Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Working while Waiting

During the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question is sometimes asked as to whether a Federal or Postal employee who is filing, or has filed, can either (a) continue to work in the Federal or Postal job he or she is occupying, or (b) work at another, private-sector job, during the process.

Because Federal Disability Retirement is not a disability annuity based upon “total disability” (unlike Social Security Disability), but in fact encourages Federal and Postal workers to remain productive in the workforce, the fact of continuation of work during the process should not generally have an impact upon a decision rendered by the Office of Personnel Management.

The key, operative word, of course, is “should”.  The Office of Personnel Management will sometimes bring the issue up, and make certain assumptions — as to the similarity between positional duties of one’s Federal/Postal position and the private sector job, or that the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service has “accommodated” the Federal or Postal worker, and therefore that is the reason why continuation in the position has been possible.

Such assumptions obviously need to be addressed, but they are often based upon a presumption founded in error — for, “light duty” or “temporary” duties do not constitute a legally viable “accommodation”, but that is something which OPM has a difficult time understanding.  The fact that the Federal Agency which makes the legal determination on the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application, has a lack of understanding of “the law” governing the legal criteria, is rather astounding, but true.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM May Say So, But…

I often wonder how many unrepresented disability retirement applicants there are who, having received a denial letter at the First Stage of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, never file a Request for Reconsideration because they believe what the Office of Personnel Management stated in the Denial Letter.  Sometimes, I will get telephone calls from people who want to file, and during the course of the conversation, it will come out that they had filed a few years previously, and had been denied.  “Did you file a Request for Reconsideration, at the time?” I ask.  “No,” is the answer.  “Why not?” I ask.  The typical answer?  “Because I just thought there was no way to fight them on it.” 

I used to be amazed at such answers, but after some thought, it makes sense.  As an attorney, my first instinct (both trained and natural) is to always take something to the next level, with the firm belief that I will prevail just by pure persistence, and by using the law as “a sword” in the process of fighting for my clients.  But most people are not lawyers (some would say, thank goodness for that, we have enough lawyers in the world), and when the Office of Personnel Management writes up a denial letter, then allegedly cites “the law”, and makes bold conclusions such as, “You do not meet the eligibility criteria under the laws governing disability retirement…”  It all sounds convincing.  It all sounds like any further action will be an act of futility.  But just because OPM “says so” doesn’t make it true, doesn’t make it right, and certainly doesn’t make it unwinnable.  They may say you don’t meet the eligbility criteria; I would argue otherwise.

Sincerely,
Robert R. McGill, Esquire