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Dear Guidance

Proactive prevention.  Early Intervention.  The right way.

The Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity - Goddard (ODEO) provides consultancy and guidance services addressing equal employment opportunity (EEO) rights and responsibilities that will enhance the quality of the GSFC employee work experience through the reduction of EEO workplace issues and elimination of barriers that prevent an employee from reaching their full potential.

Knowledge in the area of EEO is the best tool to cultivate respect for diversity and create an environment free from unlawful discrimination and harassment.  We understand that this is a very complex area and EOPO is here to help.  EOPO works diligently to provide critical guidance to managers and employees on all aspects of EEO. This guidance serves as a resource to managers and employees to increase knowledge in this very important area.

DEAR GUIDANCE serves as a resource tool providing guidance to GSFC workforce at all levels in addressing equal employment opportunity issues. To contact DEAR GUIDANCE, call 301-286-7348 and you will be directed to the EEO Specialist of the Day OR use our DEAR GUIDANCE link if you prefer to leave an anonymous question or comment.

Please do not post any information on our link that is of a confidential or personal nature, please do not post any PII related information.

EOPO staff looks forward to working with you and providing guidance on EEO issues, such as, workplace harassment, religious discrimination and accommodation, disability discrimination and accommodation, whistleblower protection and retaliation, complaints processing, and genetic information and nondiscrimination. 

Question Answer
What if a co-worker(s) complains about a religious accommodation given to another employee? It would depend on the nature of the complaint. If a religious accommodation is met with resentment and jealousy by co-workers the manager should educate the team about religious accommodation and that the manager is complying with their responsibilities. If a religious accommodation infringes on another co-workers’ ability to perform their tasks or creates a hostile work environment to the surrounding employees the accommodation may qualify as an undue hardship and therefore would not be considered a reasonable accommodation.
Is an employee who brings a harassment claim protected from retaliation/reprisal?  Yes. The GSFC is committed to promoting and maintaining a work environment free from discrimination and retaliation. Reprisal for participation in the EEO process is prohibited. If an employee wishes to seek information or file an EEO complaint of reprisal he or she may contact EOPO at 301-286-7348 within 45 calendar days of the alleged occurrence(s) of retaliation discrimination.
Is there guidance on religious discrimination?  Yes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has guidance entitled, “EEOC’s Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.”
Does NASA have Guidelines on Gender Transition? Yes, NASA issued specific guidelines on the issue of gender transition in April 2014. Click on the following hyperlink to read access the NASA Guidelines on Gender Transition.
What should a manager do after a reasonable accommodation request has been made? The manager and employee or applicant should promptly engage in an “interactive process” to determine whether and what type of an accommodation is appropriate. When engaging in the process, the manager and employee or applicant will consider the essential duties, the functional limitations imposed by the disability or medical condition, and the effectiveness of the various options for reasonable accommodation that could mitigate the effects of those functional limitations. For further guidance on the reasonable accommodation process, view the GSFC Reasonable Accommodations for Employees & Applicants with Disabilities brochure and the NASA Reasonable Accommodations Procedures, NPR 3713.1B
What are essential functions? Essential functions are the basic job duties that an employee or applicant must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation. 
Essential functions are the fundamental, crucial job duties performed in a position. They do not include marginal functions, which are extra or incidental duties. A function may be essential because: 
  1. The position exists to perform that function. 
  2. There are limited number of employees available who could perform that function. 
  3. The function is highly specialized, and the incumbent is hired for special expertise or ability to perform it. 
Isn’t sexual harassment limited to situations where supervisors make sexual demands on subordinates? No. Sexual power plays by supervisors constitute the most easily understood form of sexual harassment. However, sexual harassment also occurs when supervisors, co-workers, or even non-employees create a hostile environment through unwelcomed sexual advances/attention and/or demeaning gender-based conduct.
Isn’t there a right to free speech? The First Amendment protects some forms of expression, even in the workplace, but verbal threats and name-calling often involved in harassment are not protected as free speech. For example, the First Amendment would not protect a supervisor’s threat to fire a subordinate who will not sleep with their boss. Nor will the First Amendment protect verbal conduct that offends and intimidates other employees to the point that their work is affected, thus creating a hostile work environment.
What course of action should a manager take if the alleged victim of harassment elects to not pursue the complaint? NASA is legally obligated to investigate any potential allegations of harassment once it is notified of its existence. Once management is made aware of potentially unlawful behavior, it is duty bound to conduct an administrative inquiry, regardless of the victim’s wishes. Visit the NASA/Goddard Anti-Harassment Program page for more information.
What does the term “disability” mean? The term “disability” means: (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) a record of a substantially limiting impairment; or (3) being regarded (i.e. treated) as having a substantially limiting impairment. Since the DA Amendments Act (ADAAA) became effective in 2009, the ADA’s definition of “disability” has been very broad. The definition of a disability includes many kinds of mental and physical medical conditions. Visit the ADA Amendments Act definition of “disability" for more information.
What is Schedule A Hiring Authority for Persons with Disabilities? Schedule A is an appointing authority, or hiring authority. It is an Excepted Service appointment for persons with disabilities. The regulations guiding the Excepted Service—Appointment of Persons with Disabilities, Career, and Career-Conditional Appointments are found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The citation is 5 CFR § 213.3102(u). Visit the Schedule A Hiring Process page for more information.
What are targeted disabilities? Targeted disabilities are a subset of the larger disability category. The federal government has recognized that qualified individuals with certain disabilities, particularly manifest disabilities, face significant barriers to employment, above and beyond the barriers faced by people with the broader range of disabilities. These barriers are often due to myths, fears, and stereotypes about such disabilities. Targeted disabilities are designated on the Office of Personnel Management‘s SF-256 Self-Identification Form. Visit the following page on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on targeted disabilities for more information.
Is an agency required to provide a reasonable accommodation to a contract employee? It depends. The question is a complex one. Federal agencies are required to provide reasonable accommodation to a Federal employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the agency (“undue hardship”). Moreover, agencies must meet public accessibility requirements for persons with disabilities. But as a general rule, the obligation to reasonably accommodate a contract employee does not extend to federal agencies. Simply stated, the requirement to accommodate a contract employee rests exclusively with the employer. However, a contract employee may rise to the level of a Federal employee if agency personnel control the means and manner of the contractor’s employment. There is a non-exhaustive list of 12 factors that are used to determine if a contract worker (also sometimes called contingent worker) is entitled to benefits normally reserved for Federal employees. Although no one factor is determinative, the agency is required to assess whether managers ultimately controlled the means and manner of the contractor employee’s function on a day-to-day basis. Click on the following hyperlink for more information related to this analysis.
last updated: 2020-04-17