OPM Disability Retirement: Continuation of Work

There is often the question of whether, during the process of submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, can/should one continue to work, and will such a status reflect negatively or adversely upon one’s Federal Disability Retirement application?

The question is a logical one, stemming from the seemingly self-contradictory nature of the dual assertion — one which is explicit (the Federal Disability Retirement application itself, where the Federal or Postal employee asserts that he or she can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job), and the other which is implied (by continuing to work, does not one undermine the previous assertion?).

What complicates, confuses and muddles the issue further is the fact that, for FERS employees, the Federal Disability Retirement applicant must also file for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI), and in order to do so, the requirement of being in a non-working status in order to qualify, only further confounds the issue.

But careful analysis will reveal that such apparent contradictions are merely superficial ones.  Hint:  Federal Disability Retirement merely requires a legal standard whereby one cannot perform all of the essential elements of one’s job; continuation in one’s employment capacity does not necessarily mean that one can perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional duties; rather, it means merely that there are certain elements which cannot be performed.

Further, with respect to the intersecting issue of SSDI, there is a distinction to be made between qualifying and filing.  Life’s contradictions are often merely surface-intersections between technical word-games.  Once the verbiage confusion is resolved, the conflict itself dissolves.

It is sort of like the difference between reading about a man falling off of a cliff, and actually being a tourist at the Grand Canyon and being the subject of a news story the next day.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Disability Retirement under CSRS & FERS: Continuing with the Medical Condition

The capacity to endure an ongoing medical condition is a testament to the human body and spirit.  That being said, however, there is a saturation point at which the Federal or Postal employee who continues to withstand the debilitating nature of a medical condition should not go beyond.  

When a doctor advises that a Federal or Postal employee should seek Federal Disability Retirement benefits, such a “flashpoint” obviously has been reached.  In all likelihood, however, the point at which the Federal or Postal employee should have stopped working, has probably been long overdue.

In preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question is often asked whether a person “should” continue to work.  That is ultimately a medical question which must be discussed between the treating doctor and the patient who is a Federal or Postal employee.

Ultimately, economic and financial decisions play a major role in making such a decision; as to the secondary question of whether the continuation will have an impact upon the Federal Disability Retirement application itself, is one which can only be answered on a case-by-case basis, depending upon the particular facts of each case.  

Generally speaking, however, the answer is “no”.  And so the enduring testament to the human body can be reinforced each day, as the Federal or Postal worker continues to endure the pain, medical condition, discomfort and progressive deterioration — contrary to the natural tendency to stop, even when we know better.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Working While Waiting

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, often the question is asked by the Federal or Postal employee as to whether one can continue to work while waiting for the process to unfold.

Working is what the Federal or Postal employee who is submitting the application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, knows best. “Waiting” is an anomaly and a period of mercurial frustration because of the level and extent of inactivity and seeming lack of progress or productivity. Yet, it is the latter which must be endured during the process of allowing the bureaucratic maze to unfold, and it is often helpful if the agency will allow for the former.

Not all agencies are equal, however, and while some agencies will allow for an indefinite period of working and performing light duty, other agencies will place the Federal employee on Sick Leave, Annual Leave, LWOP, etc.

The fact that the Federal or Postal employee cannot work, or is not allowed to work, during the process of waiting for a decision from the Office of Personnel Management while having one’s Federal Disability Retirement application reviewed, is often dependent upon various factors: first and foremost, the medical condition of the Federal or Postal employee and the impact of the medical condition upon one’s ability and inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; the ability of the Agency to “accommodate” the Federal or Postal employee during the process of waiting for a decision from the Office of Personnel Management (using the term “accommodation” loosely, in this context); whether there are safety concerns within the agency or the U.S. Postal Service; whether there are specific regulations which control the ability of the agency to allow for light duty work during the process; and multiple other factors which may come into play when a Federal or Postal employee has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Ultimately, the frustration of waiting can be somewhat alleviated by a sense of productivity. However, the only option open to the injured/disabled Federal or Postal employee is not necessarily to wait idly while the Office of Personnel Management is reviewing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS; there is always the option of seeking alternate employment in the private sector, or attending to chores or other needed opportunities during the meantime.

A positive outlook while waiting is the best course of action. If you were given a block of time — say, 6 months — what would you do with it? Productivity, value and worth are not defined only by work; waiting is not merely the act of being idle; and the primary and most important job of the Federal or Postal worker who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is to recuperate from the medical condition which is preventing one from attaining that worth, value and productivity which is impacting him or her in the first place.

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