Disorder accommodations. See Michelle G, v. Jacob Lew, Secretary of Treasury, EEOC No. 0120132463 (May 13, 2016)