Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Back Pay

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is important to focus upon the first of the three — preparing.  Preparation often involves thought, reflection, and contemplation.  Formulation requires action; and filing and the time thereafter requires patience.  

In preparing, one must address the issue of how best to survive the lengthy process — does one have sufficient accrued sick leave?  Can one survive without pay and take LWOP during the (potentially) 8 – 10 month process?  Will one be allowed to continue to work, even in a light-duty capacity?  If the latter, then it should be kept in mind that when a Federal Disability Retirement application is approved, such an approval will provide for back pay all the way back to the last time a Federal or Postal employee was paid by the agency — whether it is a dollar, a hundred dollars, or a full paycheck.  

Thus, while acceptance and receipt of donated leave is often desirable, the time of having taken LWOP for any period of time will be negated with the last day of pay.  For example, if a Federal or Postal employee takes several months of LWOP, then accepts a pittance of donated leave, that time of LWOP is lost — for, again, back pay is paid only to the “last day of pay”.  Considerations to be reflected upon when preparing to formulate and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Agency, FMLA and LWOP

Because filing for Federal Disability Retirement is a process which may take 6 – 8 months, and sometimes longer, there is always the question of what the Agency will do during this time.  Of course, a Federal or Postal employee will often continue to work for as long as possible, and for as many days during each enduring week as possible, in order to survive economically during the process of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  The medical condition itself, however, will often dictate the feasibility of attempting to continue to work. 

During this period, a Federal or Postal employee may have limited options — especially when Sick Leave and Annual Leave have been exhausted.  Protection by filing under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will accord temporary protection and a buffer against a demanding agency.  A further request to be placed on LWOP beyond the 12 weeks which FMLA will allow for, will often be granted at the discretion of the Agency. 

If an agency places one in AWOL status, such an action by the Agency should be countered with documentation from one’s doctor which justifies the continued absence of the Federal or Postal employee.  Unfortunately, there is often no clear answer to the question, “What if my agency fails to cooperate while I am filing for Federal Disability Retirement?”  There are only responsive steps to take in order to protect the ultimate goal — that of obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Taking a Trickle of Leave and Back Pay Issues

When a Federal or Postal employee files for, and is approved for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the disability retirement annuity which one receives extends back to the “last day of pay” of a Federal or Postal employee.  It matters not what “kind” of pay; the Office of Personnel Management merely receives the date of the Federal or Postal employee’s last day of pay from the Agency, then gives back-pay back to that date which the Agency determines that he or she was last paid.

Thus, if a person was on LWOP for a six-month period while awaiting for a decision from OPM on his or her Federal Disability Retirement application, then decided to use up the last couple of hours of Annual or Sick Leave and receive a nominal amount — in that scenario, the back pay would extend only to the payment received for the Annual or Sick Leave, and the Federal or Postal employee would lose any back-pay for the six-month period of LWOP.

With this in mind, it is important to plan — to either remain on LWOP during the entire period of waiting for a decision from OPM, or if one continues to work or to receive payments for Sick or Annual Leave, to make it worth one’s while (i.e., to continue to receive a payment rate equal to what the rate of pay for back-pay would be, which is 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years of salary the first year, then 40% every year thereafter).  Just some thoughts.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: LWOP & Back Pay

In obtaining a Federal Disability Retirement benefit under FERS or CSRS, once an approval is obtained from the Office of Personnel Management, back pay is supposed to go back to the “last day of pay” that the Federal or Postal employee received from the Agency.  Thus, when a Federal or Postal employee files for FERS Disability Retirement benefits (or the same benefits under CSRS, which is become rarer by the minute), one must plan in order to accrue and obtain the maximum benefits possible.  

Should one accept donated leave?  Should one exhaust the large cache of sick leave accrued? Should one go on LWOP part of the time, and take sick leave part of the time?  These are all issues which should be planned for, and if one does not know what the rules, regulations and statutes are governing such issues, one can literally lose out on critical back pay benefits.  For example, since back pay will be paid at the initial year’s 60% rate (60% for the first year in Federal Disability Retirement benefits; 40% every year thereafter), if an individual is receiving donated leave on average, about 15 – 20 hours per week (which constitutes 50% or less), wouldn’t it be wiser to stay on LWOP throughout the process?  On the other hand, pragmatic economic considerations must always temper such decisions.  If a Federal or Postal employee needs the income, even at 50% or less, then such considerations must be taken into account.  Regardless, one should prepare, and go forward with open eyes.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Reminder (Continuing…)

So, how does one determine whether or not it is prudent to go out on LWOP completely, while awaiting for the decision on one’s application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS?  Obviously, the initial criteria to be applied is whether or not you can afford to go out on LWOP.  Economic necessity (aside from considerations of one’s health and medical ability/inability to go to work during the long, drawn-out process) becomes a primary consideration.  If economic necessity dictates continuation of work, then the next question is, would your Agency consider allowing you to work 3 – 4 days a week, and allowing for 1 or 2 days to be taken off with LWOP?  This might be a prudent approach, since any back-pay for the first year, once your Federal Disability Retirement application is approved and payments start, will be paid at 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years.  Thus, mathematically, it would make sense:  a minimum of 3 days of work quantifies to 60% or more, and so you would not be losing anything.  However, if your weekly average falls below the 60%, then you might want to consider going out on LWOP completely (again, only if your personal finances will allow for such).

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Reminder

If a Federal or Postal Employee files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, remember that:  (A)  You are not required to stop working, as most people for economic necessity continue to work, and (B)  If you stop working, and you are not using your Sick Leave or Annual Leave, but are out on LWOP, remember that once you obtain an approval for your Federal Disability Retirement, that back-pay will be paid all the way back to your “last day of pay”, and not to the last day you “worked”. 

In other words, if you are out on LWOP for three months (as a hypothetical), and on the day before you are approved for your OPM Disability Retirement, you receive a paycheck from your Agency for 1 hour of SL or AL, then you have lost all of the potential “back pay” of the three months on LWOP, because the “last day of pay” was the day just before your Federal Disability Retirement was approved.  Be careful that this does not happen.  While donated leave is often accepted because of economic necessity, you will likely regret accepting such payment once your Federal Disability Retirement application is approved.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Clarity over Question

While a compromise position on certain issues in Federal Disability Retirement for FERS & CSRS may be the best that one may hope for, obviously, clarity over question is the better course to have.  Thus, for instance, in a removal action, where a Federal or Postal employee is being removed for his or her “excessive absences,” it is best to have the proposed removal and the decision of removal to reference one or more medical conditions, or at least some acknowledgment by the Agency, that would explicate — implicitly or otherwise — that the underlying basis for the “excessive absences” were as a result of the medical condition.  There are cases which clearly state that where excessive absences are referenced by medical conditions, the Bruner Presumption would apply in a Federal Disability Retirement case. 

Now, in those cases where the removal action merely removes a Federal or Postal employee for “excessive absences”, there are other methods which may win over an Administrative Judge to apply the Bruner Presumption.  Such “other methods” may include emails or correspondence, at or near the time of the removal action, which appears to put the Agency on notice about specific medical conditions, including attachments of doctor’s reports, medical notations, etc.  Such concurrent documentation can convince an Administrative Judge that, indeed, the question as to whether the “excessive absences” were as a result of a medical condition, and whether the Agency was aware of such an underlying basis, is clarified by documents which provide a proper context within the reasonable time-frame of the issuance of the proposal to remove and the decision to remove.  It is always better, of course, to have clarity over a question, but sometimes the question can be clarified with additional and concurrent documentation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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