By Deborah Hopkins, October 5, 2021
The novel coronavirus has brought about numerous novel challenges in the Federal workplace. It can be tempting to allow all these “new” issues to feel completely overwhelming. But let me share something with you that I first heard from Katie Atkinson, one of FELTG’s instructors and our resident specialist in all things related to COVID-19 and EEO. “You already have the tools to do this. Apply the facts to the existing legal framework” to get the answer you need.
I can think of a couple of areas where this is especially important both now and when return to the workplace orders are implemented.
Your agency probably hadn’t received requests for disability accommodation related to a global pandemic before 2020. Now, when you receive a covid-related RA request, you should give the request the same individualized analysis as any other RA case.
1. Does the employee have a disability?
2. Is the employee a qualified individual with a disability?
3. Did the employee request accommodation?
4. Did the agency engage in the interactive process to determine potential accommodations?
5. If an accommodation is denied, is it because the accommodation would not be effective, or would be an undue hardship?
A person with a back problem who requests an ergonomic chair will benefit from the same step-by-step process as a person with asthma or diabetes who is susceptible to severe covid infection if exposed in the workplace.
The facts are new; the process is not. You already have the tools to do this. (If you need a refresher, join FELTG for on the virtual training event The Exemption Proves the Rule: Reasonable Accommodation, Discipline, and the Vaccine Mandate November 3 and we’ll show you how.)
Agencies have been disciplining employees for misconduct under the civil service systems for more than 100 years. The facts related to the misconduct might change, but the framework does not. Whether you have an employee who misuses an agency purchase card, falsifies a timecard, refuses to wear a mask in a Federal building where there is a mask mandate, or refuses to provide proof of vaccination, the misconduct case should be handled according to law and regulation.
FELTG’s Five Elements of Discipline© will get you there:
1. Is there a rule?
2. Does the employee know the rule exists?
3. Does the agency have evidence the employee broke the rule?
4. Can the agency justify the penalty?
5 . Did the agency provide due process?
The facts are new; the process is not. You already have the tools to do this. (If you need a refresher, join FELTG for the webinar series Navigating the Return to the Federal Workplace in October and we’ll show you how.)
A reporter recently asked me if I thought the Federal government was prepared to handle the challenges that are anticipated with return to the workplace orders, and I didn’t hesitate when I said: “They absolutely are prepared. The facts are new but the process is not.” Whether you realize it or not, if you have taken training with FELTG you already know how to do this. And if you need a little refresher or a primer, we’ll be happy to help. Hopkins@FELTG.com