OPM Disability Retirement: Further Reflections on Accommodations

Because the term “accommodations” is rarely understood in its technical and legal sense, there is often the danger of a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS to “shoot one’s self in the foot” in the very use of the term — or in checking certain boxes on the application form (specifically, SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability), and further, there is the added danger that the Agency, in completing a Supervisor’s Statement or the SF 3112D, will mis-apply and mis-state the import, significance or relevance of any actions taken in attempting to assist the Federal or Postal employee.

Indeed, in a Supervisor’s Statement (SF 3112B) there are many instances in which the Supervisor completing the form will contradict him/herself when it comes to the issue of accommodations.  Moreover, the applicant him/herself will often mis-state the issue of accommodations on SF 3112A.

The term “accommodations” has a very narrow definition, and must be used and applied to the advantage of the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Additionally, it is not out of the realm of possibilities that the Office of Personnel Management also (whether deliberately or by chance) uses the very misuse (by the Applicant) of the term to its advantage.  In all cases, the term “accommodations” must be used and referred to carefully, technically, and with full insight of all of its consequences in the use or misuse of the word.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Where Once, the Mirror Reflected

Communities are sensitive organisms; what constitutes one, how and when it is identified as such, and whether there exist any such entities, anymore, is of valid concern.

Is a suburb comprised of mansions constructed in the middle of an outlying tract of land, formerly occupied by a farm house, but where none of the neighbors know each other, seldom say hello, and never socialize, a community?  Does there have to be some interaction between neighbors, of showing and evidencing some concern or interest in one another’s lives, hobbies, common interests and attractions, before we can point to an aggregation of homes and declare that it is a “community”?

The origin of the word itself implies a “with”-ness among and between two or more people; and, in order to call a group of people a “community”, does not the identification of a group refer to an entity separate and unique from the rest of those surrounding the identifiably distinct group?

Furthermore, communities reflected a uniques set of social characteristics; like a mirror which reflects a recognizable face, so a community manifested a pattern of social characteristics distinct from a separate group.

Once upon a time, perhaps there existed a Federal community; or, perhaps, a particular agency or department revealed a cohesive set of principles and goals which set it apart from others.  For the Federal and Postal employee who suffers from a medical condition, and who finds him or herself no longer able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job to full capacity, the harsh realization that one may no longer be able to continue with the agency — a community of sorts — is often a macrocosmic reflection of the micro-identifier of a mirror reflecting the future of one’s path.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, identifies the individual as somehow separate and apart; and what one saw previously in the mirror becomes a reflection upon the greater community one was once a part of, and no longer will be, like the disappearance of a social phenomena diffusely evident throughout the world.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Accommodating Agency

During the course of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the issue of “accommodations” must be addressed — if only in completing Standard Form 3112D (otherwise designated as “Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts”).

It may well be that the Federal or Postal employee’s employing agency has been performing an informal “cost-benefits” analysis throughout the years, and that certain attempts at accommodating the Postal worker’s or other Federal employee’s medical conditions have been ongoing.

Thus, such attempts may include temporary suspension or unofficial elimination of certain key elements of one’s position description; allowance for teleworking for all or part of a workweek; disallowing necessary travel for onsite inspections, etc.  These and other attempts by an agency in order to retain the experience and technical expertise of a Federal or Postal employee, are all honorable and reasonable measures by the agency to keep the employee employed.

When the time comes, however, for the Federal or Postal employee to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits because he or she has reached a “point of no return” in terms of the progressively debilitating nature of the medical condition, where all such informal accommodations are no longer helpful in allowing for continuing functionality in the workplace, the Federal or Postal entity may well have always considered such measures to meet the standard of an “accommodation”.  Such a thought process is normally wrong.  But agencies, in completing SF 3112D, will often thoughtlessly attempt to characterize such prior attempts as legally-viable accommodations.

It is up to the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement applicant to point out the error — something which OPM is more than willing to pounce upon unless corrected by the applicant or his/her attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Question of Accommodations

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, certain essential issues must be addressed, including:  the medical condition itself (obviously); the impact of the medical condition upon one’s ability/inability to perform the type of positional duties required in one’s job (also quite obvious); the length of the medical condition itself (it must last for a minimum of 12 months); as well as multiple issues surrounding the question of whether the Agency can “accommodate” a medical condition.

The question of accommodations has been widely discussed by the undersigned author, especially in light of the case of Bracey v. OPM and multiple subsequent cases.  Nevertheless, despite much discussion on the subject, and attempted clarification between the legal, technical usage of the term “accommodation” and the more loosely understood concept of an agency “accommodating” an individual, there is often a surrounding confusion about the conceptual distinctions being made. This is because, perhaps inherently, the technical term of art is not self-evident.

Take, for instance, Question 7a on SF 3112A, where the form asks the question, What accommodations have you requested from your agency?  This question implies that you may have done something “wrong” if you have not specifically requested a certain type of accommodation — meaning, that you must have the knowledge to request of an agency the particular accommodating act of the agency which would allow you to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.

Yet, this implicitly contradicts the very existence of SF 3112D, Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts — which clearly places the burden of any attempted accommodation upon the agency, where — upon receipt of the disability retirement packet, or the medical evidence at any time — the agency must see if there are any jobs available or any method of accommodating the Federal or Postal employee such that he or she can perform the essential elementsof the job.

Thus, while the question (7a of SF 3112A) may have an underlying tone of a threat (as in, what have you done wrong?), it is in fact a fairly irrelevant question, and should be addressed as such.  Remember, there is a distinction to be made between the question, the answer given, and the relevance of either.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Accommodation Revisited

There is nothing inherently wrong with an Agency, or the U.S. Postal Service, from providing light duty, limited duty, or “special assignments” to an injured individual, or a Federal or Postal employee who suffers from a medical condition which prevents or otherwise impedes him or her from performing all of the essential elements of one’s job.  The difficult conceptual framework that many Federal and Postal employees are unable to grasp, is that while the Federal Agency can certainly allow for such light duty assignments, such light duty assignments do not preclude one from continuing to remain eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  

The reason for the continuing eligibility is that there is a legal distinction between “accommodation” under the law, and “light duty” work.  An accommodation, in order to be a technically legal application of the term, must be some act or provision which the Agency makes, such that the individual is capable of performing all of the essential elements of one’s job.  Thus, being allowed to take a greater amount of sick leave, or take LWOP, or be allowed to perform duties which are peripheral to one’s position description — while all well and good — do not allow the Federal or Postal employee to continue to perform the essential elements of the official position description.  As such, light duty allowances do not constitute an accommodation under the law, and while it continues to allow the Federal or Postal employee to remain employed, it also does not preclude him or her from being eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Agency Accommodation Reiterated

In most cases, the agency is unable to accommodate the individual.  By “accommodation” is often meant lessening the workload, or temporarily allowing for the medical conditions resulting in certain limitations and restrictions to be taken into account — for purposes of travel, for sustained periods of sitting, for physical aspects of the job, etc.  But such temporary light-duty allowances do not constitute a legally viable “accommodation”.  But one must always remember that, while such measures by the Agency do not constitute an accommodation under the law, and as such do not preclude a Federal or Postal employee from filing for and being eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with the Agency providing for such temporary light duty modifications of the job.  In fact, it reflects well upon the agency that it would go to such extents, even if for only a temporary period of time, in hopes that the Federal or Postal employee will be able to sufficiently recover to return to “full duty”.  

Remember that there are at least two senses of the term “accommodation” — in the layman’s sense of some temporary measures to allow the employee to continue to work; then, in the legal sense of a viable “accommodation” under the law.  Don’t confuse one with the other.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire