Reasonable Accommodation


Overview

Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, section 501, requires a Federal Government Agency to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities, unless it would cause undue hardship. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way a job is performed that enables a person with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.
 
Although many individuals with disabilities can apply for and perform jobs without any reasonable accommodation, workplace barriers may keep others from performing jobs which they could do with some form of accommodation. These barriers may be physical obstacles (such as inaccessible facilities or equipment), or they may be procedures or rules (such as rules concerning when work is performed, when breaks are taken, or how job tasks are performed). Reasonable accommodation removes workplace barriers for individuals with disabilities.
 

What is Reasonable Accommodation?

Reasonable accommodation (RA) is what an employer, in this case - EPA does differently for an employee or applicant to remove a workplace barrier.

Reasonable accommodation can be modifications or adjustments to a job, employment practice, or work environment that makes it possible for an employee with a disability to: 

- Perform essential job duties;
- Adhere to uniformly applied conduct rules; and
- Enjoy equal benefits/privileges of employment.

Reasonable accommodation can be modifications or adjustments for an applicant with disability to have equal access to application process.

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Who Can Request a Reasonable Accommodation?

An applicant for employment may request a reasonable accommodation (RA), either orally or in writing, from any EPA employee authorized to interact with the applicant in the application process, the National Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator (NRAC), the Assistant National Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator, or the Local Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator (LORAC).

An employee, or an individual acting on behalf of the employee, may request an RA either orally or in writing, from his/her supervisor, another supervisor in his/her immediate chain of command, NRAC, Assistant NRAC, or LORAC if in a regional office, RTP lab, Cincinnati lab or the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

When an RA request is made by a third party on behalf of an individual, the Agency official processing the request should confirm the individual's authority to represent the employee with a disability.

Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) enrollees or other contractors for EPA would need to request reasonable accommodations from their employer.

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Timeline for Processing Reasonable Accommodations

It is EPA’s goal to provide reasonable accommodations as quickly as possible to remove the workplace barriers for an employee or applicant. Full and open communication between the employee, the decision-maker, and the reasonable accommodation team (NRAC/LORAC) is a critical component of the accommodation process, and helps to ensure that there is a full exchange of relevant information so the Agency can make appropriate decisions. Ongoing, even extensive, communication between the decision-maker and/or the NRAC/LORAC and the applicant or employee is especially important when the specific limitation, problem, or obstacle is unclear.

The timing for resolution of requests involving facility access or modifications to the building can be difficult to determine because of necessary coordination with other federal agencies. All facility access requests will be handled as promptly as possible, and the RAC should update the person making the request every 10 work days until a determination is made.

Generally, when requests involving the essential job functions do not require supporting medical information, and no extenuating circumstances apply, the supervisor should determine whether the Agency will provide a reasonable accommodation and notify the employee within 10 working days from receiving the initial request.

If medical documentation is needed, the employee will have up to 60 calendars to provide sufficient but limited medical documentation.

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Union Procedures and Forms for Reasonable Accommodation Requests

EPA has two procedures for filing and determining an RA request depending on the employee’s bargaining status. The first concerns employees who are members of the American Federation of Government Employees, while the second concerns all other employees, including managers.

 
 
To Request a Reasonable Accommodation at EPA, use the correct form provided.
 
 

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National Reasonable Accommodation Program Contacts

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) administers EPA’s National Reasonable Accommodation Program and all related activities pertaining to processing requests for accommodations, providing guidance and training to EPA employees in their various roles (supervisor, requestor, LORACs, etc.); assisting with issue resolution and the development of or assistance with developing associated policies and procedures; and maintains the reasonable accommodation files including medical documentation.

If you email the NRAC, please include the Assistant NRAC. Email is the best and preferred method to contact us.

Location National Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator (NRAC) Assistant NRAC

Office of Civil Rights

EPA Headquarters, Washington, DC

Amanda Sweda

sweda.amanda@epa.gov

(202) 566-0678

Kristin Tropp

tropp.kristin@epa.gov

(202) 559-0006

Local Reasonable Accommodation Coordinators

LORACS are an invaluable part of EPA Reasonable Accommodation Program given the geographical locations and number of EPA employees. LORACs serve as the principal advisor to management and employees within their designated region, lab, or office, and report to the NRAC and Assistant NRAC on reasonable accommodations requests or concerns for employees and applicants for employment with disabilities.

Office/Region LORAC Backup LORAC
Region 1 Susan Howlett

Jason Grazick

Robyn McCarville

Region 2 Ann-Heng Jen  
Region 3 Gregory Weller Julissa Baez
Region 4 Carlos Asencio Pargol “Patty” Ezzati
Region 5 Scott Sharon Maria Zamora-Ceballos
Region 6 Ross Tuttle  
Region 7 Jonathan Cooper Michael Butkovich
Region 8 Mike Shanahan  
Region 9 Philip Kum  
Region 10 Shawn Drummond  
Cincinnati Lonnie Gates David Mick
Research Triangle Park (RTP) Tessa Burmania Nikki Davis

Office of the Inspector General (OIG)

Note: Only Headquarters’ office with its own LORAC
Deana Kennedy Kim Rawls
All other HQs offices Kristin Tropp  

Helpful Links

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides leadership and guidance to federal agencies on disability, disability discrimination, and reasonable accommodation, as well as on all aspects of the federal government's equal employment opportunity program. 
  • The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues to managers and employees. 
  • The Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) EXIT; a program of the Department of Defense, provides assistive technology and services to people with disabilities. Federal managers, supervisors, IT professionals, and Wounded Service Members. CAP provides necessary accommodations FREE OF CHARGE to federal agencies. EPA has a memorandum of understanding with the CAP program, but employees must have a reasonable accommodation on file with EPA in order to make a request.

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Reasonable Accommodation Frequent Questions

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Q1 - WHAT EXACTLY IS REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION?

A1 - Reasonable Accommodation is a change to the work environment or to the way things are usually done that enables an individual with a disability who is qualified to apply for employment, perform the essential functions of a job and to enjoy equal benefits/privileges of employment. Accommodations are determined using an individualized assessment on a case-by-case basis. Generally, the employee or applicant is responsible for requesting a reasonable accommodation. An individual acting on behalf of the employee/applicant may also request a reasonable accommodation on behalf of the employee/applicant.
 
Q2 - WHAT DOES REASONABLE MEAN?
A2 - Reasonable means "effective". This means the accommodation allows an employee with a disability the opportunity to perform the essential duties of the current job or a job the individual desires and have equal access to benefits and privileges of employment. Effective also means allowing equal access to the application process for an applicant with a disability.
 
Q3 - WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION?

A3 - ONLY applicants or employees who are disabled in accordance with Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 amended, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) or, EPA Policy and Procedures for Reasonable Accommodation, are eligible for reasonable accommodation consideration. This includes an individual with a disability who is qualified and can perform the essential functions of the current job or one they desire. To be qualified, the individual with a disability must be able to perform the essential functions of the current job or one they desire, either with or without a reasonable accommodation.

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Q4 - WHO IS DISABLED UNDER THE REHABILITATION ACT?
A4 - Under the Rehabilitation Act, an individual is disabled if the person has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; has a history of such an impairment, or; is regarded as having an impairment. It is important to note that persons who meet the definition of disability under the "regarded as" prong are not eligible for reasonable accommodation. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended and the ADAAA apply the same standards and the two statutes are interchangeable. We will use the Rehabilitation Act as reference throughout this document.
 
Q5 - WHAT ARE MAJOR LIFE ACTIVITIES?
A5 - Major life activities include, but are not limited to: walking, talking, seeing, hearing, interacting with other people, breathing, concentrating, reaching, bending, lifting, sitting, standing, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, eating, learning, reading, sleeping, thinking, communicating, and working. Major life activities also include the operation of major bodily functions, including but not limited to: functions of the immune system, special sense organs and skin, normal cell growth, digestive, genitourinary, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, circulatory, respiratory, cardiovascular, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, endocrine and reproductive systems or the operation of an individual organ within a body system, e.g., the operation of the liver, kidney or pancreas.
Q6 - WHAT DOES SUBSTANTIALLY LIMITS MEAN?
A6 - To have a disability, an individual must be substantially limited in performing a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population. The following rules of construction are applied to determine if the person is substantially limited in performing a major life activity:
  • An impairment need not prevent, significantly or severely restrict, the individual from performing a major life activity to be considered substantially limiting;
  • The term substantially limits should be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage;
  • Requires an individualized assessment;
  • The determination of disability should not require extensive analysis;
  • Usually, it will not require scientific, medical, or statistical evidence, but such evidence may be used if appropriate;
  • An individual need only be substantially limited, or have a record of a substantial limitation, in one major life activity to be covered under the first or second prong of the definition of disability.
Q7 - ARE SPECIFIC MEDICAL IMPAIRMENTS INCLUDED AS DISABLING?
A7 - There are no specific impairments included as per se disabling conditions. There are certain impairments, due to their inherent nature, that will virtually always be disabilities. Examples of these impairments include, but are not limited to, bipolar disorder, major depression, epilepsy, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Although EEOC identifies these conditions as virtually always being disabling, the EEOC still requires the employer to conduct an individualized assessment, e.g., an assessment of how the condition substantially limits a major life activity.
 
Q8 - DOES EPA HAVE MORE THAN ONE SET OF REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION PROCEDURES?
A8 - EPA has procedures for AFGE bargaining unit members and applicants for AFGE bargaining unit positions as well as procedures that cover all other employees and applicants for employment. Both documents are available on EPA’s intranet site at: http://intranet.epa.gov/civilrights/reasonableaccommodation.htm.
 
Q9 - WHO COORDINATES THE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION POLICY AND PROCEDURES?
A9 - The coordination of the program is the responsibility of the National Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator (NRAC), in the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). There are Local Reasonable Accommodation Coordinators (LORAC) in headquarters, the ten regions, and the Research Triangle Park (RTP) and Cincinnati labs to assist with the implementation of the program. See list of Reasonable Accommodation Coordinators at: http://intranet.epa.gov/civilrights/reasonableaccommodation.htm.
 
Q10 - MUST ALL REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION REQUESTS BE MADE IN WRITING?
A10 - No. All requests, either oral or in writing, must be processed. The agency is required to track reasonable accommodation requests and each of the two procedures provide reporting forms in the appendices. For the purpose of tracking reasonable accommodations it is expected that all oral requests be put in writing in accordance with the instructions in the procedures.
 

Q11 - HOW ARE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION REQUESTS PROCESSED?

A11 - An employee may submit a reasonable accommodation request to anyone in his/her supervisory chain of command or to the NRAC or LORAC. It is strongly advised that requests be processed by the employee's first line supervisor. The person receiving the request should contact the NRAC and/or LORAC for further information.
 

Q12 - WHO IS AUTHORIZED TO APPROVE OR DENY A REQUEST?

A12 - The designated agency decision-maker (D-M) is authorized to approve or deny a request for reasonable accommodation. Generally, the D-M is the employee’s immediate or first line supervisor.
 

Q13 - ARE THERE SPECIFIC TIME LIMITS FOR GRANTING OR DENYING A REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION REQUEST?

A13 - Yes. Each procedure outlines specific time limits from the point at which the request is made and a decision to grant or deny is made. The AFGE procedures state that within 15 business days of the initial request or within 5 business days after receipt of requested medical information the D-M makes a determination to approve or deny the request. The non-AFGE procedures state that when no medical information is required, notice regarding the approval or denial of the request should be provided to the employee within 10 work days of the initial request. When medical information is used the employee should be notified of the denial or approval within 10 work days after receipt of the information. There are situations in which the accommodation decision should occur prior to the conclusion of the time limits. An example of the need to make a decision in less than the maximum time would be for an applicant who is deaf requesting a sign language interpreter for a job interview he/she has in 2 weeks. This request must be processed immediately in order for this applicant to be appropriately accommodated for the interview. For other time limits regarding processing requests please refer to the Reasonable Accommodation Procedures.
 
Q14 - WHEN MAY EPA REQUEST MEDICAL DOCUMENTATION?
A14 - The D-M may request medical documentation be provided when the disability or need for accommodation is not obvious. Supplemental documentation may be needed if the original documentation submitted does not clearly explain the nature of the disability, including functional limitations, major life activities affected and the need for reasonable accommodation.
 
Q15- WHEN NECESSARY, WHO RECEIVES AND REVIEWS MEDICAL DOCUMENTATION TO DETERMINE ITS SUFFICIENCY?
A15 - Under the AFGE Procedures the NRAC, receives and reviews medical documentation for the purpose of determining if the individual is a person with a disability. This determination is provided in writing to the employee and D-M with recommendations and guidance on next steps in the process. Under the non-AFGE Procedures the employee must authorize, in writing, either the NRAC, LORAC or the D-M to receive and review medical documentation for the purpose of determining if the individual is a person with a disability. In both situations, all medical documents must be maintained in a confidential manner and shall be forwarded to the NRAC for the purpose of maintaining them as well as any other confidential documents related to the reasonable accommodation request.
Q16 - WHEN MAY EPA NOT REQUEST MEDICAL DOCUMENTATION?
A16 - EPA may not request medical documentation where both the disability and the need for reasonable accommodation are obvious (employee is blind, deaf, wheelchair user, etc.), or the individual has already provided the agency with sufficient information to document the existence of the disability and the functional limitations imposed by the disability.
 
Q17 - MUST THE D-M PROVIDE THE ACCOMMODATION REQUESTED BY THE EMPLOYEE?
A17 - No. The D-M is required to provide a reasonable accommodation that removes a work place barrier created by the limitations imposed on the employee resulting from the disabling medical condition or any limitations that are imposed due to the negative effects of any mitigating measures used to treat the disabling condition and one that gives the employee an opportunity to perform the essential duties of the job in a satisfactory manner, absent undue hardship. It is recommended that the D-M and employee discuss the requested accommodation and discuss why the specific accommodation being requested is needed and how that accommodation will allow the person to perform essential job duties in a satisfactory manner. However, the D-M may choose among reasonable accommodations as long as the chosen accommodation is effective. Thus, as part of the interactive process, the D-M may offer alternative suggestions for reasonable accommodation and discuss their effectiveness in removing the workplace barrier that is impeding the individual with a disability.
 
Q18 - CAN WORKING FROM HOME BE CONSIDERED A REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION?
A18 - Yes. Working from home (teleworking) may be considered where the person’s limitations resulting from the disabling medical condition or any limitations resulting from negative effects of any mitigating measure used to treat the disabling condition that prevents the employee from successfully performing the job on-site. Consideration must be given as to if the essential parts of the job can be performed at home, absent undue hardship. The employee and the D-M should discuss why this accommodation is needed as it relates to the functional limitations. Also, the discussion must include whether or not the work is portable and can be completed at home.
 
Q19 - HOW FREQUENTLY MAY SOMEONE WITH A DISABILITY WORK AT HOME AS A REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION?
A19 - An employee may work at home only to the extent that the disability necessitates it. For some people, that may mean one day a week, two half-days, or every day for a particular period of time ( e.g., for three months while an employee recovers from treatment or surgery related to a disability). In other instances, the nature of a disability may make it difficult to predict precisely when it will be necessary for an employee to work at home. For example, sometimes the effects of a disability become particularly severe on a periodic but irregular basis. When these flare-ups occur, they sometimes prevent an employee from getting to the workplace. In these instances, an employee might need to work at home on an "as needed" basis as long as they can perform the essential functions of the job and this accommodation does not cause undue hardship.
 
Q20 - MAY A D-M WITHDRAW A TELEWORK ARRANGEMENT OR A MODIFIED SCHEDULE PROVIDED AS A REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION BECAUSE THE EMPLOYEE IS GIVEN AN UNSATISFACTORY PERFORMANCE RATING?
A20 - No. Simply withdrawing the telework arrangement or a modified schedule is no different than discontinuing an employee’s use of a sign language interpreter or assistive technology as reasonable accommodations. The D-M should not assume that an unsatisfactory rating means that the reasonable accommodation is not working. The D-M can proceed with the unsatisfactory rating but may also wish to determine the cause of the performance problem to help evaluate the effectiveness of the reasonable accommodation. If the reasonable accommodation is not assisting the employee in improving performance as intended, the D-M and the employee may need to explore whether an additional accommodation is needed, or whether the original accommodation should be withdrawn and another accommodation should be substituted.
 
Q21 - WHAT CONSTITUTES 'UNDUE HARDSHIP'?
A21 - The D-M is not required to provide an accommodation that creates an undue hardship. A determination of undue hardship includes an individualized assessment and should be based on several factors including:
  • The nature of the accommodation needed;
  • The overall financial resources of EPA (not just the resources of the office, division, branch or region);
  • The impact of the accommodation on the operation of the office, division, branch, etc.
The D-M is required to identify the particular undue hardship. If the D-M determines that one particular reasonable accommodation will cause undue hardship, but a second type of accommodation will be effective and will not cause undue hardship, then the D-M must provide the second accommodation.
 
Q22 - WHEN IS REASSIGNMENT CONSIDERED AS A REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION?
A22 - Reassignment is the accommodation of LAST RESORT and will be considered only when the D-M determines that no other reasonable accommodation will permit the employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of his/her current position, or if the only other accommodation would cause undue hardship. Specifics of the reassignment process can be found in HR Bulletin #10-003B, Reassignment of a Qualified Employee with a Disability, dated April 8, 2010 and in both sets of Reasonable Accommodation Procedures.
Q23- IS EPA REQUIRED TO INFORM AN INDIVIDUAL OF THE DECISION MADE REGARDING THEIR REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION REQUEST?

A23 - Yes. It is required when a decision regarding the individual’s request is made, that the applicant or employee be informed in writing by the D-M. The denial of reasonable accommodation must include the specific reason why the request was denied and inform the person of their rights to appeal as well as other available avenues of redress. Standard language regarding this notification is included in the EPA Reasonable Accommodation Procedures.

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Q24 - IF AN EMPLOYEE'S DISABILITY CAUSES VIOLATION OF A CONDUCT RULE, MAY MANAGEMENT DISCIPLINE THE EMPLOYEE?

A24 - Yes. If the conduct rule is job-related and consistent with business necessity and other employees are held to the same standard. The Rehabilitation Act does not protect employees from the consequences of violating conduct requirements even where the conduct is caused by the disability. If an employee states that the disability is the cause of the conduct problem or requests reasonable accommodation, management may still discipline the employee for the misconduct. If the appropriate disciplinary action is termination, the Rehabilitation Act would not require further discussion about the employee’s disability or request for reasonable accommodation. If the discipline is something less than termination, management may ask about the disability's relevance to the misconduct, or if the employee thinks there is an accommodation that could help him/her avoid future misconduct. If an accommodation is requested, management should begin an interactive process to determine whether one is needed to correct a conduct problem, and, if so, what accommodation would be effective.

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Q25 - WHAT SHOULD A SUPERVISOR DO IF AN EMPLOYEE REQUESTS AN ACCOMMODATION FOR THE FIRST TIME IN RESPONSE TO COUNSELING OR A LOW PERFORMANCE RATING?

A25 - The supervisor may proceed with the discussion or evaluation but also should begin the interactive process by discussing with the employee how the disability may be affecting performance and what accommodation the employee believes may help to improve the performance. The supervisor cannot refuse to discuss the request or fail to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability who is as punishment for the performance problem If a reasonable accommodation is needed to assist an employee with a disability in addressing a performance problem and the D-M refuses to provide one, absent undue hardship, the D-M has violated the Rehabilitation Act and the Reasonable Accommodation Procedures.

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Q26 - ARE AGENCIES REQUIRED TO TRACK REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION REQUESTS?

A26 - Yes. The EPA Reasonable Accommodation Procedures outline the specific information that must be tracked in accordance with EEOC guidelines. This information is tracked by the NRAC.

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Q27 - ARE THERE ANY RESOURCES TO CONTACT REGARDING REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION?

A27 - Both sets of Reasonable Accommodation Procedures lists resources managers, supervisors and employees can utilize to find suggestions and recommendations related to specific accommodations for an individual. It is strongly advised that either the LORAC or NRAC also be utilized as such a resource.

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Q28 - WHAT IS THE COMPUTER ELECTRONIC ACCOMMODATION PROGRAM (CAP)?

A28 - Established by the Federal government, the Computer/Electronic Accommodation Program (CAP) is a centrally funded program that provides assistive technology (AT) and reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. CAP's mission is to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to information and employment opportunities in the Department of Defense (DOD) and throughout the Federal government. The program is managed by the DOD. EPA is a partner in this program and is therefore eligible to receive assistive technology devices and services for employees with disabilities AT NO COST to EPA. That's right FREE!! Contact the NRAC or your LORAC for more information about this program.

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Q29 - WHAT DO I DO IF THERE IS NO MONEY SET ASIDE IN MY BUDGET TO PURCHASE ITEMS FOR REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION?

A29 - Some regions have decided to have a centralized fund to pay for reasonable accommodation. Both reasonable accommodation procedures describe what is required if the accommodation being requested cannot be funded by the employee’s office. Research done by the Job Accommodation Network and the Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, indicates that the large majority of all reasonable accommodations cost less than $1,000. It is virtually impossible to use cost as the reason not to provide an accommodation that is effective. EEOC guidelines clearly state that the overall budget of an agency/department would be considered, not just the operating budget of a particular office, region, unit, etc.

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Q30 - MUST REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION REQUESTS BE MADE AT A SPECIFIC TIME?

A30 - No. Under the Rehabilitation Act, the duty to provide reasonable accommodation is an ongoing one. Thus, an individual with a disability must be permitted to request accommodation whenever he/she chooses or be allowed to modify a current reasonable accommodation, when necessary. That request will then trigger EPA's obligation to start the process identified in the procedures.

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Q31- WHAT DO I DO WHEN I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO?

A31 - Again, each region and the labs in Cincinnati and RTP have designated LORACs to assist management and employees with this process. The National and Assistant Reasonable Accommodation Coordinators assist all headquarter employees and the other labs with the reasonable accommodation process. For more information regarding the reasonable accommodation program, please contact Amanda Sweda, National Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator at (202) 566-0678 or Sweda.Amanda@epa.gov or Kristin Tropp, Assistant National Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator at (202) 559-0006 or Tropp.Kristin@epa.gov.

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Q32- IS EPA REQUIRED TO INFORM AN INDIVIDUAL OF THE DECISION MADE REGARDING THEIR REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION REQUEST?

A32 - Yes. It is required when a decision regarding the individual's request is made, that the applicant or employee be informed in writing by the D-M. The denial of reasonable accommodation must include the specific reason why the request was denied and inform the person of their rights to appeal as well as other available avenues of redress. Standard language regarding this notification is included in the EPA Reasonable Accommodation Procedures.

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