By G. Anthonie Riis | Fort Knox NewsAugust 8, 2019
Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, government agencies must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants and employees with disabilities unless it would cause undue hardship to the agency.
However, according to Fort Knox Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist James Norfleet, there has been some confusion about what accommodations are, what a disability is, and who is qualified to use the accommodations.
"Some people think a condition qualifies when it isn't essential to their job, and there are others who don't think their condition qualifies when really it does," Norfleet said.
For answers, Norfleet said he refers to the standards set in both the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
"A reasonable accommodation allows an employee with a disability an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment that employees without disabilities enjoy," Norfleet said. "[That] is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal job opportunities."
He said there has been some confusion about what qualifies a person for accommodation.
"It is for the employee who is qualified, with or without accommodation, to perform the essential function of the job," Norfleet said. "In other words, it's a qualified person with a disability that affects the focus of their work. It is not, as some people believe, a disability [alone that] qualifies for accommodation."
Norfleet said a consensus must be made to determine if accommodations are warranted.
"To consider a reasonable accommodation, you must go to your supervisor for a request. You and your supervisor would go over an interactive dialog with six statements that you'll both initial off on," Norfleet said. "You don't have to use the term 'reasonable accommodation,' but you do have to identify that you're having trouble performing an essential job function.
"Employees have to make sure the supervisor knows about their need for accommodation, and the supervisors need to know that they are required by law to accommodate."
Norfleet warns against using an accommodation to get a new assignment.
"Reassignment is usually the accommodation of last resort," Norfleet said. "You can't be put in a position that you're not qualified for and a position can't be created for you, so it may mean going down in a pay grade to accommodate."
He said his essential job is to advise others.
"I can be contacted with any questions. I can advise the employee, and I can advise the supervisor, but I'm not the deciding factor," Norfleet said.
Norfleet said he hoped some might find some resources to make their life easier.
"[Roughly] 74% of the workforce at Fort Knox are veterans, and 36% of those have a disability of more than 30%," said Norfleet. "Depending on what they did in the military, chances are they were injured along the way, whether at war or in training. Their medical records would show that.
"We might have a reasonable accommodation that helps them with an essential function of their job."