Actions and Principles of Federal Agencies toward Their Employees with Disabilities before FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement

Can a person possess a core principle which declares that one should not be cruel to animals, but yet intimidate and harass a coworker?  Is it possible that one can state adherence to a philosophy, but act in ways contrary to such a declaration of fidelity to such a public policy?  Does authenticity and correlation between words and actions matter?

Of course, the simple answer is that hypocrisy has always been rampant throughout history, and one need only look at politics to come to the conclusion that speaking out of both sides of one’s mouth (as the proverbial adage is often conveyed) is a state of being that one can easily live with.  Thus the conundrum: Every and any question which begins with, “Is it possible that…” is one which has already been answered by the whims of history.

Public policy statements which declare that Federal agencies will seek every “reasonable” effort to accommodate an individual’s disability, are replete but often empty, precisely because words are open to interpretation.  And perhaps that is the “out” which many find easily excusable, in justifying the dissonance between words and actions.

Fortunately, for Federal and Postal employees, there is always the viable option of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS. It is the “safety hatch” which can be used against agencies and the U.S. Postal Service in order to circumvent that self-contradicting public policy statement that medical conditions which impact one’s ability/inability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job, will be “accommodated” to the extent that such accommodation is “reasonable”.

Since that which is reasonable is open to interpretation, the reality of retaining a Federal or Postal Worker who suffers from a medical condition such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, becomes as rare as that individual who speaks and acts in consistent harmony of fidelity to both.

For the Federal and Postal Worker who suffers from a medical condition, where the impact is felt directly in the workplace, and where the supervisor who kicks his dog in the privacy of his home but volunteers his time with the local SPCA begins to speak earnestly about the “mission of the agency“, it may be time to consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; for, in the end, principles and actions matter when it touches upon one’s personal health, and the need for restorative relief from a workplace which defies consistency of either.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Agencies Rarely Accommodate

For whatever reasons, Federal Agencies rarely accommodate an individual who has a medical condition which impacts one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  Whether the Supervisor is too busy to craft a viable accommodation plan, or whether the Agency is simply following the standard thoughtless response of the Federal Sector in general, the truth is that Agencies rarely, if ever, provide a truly viable, legally defined accommodation.  I receive calls every day from Federal and Postal employees who will state that the Agency is currently “accommodating” him/her; upon closer questioning, however, it always turns out that the term “accommodation” is being used in a non-artful, general sense, as in:  The Agency is letting me take LWOP; the agency is letting me take sick leave; the agency is letting me not travel too much; the agency is letting me…  What the agency is doing, whatever it is, is to temporarily keep you around until they decide your services are no longer needed.  That may be just around the corner, or you may be forgotten for some considerable amount of time.  Regardless, don’t be fooled; agencies rarely accommodate, and it is most likely the case that whatever “accommodations” the Federal or Postal employee believes that the Agency is providing, it does not fall under the legal definition of the term.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Accommodations

While I am often asked about the intersecting connection between the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Disability Retirement laws under FERS & CSRS, and the issue of accommodations, my short answer is that the two areas of law rarely directly intersect. “Accommodation issues” under disability retirement law rarely present a problem in a practical sense. 

The term itself is rarely applied properly; the best way that I can describe what the term “accommodation” means, in its technical application, is by giving the classic example:  A secretary who suffers from a chronic back condition is unable to perform her secretarial duties because of the high level of distractability from her chronic pain.  The agency purchases an expensive, ergonomic chair, which relieves the chronic pain; she is able to perform the essential elements of her job.  She has thus been “accommodated”. Thus, the definition of “accommodation” is essentially where the Agency does X such that X allows for employee Y to continue to perform the essential elements of Y’s job.  Further, an accommodation cannot be a temporary or modified assignment; in fact, it is not an “assignment” at all — it is something which the Agency does for you such that you can continue to perform your job. 

Thus, as a practical matter, it is rare that an Agency will be able to accommodate an individual. Further, when it comes to psychiatric disabilities, it will be rarer still -especially when the essential elements of one’s job requires the cognitive capabilities which are precisely that which is impacted by the psychiatric medical conditions.  As such, the issue of accommodations is rarely a real issue, and further, people who are attempting to enforce the provisions of the ADA are not those who are truly seeking disability retirement, anyway.  It is the very opposite — they are trying to preserve their jobs, and to force the Agency to provide an “accommodation” under the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Recurring Issues of Disability Accommodation, Light & Limited Duty, and the Form Filling of the OPM SF 3112D PDF File

The issue of Agency Accommodations — whether or not an agency can truly “accommodate” an individual; what constitutes a legal accommodation as opposed to temporary light-duty arrangements which do not constitute legally viable accommodations under the standards as expressed in Bracey v. OPM and other cases — keeps coming up in the form of questions and concerns.

Let me just state a few thoughts: First, obviously, the best scenario is if the Agency checks off block 4(a) of SF 3112D, acknowledging that the “medical evidence presented to the agency shows that accommodation is not possible due to the severity of the medical condition and the physical requirements of the position.” Second, however, even if the Agency does not check off 4(a), it is not necessarily a problem, or even a valid concern. Agency Human Resources personnel are notoriously ignorant of the current case-law, and often mistake ad-hoc temporary assignments as constituting an “accommodation”, when in fact they represent no such standard or level of acceptability in disability retirement law. Finally, it is always mindful to remember that disability retirement is a medical issue, not one which is determined by non-medical personnel, and that is why it is important to focus first and foremost upon obtaining a legally sufficient medical narrative report.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire