The “Nuclear Option” after an Illness or Injury in the Federal or Postal Workplace

It is a parliamentary procedure justified by those who invoke it because the circumstances are of such dire contextual urgencies as to necessitate extreme measures.  Such urgency of action is often characterized in a vacuum — a declarative shrill of voices that such an option could not be helped because of the counteraction (or non-action) of the opponent.

Medical conditions have a true tendency to do just that.  Insidious in their inherent nature, they persistent despite every application of treatment modalities, leaving behind confounded minds who spent years and unaccounted energies and accumulated student debt in order to attain the medical knowledge to combat such conundrums of configured confusions.

For Federal and Postal employees who suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job, the invocation of the nuclear option is often seen as filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS.

Such a characterization is an acknowledgment that the option chosen is one of “extreme” measures, forced because of a lack of choice.  But that would be a misnomer.  For, the “extreme” measure taken would actually be the other options remaining: Stay with an agency and struggle each day while attempting to ignore the pain of progressive physical deterioration or the despondency of psychiatric turmoil, and continue to be subjected to the constant and persistent harassment by supervisors and coworkers; or resign, walk away, and have nothing to show for the years of invested sacrifices given to one’s Federal agency or Postal Service.

No — the “nuclear option” for a Federal or Postal employee who is considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through OPM is not the preparation and submission of a CSRS or FERS Disability Retirement application; rather, such an option is best characterized by the other options remaining.  In the end, it is how one characterizes one life, which forms the true character of the individual.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Medical Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The Reset Button

We often hear in geopolitical circles about international relations taking a fresh turn because of a metaphorical and figurative ”reset” button which has been pushed.

Whether any substantive changes have taken place; regardless of an alteration in the behavior of one or both parties; the important event which seems to predominate in such declarations of a new partnership or alliance, is that the words which are spoken are now rearranged, and the harsh language of previous decades, or perhaps not even a fortnight ago, reflects a forgiven past with happy days ahead.

Often, however, the lack of substantive change manifests itself quite quickly, as words have the extent of impact only within the context of that momentary declaration of purpose.  Beyond the statement itself, unless the alteration itself is imposed upon the substantive behavior of the individual, group, entity or country, the reality of an unchanged heart slowly reveals its true nature as circumstances test the essence of who or what a person or country truly represents.

The real problem with the concept of a “reset” button is that it only works if both parties to an accord push the metaphorical object.  Eagerness by one side to declare the change of relationship is often the rule, while the “other” party who is the one who really needs the resetting of behavior stands by in silent indifference with a wry smile.  Ultimately, it is the need for change which underlies the entire resetting of a relationship.

For Federal and Postal employees who have come to a point in their career where a medical condition continues to impact the ability to perform the essential elements of their job and positional duties, the proposal and imposition of adverse actions, such as a Performance Improvement Plan (commonly known as a “PIP”); suspensions; letters of reprimands; Leave Usage Restrictions; or Proposed Removals — all are actions by the agency which reveal that a resetting of the relationship between the agency and the individual is sorely in need.

The ultimate tool for that resetting of the relationship, is for the Federal and Postal employee to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS.  While taking such a step may not alter the behavior of the agency, it at least changes the relationship by letting the agency know that the underlying medical condition is the primary cause for the deterioration of the employer/employee relationship, and further, that the severing of ties will be the ultimate outcome.

Moreover, in the case of an OPM Disability Retirement, the pushing of the reset button is never to change the relationship for the benefit of the agency, but merely to change the relationship itself in order for the Federal or Postal employee to attend to the substantive importance of one’s health and wellbeing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal & Postal Disability Retirement: OWCP, SSD, NRP, Etc.

Nothing works in a vacuum.  Issues surround medical disabilities, the Federal and Postal workforce, Social Security Disability benefits, and Federal Disability Retirement benefits, as well as temporary total disability benefits received from the Department of Labor, Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs — they all intersect in one way or another, and the intersection of all of the issues create a maze of confusion which is often difficult for the Federal or Postal worker to successfully maneuver through the multiple landmines, dead-ends and potential traps. 

Such intersecting difficulties also arise in what the Postal Service has initiated in the last few years — the “National Reassessment Program” — a euphemism for a massive attempt to get rid of anyone and anyone who is not fully productive.  Under this program, the Postal Service is essentially getting rid of all light-duty assignments; and, of course, such a program intersects with Federal Worker’s Comp, because many light-duty or “modified duty” employees are under the umbrella of OWCP-offered work assignments and modified positions and duties.  People are sent home with the reason given that there is no longer any “light duty” jobs; they are then instructed or forced into filing for OWCP benefits; whether Worker’s Comp will actually pay for temporary total disability is a big question mark. 

Ultimately, I believe that the answer will be found in filing for OPM Federal Disability Retirement benefits. The NRP (National Reassessment Program) is simply a macrocosmic approach of a large agency (the U.S. Postal Service), mirroring a microcosmic approach (the approach of most agencies towards individual Federal or Postal employees who have a medical condition which prevents him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job) in dealing with “less than fully productive” Federal or Postal employees.  Then, of course, there is the intersecting issue of filing for Social Security Disability benefits, which you have to do anyway, under FERS — but whether one actually gets it, is another issue.  All of these issues intersect; rarely are these issues isolated; the consequential impact of all of these issues need to be viewed in a macro manner.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Additional Issues Concerning Resignation

An federal agency has a legitimate concern with respect to the work that is not being performed while a person is either out on sick leave or on leave without pay as a result of a medical condition.

On the other hand, Federal and Postal employees who have worked for a sufficient amount of time to be eligible for disability retirement benefits (18 months for FERS employees; 5 years for CSRS employees) have a legitimate expectation of bilateral loyalty — meaning that, inasmuch as the employee has been loyal in the performance of his or her job to the Agency, there is a reasonable expectation that the Agency will be loyal during times of medical hardship, and treat the employee with empathy and compassion.

At some point, greater friction begins to build as the time-frame keeps expanding; the Agency wants the employee back at work, or have the position filled. During the “friction” time, the employee has the leverage to have the Agency propose an administrative, non-adversarial removal based upon the medical inability of the employee to perform his or her duties. It is up to the attorney to persuade the Agency that the goal of the employee runs in the same goal-oriented direction as the Agency: the Agency wants the position; the employee wants disability retirement; both have a common end in mind — vacancy of the position so that the work of the Agency can be accomplished. On the other hand, resignation for the employee gives the employee nothing other than separation from the Agency; it gives the Agency everything it desires.

Sincerely,
Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: To Resign or Not To Resign

I am often asked whether or not it is okay to resign from the Agency prior to either (1) filing for disability retirement or (2) receiving a decision from the Office of Personnel Management. A decision to resign from the Agency must be weighed very carefully, for there are multiple factors which must be considered.

I will try and outline a few of the considerations to be weighed:

(1) What advantage is gained by resigning? If it is merely to avoid the hassles of dealing with the Agency (the Agency may insist upon updated medical documents every couple of weeks; they may call and harass you every week; you may have an unsympathetic supervisor, etc.), then I normally advise against resigning. There is no advantage to resigning, other than the quietude of being separated from service. As an attorney, I believe that is not enough of a reason.

(2) What is the disadvantage of resigning? There may be many: Any leverage to force the agency to cooperate with a disability retirement application may be lost; if your doctor has not yet written a medical narrative report (and, believe me, for some doctors, that can take months), the doctor will have to be reminded that any statement of employment impact must pre-date the date of resignation; you lose the leverage of that which the Agency holds most dear, for no price: your position. For the position you fill, that slot which suddenly becomes vacant once you resign, is that which is most dear, most valuable for the Agency: and to resign is to give it up without having the Agency pay any cost.

Sincerely,
Robert R. McGill, Esquire