OPM Disability Retirement: The Complication of Accommodations

The problem with most people is that they come at a conversation with a selective focus — and listen for that which they want to hear, and filter all other information which fails to fit the paradigm of their predetermined perspective.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question of accommodations via Standard Form 3112D comes to the fore — often because of the selective focus of issues on the part of OPM.

The fact that an agency may have engaged in work-place modifications, or allowed for temporary alleviation of certain elements of one’s job description; or even provided a state-of-the-art ergonomic chair with 3-speed controls with horizontal landing mechanisms — does not mean that the agency was able to, or did, accommodate the Federal or Postal employee under the legal meaning of that which constitutes a viable “accommodation” .

For, that which the agency does must allow for the Federal employee to perform the essential elements of his or her job, and any such attempted “accommodation” which does not meet that standard, is technically not an accommodation at all.  It is merely an artifice and a cosmetic make-over in an effort by the agency which allows for the agency to declare that they have “accommodated” the individual Federal or Postal employee.

Rarely does the question on SF 3112D get accurately responded to; for, the concept of “attempted” accommodations is precisely the point — if it was attempted, and did not work, then the agency has an obligation to concede and describe that point; but from the Agency’s myopic perspective, any “attempt” constitutes an accommodation, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will embrace such an assertion with open arms.

What to do about it?  Always focus upon the central point of a Federal Disability Retirement application — it is a medical retirement.  Thus, the doctor’s opinion is sacrosanct, and should be repetitively emphasized.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Conditions and Accommodations

In preparing, formulating and filing a successful Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, under FERS or CSRS, the issue of accommodations will come up.  The Agency from which one retires under a Medical Disability Retirement will have to ultimately fill out Standard Form 3112D —  Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts — which will constitute and satisfy the Agency’s attempts at “accommodating” a Federal or Postal worker in his or her current position, taking into account his or her medical conditions. 

Unfortunately, most medical conditions are deemed to be “non-accommodatable” (if such a term exists in the English Language), and this is logically as well as legally true because with or without the accommodations, one must be able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional description.  Minor adjustments to the workplace, or even to the work assignments, may be able to allow for the Federal or Postal worker to continue to work in a Federal or Postal position for some time, but that Federal or Postal worker must be able to perform all of the essential elements of the job, as described in the position description.   An Agency may temporarily suspend certain elements of the core functions of the job, but such temporary suspension does not constitute an accommodation under the law. 

For psychiatric medical conditions, it is rare that an Agency will be able to accommodate such a medical condition, precisely because of the inherent nature of the medical condition — that which impacts upon one’s focus, attention, concentration, and ability to organize and perform executive functions in a coherent and systematic manner.  As such, the issue of accommodation, while one which may have to be addressed in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, is normally an irrelevant, non-issue.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: SF 3112B

It is amazing how a Supervisor’s Statement is completed.  Normally, it is completed without much thought; sometimes, it is completed with too much thought (and self-protective, CYA language concerning how much effort the agency attempted in “accommodating” the employee, when in fact little or no effort was made); more often than not, there is a last, parting shot at the employee — some unnecessary “dig” which often contradicts other portions of the statement; and, finally, every now and then, the Supervisor’s Statement is completed in the proper manner, with forethought and truthfulness. 

Fortunately, the Office of Personnel Management rarely puts much weight on a Supervisor’s Statement in making a determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS — unless there is some glaring statement of a deliberate attempt to undermine the Application.  This is rare, because it is a medical disability retirement, not a Supervisor’s disability retirement — meaning, that it is the medical opinion, not the opinion of a Supervisor, which is (and should be) most important.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Can the Agency Accommodate You?

The term “accommodations” continues to be a highly misused one.  There is the general conceptual application, as when an agency attempts to do something to help a Federal or Postal employee by “allowing” for “light duty”, or allowing one to work at a reduced schedule, or to take sick leave, annual leave, or Leave Without Pay.  But such actions (as kindhearted as they might be intended) do not constitute a legal accommodation under disability retirement rules, statutes, laws or case-law. 

To legally accommodate someone must always mean that the agency does something, provides something, or creates something of a permanent nature, such that it allows you to perform the essential elements of your job.  Temporary measures, or allowing you to take time off, does not allow you to perform the essential elements of your job — instead, it merely allows you take time away from being able to do your job.  Remember, on the other hand, that there is nothing wrong with your Agency doing these things to “help you out”.  It simply does not constitute, or rise to the level of, an “accommodation” under the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: A New Beginning

After representing so many Federal and Postal employees over these many years, there are stories which continue to sadden me; as with all professionals, I attempt to bifurcate my life, and not get “personally” involved with my cases.  To blur the lines between providing sound and effective legal advice, and getting “involved” in the personal tragedies of my clients, would certainly undermine the professional effectiveness needed in providing for my clients.  To a great extent, I am successful. Every now and then, however, I am informed of a tragedy — and it touches me. Perhaps that is a good thing; for one can become insensitive, or “de-sensitized” in a way that can be detrimental.

I try and explain to many people that getting Federal Disability Retirement benefits should never be a judgment upon one’s career — let alone one’s life. A career can span a lifetime, or it can extend for a couple of years (i.e., at least the 18 months of Federal Service that is needed to even qualify under FERS). However long, to come to a point in one’s career where it becomes necessary to acknowledge to one’s self that certain medical conditions are directly impacting one’s ability to perform the essential elements of the job — such an admission should never be interpreted to mean that such a circumstance has somehow devalued the worth of a person.  Human beings are complex entities, bundled up by personality, uniqueness, family, job, hobbies, thoughts — a compendium of a history of one’s life.  Note that I merely inserted the concept of “job” within a sequence of many facets.  And, indeed, one’s job is important — it takes us away from the many other bundles of our lives, and forces us to expend 8, 10, 12 or more hours per day, Monday thru Friday, and some weekends, too.  But that which takes up a large quantity of our time does not necessarily or logically result in the definitional essence of a human being; the fact that we spend a great deal of time in the bathroom does not mean that such an activity defines our “essence”.  “Worth” of a human being attaches to each of us, and is inseparable from each human being.  One’s job and career constitute only a small part of us.  Let’s keep that in mind, and in its proper perspective.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Recurring Issues of Disability Accommodation, Light & Limited Duty, and the Form Filling of the OPM SF 3112D PDF File

The issue of Agency Accommodations — whether or not an agency can truly “accommodate” an individual; what constitutes a legal accommodation as opposed to temporary light-duty arrangements which do not constitute legally viable accommodations under the standards as expressed in Bracey v. OPM and other cases — keeps coming up in the form of questions and concerns.

Let me just state a few thoughts: First, obviously, the best scenario is if the Agency checks off block 4(a) of SF 3112D, acknowledging that the “medical evidence presented to the agency shows that accommodation is not possible due to the severity of the medical condition and the physical requirements of the position.” Second, however, even if the Agency does not check off 4(a), it is not necessarily a problem, or even a valid concern. Agency Human Resources personnel are notoriously ignorant of the current case-law, and often mistake ad-hoc temporary assignments as constituting an “accommodation”, when in fact they represent no such standard or level of acceptability in disability retirement law. Finally, it is always mindful to remember that disability retirement is a medical issue, not one which is determined by non-medical personnel, and that is why it is important to focus first and foremost upon obtaining a legally sufficient medical narrative report.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Supervisor's Statements for FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement

I am often asked my opinion on the impact a Supervisor’s Statement has upon a disability retirement application. Unfortunately, not all supervisor’s are created equal — and, while in theory, a supervisor should be completely professional in filling out the SF 3112B — meaning that the supervisor should answer the questions in an ‘objective’ manner in filling out the form; should be attuned to the medical conditions of the employee; and should be able to set aside any personal or vindictive animosity towards the employee; the truth of the matter is that the disability retirement applicant has absolutely no control over what the supervisor will say in the Supervisor’s Statement.

Wisdom informs us to never worry about those things which are outside of one’s control; and indeed, this is good advice. I always advise my client’s not to be concerned with the Supervisor’s Statement; remember, this is a medical disability retirement application, not a “Supervisor’s application”, and while the Office of Personnel Management will take into consideration what a Supervisor has written, the way to ensure that it is given little or no weight, is by focusing upon having your treating doctor write an excellent, irrefutable and unequivocal medical narrative. Disability retirement is about a medical issue, not a personality issue. If you present valid and strong medical documentation in support of your case, it makes all other documentation a mere irrelevancy.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney