By Deborah Hopkins, October 18, 2017
The answer to this article’s title: maybe.
Earlier this year, EEOC amended the regulations on federal agency obligations to provide Personal Assistance Services (PAS) to employees who have targeted disabilities. (If you need a refresher on what a targeted disability is, check out this recent FELTG article). The amendments apply to Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the law that prohibits the federal government from discriminating in employment on the basis of disability and requires it to engage in affirmative action for people with disabilities.
Some individuals with targeted disabilities cannot work unless PAS are provided to them in the workplace, so beginning January 3, 2018, federal agencies will be required by 29 CFR § 1614.203(d)(5) to provide PAS to individuals who need it. PAS are provided by humans, and help individuals who, because of their targeted disabilities, require assistance to perform basic activities of daily living, such as eating, walking, or getting out of a vehicle.
According to the regulations, PAS means “assistance with performing activities of daily living that an individual would typically perform if he or she did not have a disability, and that is not otherwise required as a reasonable accommodation, including, for example, assistance with removing and putting on clothing, eating, and using the restroom.” Keep in mind these are examples and the regulations do not list every activity that might constitute a need for PAS. For example, someone providing PAS might push a wheelchair or assist someone with getting into or out of their desk chair at work.
PAS provide functional assistance, not medical assistance. PAS do not include performing medical procedures (such as injecting insulin) or medical monitoring (such as monitoring heart rate, body temperature or blood sugar).
Here are some examples of Personal Assistances Services federal employees might need:
- Pushing a wheelchair
- Getting out of their vehicle when they get to work
- Using the restroom
- Walking across uneven surfaces
- Assistance with prosthesis
- Eating or drinking during a break
- Reaching and retrieving items
As stated above, PAS allow individuals to perform activities of daily living that an individual would typically perform if he or she did not have a disability – but they do NOT perform the essential functions of the job FOR the individual. EEOC’s website gives an example: “PAS do not help individuals with disabilities perform their specific job functions, such as reviewing documents or answering questions that come through a call-in center. PAS differ from services that help an individual to perform job-related tasks, such as sign language interpreters who enable individuals who are deaf to communicate with coworkers, and readers who enable individuals who are blind or have learning disabilities to read printed text. Those services are required as reasonable accommodations, if the individual needs them because of a disability and providing them does not impose undue hardship on the agency. An agency’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodations is unaffected by the new regulations.”
Agencies are required to provide PAS to an individual if:
- The individual is an employee of the agency;
- The individual has a targeted disability;
- The individual requires the services because of his or her targeted disability;
- The individual will be able to perform the essential functions of the job, without posing a direct threat to safety, once PAS and any required reasonable accommodations have been provided; and
- Providing PAS will not impose undue hardship on the agency.
In addition to being available regularly scheduled work hours, PAS must be supplied during overtime hours and work-sponsored events such as special talks and holiday parties, as these are “benefits and privileges of employment,” PAS must also be provided to teleworkers who qualify.
PAS employees may be federal employees, independent contractors, or a combination of employees and contractors. While the agency has the final say on who provides PAS to the employee, the employee’s choice should be given deference whenever possible. This means if the employee’s spouse provides PAS when he is not in the workplace, and the employee needs assistance when in the workplace, the agency may employ his wife (as either an employee or contractor) as the PAS provider if the employee requests her. If the agency denies a request for a specific PAS, the agency must show providing it would be an undue hardship under the disability standard.
For more information see EEOC’s Questions and Answers: Federal Agencies’ Obligation to Provide Personal Assistance Services (PAS) under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act at https://www1.eeoc.gov//federal/directives/personal-assistance-services.cfm?renderforprint=1.