Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Impending PIP

The Performance Improvement Plan (otherwise known by the acronym, a “PIP”) is the formal imposition of an administrative procedural process to “assist” the employee into improving his or her specific work requirements, or for modification of certain behavior issues.

From the Federal Agency’s perspective, it invokes a paper trail which will justify additional future actions, if necessary.  From the Federal employee’s viewpoint, it should serve as a warning that unknown other conversations and discussions have been ongoing, and the PIP is merely a surface revelation, with much underworld life and activity unrevealed but indicated by the issuance of the PIP.

If a medical condition is a large part of the reason why underperformance and poor performance justifies the issuance of a PIP, then revelation of the medical condition in response to the PIP should be considered.

Concurrently, because a PIP is an open and declared step towards ultimate and likely termination — especially when the physical or mental condition will continue to prevent the Federal employee from being able to meet the requirements of the PIP — it is a good idea to begin the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Being a sitting duck merely means that you are the target in a shooting gallery; before your turn comes up, it serves the Federal and Postal employee well to chart one’s own course before it is determined for you.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Agency & the Burden of Proof

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the burden of proving one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, always remains with the individual Federal or Postal applicant.

Certainly, there are actions by the agency which may add to such proof (e.g., declaring that the Federal or Postal worker is “not fit for duty” will further concretize an assessment made by a third party; or initiating a separation from Federal Service based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of the job will trigger the Bruner Presumption, which then invokes a rebuttable presumption and shifts the “burden of production” (note that it is not the shifting of the “burden of proof” — a conceptual distinction important to recognize) over to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Waiting for one’s agency to act upon anything is, however, a very dangerous venture to begin with; thinking that one’s own agency will provide the proof necessary to establish one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits would not only be dangerous, but foolhardy.  For, at its most fundamental level, the fact that the very entity which makes a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application (OPM) is one which is separate and independent from the agency for which one works, creates a chasm which only further magnifies the inherent problem.

OPM pays little to no attention to what the agency does — except, perhaps, when the agency attempts to directly confront and challenge a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Otherwise, don’t look for help from one’s agency (generally speaking) when one is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; such unfounded reliance will only disappoint, at best.

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 Disability Retirement: The Right Time (Part 2)

How to determine when is the “right” time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, and when is the right time — those are issues which are quite personal and peculiar to each individual case.  Unfortunately, it is the very inherent nature of medical conditions, medical disabilities, and the chronic & debilitating symptoms that accompany such conditions, combined with the strong sense of loyalty, commitment to duty, and the desire to continue to believe that a Federal or Postal worker will overcome the current condition of disability — that often prevents a person to come to the critical point of determining the “right time”.  And, to put it in its proper perspective, this is probably a good thing, insofar as being a reflection upon the character of most individuals. 

Most individuals have a strong sense of commitment and hard work, and most want to continue to believe that one’s condition of medical disability is merely a temporary state of affairs.  But when such loyalty and commitment comes at the price of one’s personal detriment, it becomes a negative thing.  The problem comes when all of the objective indicators are ignored — when sick and annual leave are being depleted; when excessive LWOP is taken; when performance at work clearly suffers; when each night and weekend are used to recuperate from the day’s work; when savings become depleted; when a sense of desperation sets in.  Then, when it comes time to make the decision, it becomes an emergency. At that point, while it is not too late to begin the process, it is probably less than the “right time” to have started the process.  While better late than never, it is a good thing to take affirmative control of one’s future, and not let events control it uncontrollably.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Right Questions

Often, a person who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS doesn’t know the “right question” to ask in order to make a proper decision.  Because a medical condition often leaves a person with daily and profound fatigue  (both physical and cognitive), it is enough just to get through the day, come home and attempt to recuperate and regain enough strength to try and make it back to work the next day.  Then, of course, there are the financial worries — whether or not the disability annuity will be enough to support a family; whether a person will be able to supplement his or her income with a part-time job in this tough economy; or whether Social Security Disability benefits can be approved and, even with the offset, allow for enough income for some semblence of financial security. 

All of these questions — or concerns — are clearly legitimate ones, and provide a good foundation for determining the viability for filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  But there are others, also:  What will happen if you don’t file for disability retirement benefits?  Will you be placed on a PIP?  Will you receive an unsatisfactory performance rating?  Will you last until retirement age?  If you last until retirement age, will you have the health necessary to enjoy your retirement?  Is it time to start a small business venture in this tough economy, and if so, when the economy begins to recover, will your small business grow with a growing economy?  Will your supervisor support your extended absences or over-use of sick leave for much longer?  Is the work that is getting backed up placing more pressure on you, such that it is exacerbating your medical condition further?  Think through the questions seriously.  It may be time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

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