Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Difficulty of Accommodation

For Federal and Postal employees filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the issue of accommodation must be addressed at some point, and one often wonders why a Federal agency is either unwilling or unable to accommodate the medical disabilities of a Federal or Postal employee.  

The line between “unwilling” and “unable” is often a complex one, because Agencies must contend with an obligation to attempt to accommodate the medical disability, but remember that such an attempt and obligation is merely one of “reasonable” accommodation.  This means that an implicit cost-benefits analysis is quickly engaged in, where the effort, likely success, extent of any workplace adjustments, whether in the end the essential and core elements of the job functions can be accomplished even with the reasonable accommodations, etc., can successfully be implemented.

An appearance of attempting to accommodate is often all that is indulged, and so the reality is that the Agency seems more unwilling than unable. Further, the simple fact is that, many medical conditions — e.g., those which are psychiatric in nature, are simply medical conditions which are termed “non-accommodatable“.  For, regardless of what workplace adjustments are made, a Federal or Postal worker suffering from Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, delusory thought processes, etc., where symptoms upon one’s focus, concentration, ability to have a reasoned perspective, etc., are all impacted, and therefore is inconsistent with any cognitive-intensive work.  As such, the medical condition becomes “inconsistent” with the particular duties of the job, and therefore it is an unreasonable and unattainable goal to consider any accommodations.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Irony of Favorable Laws

In certain areas of “the law”, statutes, regulations and case-laws have developed which tend to favor the individual seeking to obtain a benefit through such laws.  For the Federal or Postal Worker who is seeking Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one could easily argue that the laws governing the process of seeking Federal or Postal Disability benefits from the Office of Personnel Management “favor” the applicant.  

Think about it:  a Federal or Postal worker (under FERS) needs only 18 months of minimum eligibility; light duty, or modified duties, do not preclude one from obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits; one has up to a year after being separated from Federal Service to file for the benefit; a Federal or Postal Worker who suffers from a medical condition only has to show that it prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; one does not need to show “total disability”, but only disability as to one of the critical elements of one’s job; and so on.

The irony of such “favorable” laws governing Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is, however, that such favor often invites greater scrutiny.  Thus, the fact that the substantive laws governing a legal process may provide an advantage to the seeker, does not in any way mean that the process itself is any easier.  On the contrary, one could argue that because the substantive laws governing a legal process favor the applicant, that the process itself is made all the more difficult.  Such ironies often arise in various facets of life, and it certainly seems to be the case for Federal and Postal workers seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The OWCP Black Hole

Many people rely upon the “generosity” of FECA (OWCP) payments during the period of temporary total disability, and indeed, being tax free and paying 75% of one’s salary (with dependents) or 66 2/3% without, one can easily become reliant upon such benefits. But being on OWCP does not protect the Federal or Postal Worker from being administratively separated from service for extended absences, or for one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, or “unavailability for duty” or other similar basis, to promote the efficiency of the Federal Service.  The agency needs someone to fill the position and do the job.

Normally, at a fairly early stage in one’s period of enduring and suffering from a medical condition or injury, one can assess the nature, extent and severity of the medical condition.  With that in mind, it is a good idea to begin thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  The security of OWCP benefits is attractive; however, OWCP is not a retirement address.  FECA will “cut off” the benefits at some point — unless you are somehow lost in the black hole of their payment roster, which happens periodically.  However, there are too many horror stories of a Federal employee who stayed on OWCP, was separated from Federal Service, never filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within 1 year of being separated, and then one day received a fateful phone call…

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire