Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Non-issue of Accommodations

As has been previously written about on multiple occasions, the Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, will encounter and confront the issue of “accommodations” in the course of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

For most Federal and Postal employees, the issue itself is a “non-issue”, in that the agency will neither be able to either reassign the employee to another position at the same pay or grade, nor provide for an accommodation which is legally sufficient such that the Federal or Postal employee will be able to continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional job requirements.

Further, most Federal or Postal workers who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from OPM have what the undersigned attorney terms as a “non-accommodatable” medical condition — i.e., the particular type of medical condition is simply inconsistent with the individual type of job which the Federal or Postal employee is slotted in.  Thus, it is really a non-issue. This non-issue is, for the most part, taken care of and disposed of by the completion of a single form — SF 3112D, which is completed by the Human Resources Department of the agency, or at the H.R. Shared Services office in Greensboro, N.C. for the Postal employee.

While an important and complex issue, the case-law has effectively de-fanged any concerns about accommodations, such that the Federal or Postal employee contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits need not be overly concerned with such a non-issue.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Legally Sufficient Accommodation

Whether the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service has offered a legally-viable accommodation is determined by the criteria of an offer made which is either at the same pay or grade as the position one currently occupies; but, moreover, as the Bracey case and subsequent cases which elaborate upon the issue have made clear, it cannot be a position which is merely “made up” or temporary by nature, or one in which the current Supervisor merely whispers in one’s ear and says, “Just don’t do X, Y and Z essential elements of the job.”

The reasoning behind the view that such a temporary, modified “position” does not constitute an “accommodation” under the law — and therefore would not prevent eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits — is easily justified by the age-old adage that, where one lives by the sword, one dies by the sword; meaning, thereby, that if Supervisor X can simply suspend certain essential elements of a job, a future Supervisor Y can just as easily reinstate the requirements of performing those previously-unattended elements, and require that they be performed.

That being said, there is nevertheless nothing wrong with an Agency allowing for a Federal or Postal worker to work at a position and lessen the requirements of the job.  For some, it may be that such a modified position is acceptable, especially in light of receiving a regular paycheck.

The issue of “accommodations” should not be confused with the eligibility requirements of being able to file for, and be approved with, Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  There is the issue of legally-sufficient accommodation for purposes of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefitsfrom the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; then, there is the commonplace parlance of being informally “accommodated” if one wants to continue to work; the two are not contradictory.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Question of Accommodations

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, certain essential issues must be addressed, including:  the medical condition itself (obviously); the impact of the medical condition upon one’s ability/inability to perform the type of positional duties required in one’s job (also quite obvious); the length of the medical condition itself (it must last for a minimum of 12 months); as well as multiple issues surrounding the question of whether the Agency can “accommodate” a medical condition.

The question of accommodations has been widely discussed by the undersigned author, especially in light of the case of Bracey v. OPM and multiple subsequent cases.  Nevertheless, despite much discussion on the subject, and attempted clarification between the legal, technical usage of the term “accommodation” and the more loosely understood concept of an agency “accommodating” an individual, there is often a surrounding confusion about the conceptual distinctions being made. This is because, perhaps inherently, the technical term of art is not self-evident.

Take, for instance, Question 7a on SF 3112A, where the form asks the question, What accommodations have you requested from your agency?  This question implies that you may have done something “wrong” if you have not specifically requested a certain type of accommodation — meaning, that you must have the knowledge to request of an agency the particular accommodating act of the agency which would allow you to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.

Yet, this implicitly contradicts the very existence of SF 3112D, Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts — which clearly places the burden of any attempted accommodation upon the agency, where — upon receipt of the disability retirement packet, or the medical evidence at any time — the agency must see if there are any jobs available or any method of accommodating the Federal or Postal employee such that he or she can perform the essential elementsof the job.

Thus, while the question (7a of SF 3112A) may have an underlying tone of a threat (as in, what have you done wrong?), it is in fact a fairly irrelevant question, and should be addressed as such.  Remember, there is a distinction to be made between the question, the answer given, and the relevance of either.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Accommodation Issue, Redux

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee must satisfy certain requirements (one often views such legal requirements and criteria as “obstacles” as opposed to procedural steps to be taken and satisfied) in order to have what is deemed by the Office of Personnel Management as a “complete” package which can be reviewed and determined for approval or denial.

As part of the requirement, one must have an SF 3112D completed — the Agency’s “Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation” form.  This form is the one which satisfies the question, “Don’t I have to ask for an accommodation from the Agency?”  The answer to the question is satisfied in the very act of the Agency completing the SF 3112D, and one need not separately or independently have asked the agency the question.  It is, as such, part of the administrative process and procedure which the agency must engage in and satisfy.

There is often a mistaken idea that the Federal or Postal employee must make a separate and formal request of the Agency.  But it is in the very act of completing the form — the SF 3112D — that the tripartite issue is resolved:  In the completion of the form, the (A) question of accommodation is asked, (B) the issue of accommodation is answered, and (C) the requirement that the agency address the issue of accommodation is satisfied.

No separate or independent effort, either by the Agency or the Federal or Postal employee, need be expended, for purposes of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Trickiness Concerning Accommodations

The issue of “Accommodations” can be a rather tricky one.  Over the years, the term has expanded and been refined by various legal precedents, and the technical, term of art now carries some meanings which, if not understood properly, can entrap Federal and Postal employees into making wrong decisions while in the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

In simplistic terms, to be properly accommodated by an Agency, the Federal or Postal worker must be provided with an accommodating “X”, such that he or she can continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.  Further, temporarily modifying or suspending certain elements of a position description, for purposes of allowing for the Federal or Postal Worker to continue working, does not constitute an accommodation under the law.  

This makes sense, if one stops to think about it, and for the following reason:  such an arbitrary modification of work duties by a Supervisor or Manager, can just as arbitrarily be taken away.  As such, temporary “accommodating” actions — while commendable and allowable in order to let the Federal or Postal worker continue to work — does not preclude the Federal or Postal worker from proceeding with his or her Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Additionally, remember that an Agency’s effort for “Reassignment” is part of the Standard Form 3112D (Thus, the Form is entitled, “Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts”), and comprises part of the Agency’s attempt to “accommodate” the Federal or Postal employee.  The issue of “reassignment” is a separate, but related one, and that issue is often influenced by the dependent clause which should not be overlooked in a Federal Disability Retirement application:  that a person can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of a particular job, or any similar job. 

By having a working knowledge of the issues surrounding Federal Disability Retirement laws, even in a rudimentary state of knowledge, one acquires a better chance of success.  Approval is a long and arduous process. Knowing the lawand its impact is part of that process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Clarifying Accommodations

There is a conceptual and legal distinction to be made between an Agency’s “accommodations”, as used in a loose, non-technical manner, and being “accommodated” in accordance with the laws, regulations and statutes governing Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, and as intended in usage on Standard Form 3112D, Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts for the Office of Personnel Management.  

Often, when a Federal or Postal employee becomes injured (whether on the job or while on vacation is an irrelevancy for purposes of Federal Disability Retirement eligibility), the Agency will attempt to lessen the workload, allow the Federal or Postal employee to work in a modified manner, allow for “light duty” assignments, or even temporarily suspend certain essential elements of one’s job (travel, heavy lifting, required overtime, e.g., etc.), and such efforts on the part of the Agency are commendable, allowable, and perfectly within the acceptable structures of law.  

Such efforts by the Agency are often referred to loosely as an attempt to “accommodate” the Federal or Postal employee’s medical conditions, and indeed, it is a correct (but non-legal and non-technical) use of the term.  It is not, in terms of legal sufficiency, an “accommodation” to the extent that the narrow definition of what it means to be “accommodated” under the law is that an agency will provide an accommodation such that the Federal or Postal employee, with the accommodation, will be able to perform all of the essential elements of what the position requires.  

Lessening the duties temporarily, or suspending certain essential elements of the job for a prescribed period of time, does not allow for the Federal or Postal employee to perform those essential elements of the job, and therefore is not technically an “accommodation”.  That is why most accommodations are not accommodations at all, and as such, those accommodating actions by the agency do not preclude a Federal or Postal employee to file for, and be eligible for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Making it Easy for OPM

Whether inadvertently or not, an Applicant who has formulated, prepared and filed a Federal Disability Retirement application either under FERS or CSRS will make it easy for the Office of Personnel Management to deny a case.  

Thus, for instance, on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, where the applicant is asked concerning the status one is in at the agency, if the applicant agrees with the Agency or the Supervisor that the Agency has “accommodated” the individual in his or her employment, then the Office of Personnel Management will often focus selectively upon that answer and argue that, inasmuch as X has stated that the employee has been accommodated, and Y (the employee — you) has agreed with the agency, therefore Y is not eligible or entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits because Y has been accommodated.  

But, as it has been previously stated on multiple occasions, the term “accommodation” is a technical term of art, and if one fails to appreciate the nuances of the term, the applicant who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS can fall into the trap of using the term in a non-technical, general way, and thereby defeat one’s own application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Conditions and Accommodations

In preparing, formulating and filing a successful Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, under FERS or CSRS, the issue of accommodations will come up.  The Agency from which one retires under a Medical Disability Retirement will have to ultimately fill out Standard Form 3112D —  Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts — which will constitute and satisfy the Agency’s attempts at “accommodating” a Federal or Postal worker in his or her current position, taking into account his or her medical conditions. 

Unfortunately, most medical conditions are deemed to be “non-accommodatable” (if such a term exists in the English Language), and this is logically as well as legally true because with or without the accommodations, one must be able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional description.  Minor adjustments to the workplace, or even to the work assignments, may be able to allow for the Federal or Postal worker to continue to work in a Federal or Postal position for some time, but that Federal or Postal worker must be able to perform all of the essential elements of the job, as described in the position description.   An Agency may temporarily suspend certain elements of the core functions of the job, but such temporary suspension does not constitute an accommodation under the law. 

For psychiatric medical conditions, it is rare that an Agency will be able to accommodate such a medical condition, precisely because of the inherent nature of the medical condition — that which impacts upon one’s focus, attention, concentration, and ability to organize and perform executive functions in a coherent and systematic manner.  As such, the issue of accommodation, while one which may have to be addressed in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, is normally an irrelevant, non-issue.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire