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

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Detracting Deviations

Multi-tasking is a glorified term for describing an ability to competently engage and perform more than one task at a time.  It was once encapsulated in the query:  “Can he walk and chew gum at the same time”?

In the modern age of technology, it has become accepted as a given that such variations of task-tackling is a necessity and conveys evidence of competence.  For, in a world beset with smart phones, computers, laptops, iPads, etc., where the implosion and delivery of information at an instant’s request and access through the push of a button is commonplace, the capacity to respond quickly and sufficiently are considered marks of competent survivability in today’s world.  But there is a growing body of medical evidence that undisciplined response to texting and other forms of technological communication stunts that part of the brain activity which is essential for judgment, focus, attention-span, etc.  The ability to stay focused and not deviate from a singular course of action is also an important tool — even in this day of multi-tasking necessity.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is a necessary component in compiling a successful disability retirement application, to convey an effective case of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that nexus between one’s medical condition and the inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

Undisciplined deviation may accomplish a thousand tasks, but if the primary pipeline bursts because a main line was overlooked, such deviation from the primary purpose will have been for nothing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Agency’s Actions

“That which the Federal Agency determines is tantamount to the hand of God — only more powerful.”  Or so it may often seem.  And so the Federal (and Postal) Worker will often wait with trepidation and anxious disturbances, caught in the limbo of a Federal bureaucracy, whether in issuing a leave-restriction letter, a warning, a formal PIP plan, a determination of being fit or unfit for duty, and multiple other actions which will adversely impact upon a Federal worker.

Preemptive actions rarely have any efficacy with a Federal Agency; an appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board is often seen as a mere formality for the Board to render a decision in the agency’s favor, especially when it comes to agency actions concerning discipline and work; and an EEO complaint, while a tactic for forestalling ultimate decisions, is a burdensome and lengthy process of litigation.

Federal Disability Retirement is often the most advantageous of avenues to pursue, if only because the standard of proof to meet the eligibility criteria is quite low — not the high standard of Social Security Disability, where one must show a deleterious impact upon the daily living abilities, but the much lower standard of being unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

Proactive choices in life are often limited, especially when one is confronted with a seemingly omnipotent entity like a Federal Agency; but Federal Disability Retirement is an existent benefit which allows for the Federal or Postal employee to opt out and reach that rehabilitative period of seclusion, in order to regain one’s health and come back for another day, another fight, another round.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Historical Problem

Ultimately, before the Federal or Postal Worker considers filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a number of factors need to be considered, including (but not limited to) the following:  Can I last until regular retirement?  Will continuation in the job result in further deterioration of my health?  Will my absenteeism or subpar performance result in adverse actions being initiated, including imposition of leave restrictions, a PIP, further disciplinary measures such as a suspension, or ultimately a removal?  Is waiting going to make things any better?  Do I have a doctor who will support my Federal Disability Retirement application sufficiently?

The history of most applicants who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, is replete with unanswered questions and issues ignored or unaddressed.  But when the convergence of a medical condition with a Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service comes to fruition, the clash and collision between appearance and performance will often force the questions to be answered.

Waiting for things to occur will normally not solve the historical problem; being proactive, directly confronting undesirable questions, and taking the necessary steps to secure one’s future — these are the foundational steps necessary for a successful Federal Disability Retirement application, and the key to age-old questions which harken back to the problem of history, so that history may not repeat itself.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Multiple Tracks

Multi-tasking is a relatively modern term, but the substance of which people have obviously been engaging in for centuries.  With the limitations imposed by the human anatomy, as well as the capacity of the human brain to effectively function and respond to stimuli from multiple sources, the problem for the human being arises when a coordinated effort to bombard an individual collectively and from a variety of sources is initiated with a purpose in mind.  Thus, the common idiom, “When it rains, it pours”.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to distinguish between those actions by the Agency which directly, or even in a peripheral manner, impact one’s Federal Disability retirement application, and those efforts by an Agency which are independently initiated, but have little to do with the Federal Disability Retirement process itself.

Agencies often act without thoughtful coordination, but a coincidence of actions may come about from different branches of the agency, without a connecting coordination between such branches.  Unfortunately, the mere filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application does not necessarily provide a legal tool against an agency; one has various other tools, such as invoking FMLA protection; utilizing the sources of a Union and initiating grievances and administrative appeals; and certainly, one should respond to any agency-initiated actions; but ultimately, the solution to the recognition that one is no longer medically able to perform one’s job, is to prepare, formulate, and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from OPM.

That is the ultimate line of protection; that is why the benefit exists for the Federal and Postal employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Agency Actions prior to Separation

The question is often asked as to whether there is an adverse or detrimental impact upon a Federal Disability Retirement application if the Agency or the U.S. Postal Service initiates an adverse action, places an individual on AWOL, or administers a similar type of administrative sanction, action, etc.

The general answer is that such agency actions will not prevent or influence the prevention of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, but such a generalized answer contains within the “details” certain implicit assumptions — the primary one being, that the medical support which would accompany such a medical retirement will be strong enough to withstand and effectively refute such an adverse action.

By “supporting medical documentation” is meant, at a minimum, two issues which the treating doctor of the applicant must address:  That, prior to separation from Federal Service, the Federal or Postal employee could no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and further, that the medical condition is expected to last for at least 12 months.

Additionally, a third element would also be helpful — that the medical condition or disability began before the adverse action, or conversely, that the behavior or acts of the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement applicant which precipitated the adverse response of the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service occurred after the origination point of the medical condition, and such an origination point can be ascertained.

This is because OPM will sometimes argue that the underlying motivation and purpose of the Federal or Postal applicant filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits was based not upon the medical condition, but because of the adverse action.  Further, the Merit Systems Protection Board has stated that such circumstantial evidence of underlying motive or intent can indeed be reviewed.  Rebuttal of such implied intent can best be proven by a doctor’s assertion.

Motives are a peculiar thing, but the casting of such underlying motives are often difficult to refute, unless a timeline of facts can counter them.  Motives are found only in the depths of one’s consciousness; and like the air we breath, the fact that we assert its existence does not necessarily prove otherwise, especially if the doubter is receptive to the poisonous whispers of finger-pointing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Actions and the Bruner Presumption

Agency actions separating a Federal or Postal employee from Federal Service often contain language which comes close to allowing for a Federal or Postal employee to assert the “Bruner Presumption” (that legal presumption which essentially states that the declaration and admission by the Agency triggers a legal presumption that a Federal or Postal employee is entitled to, by a matter of law, to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS), but not close enough.  

Such language will instead be couched in references to medical documentation which has been previously reviewed by the Agency; will embrace an acknowledgement that the Federal or Postal employee has a “medical condition”; and will sometimes even entertain verbiage evincing sympathy for the Federal or Postal Worker’s “situation” — but still will base the removal upon other considerations, such as “excessive absences”, “failure to maintain a regular work schedule”, etc.  

The question ultimately then becomes:  Is it important, leaving aside relevance, to fight the agency to amend or otherwise re-characterize the original proposal to remove, in order to obtain the Bruner Presumption?  

The Bruner Presumption is a legal mechanism which gains greater weight and importance when a Federal Disability Retirement application has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management (both at the Initial Stage of the process, than at the Reconsideration Stage), and one therefore finds one’s self before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  But such appearance before the MSPB presumably means that there are other problems with a case — most often, insufficient medical documentation.  

The Bruner Presumption aside, the Federal or Postal employee must still prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, one’s case, by submitting sufficient medical documentation.  The Bruner Presumption is simply that “extra” ingredient that may be helpful if all other factors have been met in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case.

While helpful, it is not a certainty for an approval.  While better to have than not, one must still prove one’s case.  While triggered most effectively at the MSPB, a less-than-Bruner-trigger can still be argued at all stages of the process.  Just some thoughts.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire