CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Agency, FMLA and LWOP

Because filing for Federal Disability Retirement is a process which may take 6 – 8 months, and sometimes longer, there is always the question of what the Agency will do during this time.  Of course, a Federal or Postal employee will often continue to work for as long as possible, and for as many days during each enduring week as possible, in order to survive economically during the process of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  The medical condition itself, however, will often dictate the feasibility of attempting to continue to work. 

During this period, a Federal or Postal employee may have limited options — especially when Sick Leave and Annual Leave have been exhausted.  Protection by filing under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will accord temporary protection and a buffer against a demanding agency.  A further request to be placed on LWOP beyond the 12 weeks which FMLA will allow for, will often be granted at the discretion of the Agency. 

If an agency places one in AWOL status, such an action by the Agency should be countered with documentation from one’s doctor which justifies the continued absence of the Federal or Postal employee.  Unfortunately, there is often no clear answer to the question, “What if my agency fails to cooperate while I am filing for Federal Disability Retirement?”  There are only responsive steps to take in order to protect the ultimate goal — that of obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Taking a Trickle of Leave and Back Pay Issues

When a Federal or Postal employee files for, and is approved for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the disability retirement annuity which one receives extends back to the “last day of pay” of a Federal or Postal employee.  It matters not what “kind” of pay; the Office of Personnel Management merely receives the date of the Federal or Postal employee’s last day of pay from the Agency, then gives back-pay back to that date which the Agency determines that he or she was last paid.

Thus, if a person was on LWOP for a six-month period while awaiting for a decision from OPM on his or her Federal Disability Retirement application, then decided to use up the last couple of hours of Annual or Sick Leave and receive a nominal amount — in that scenario, the back pay would extend only to the payment received for the Annual or Sick Leave, and the Federal or Postal employee would lose any back-pay for the six-month period of LWOP.

With this in mind, it is important to plan — to either remain on LWOP during the entire period of waiting for a decision from OPM, or if one continues to work or to receive payments for Sick or Annual Leave, to make it worth one’s while (i.e., to continue to receive a payment rate equal to what the rate of pay for back-pay would be, which is 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years of salary the first year, then 40% every year thereafter).  Just some thoughts.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Reminder (Continuing…)

So, how does one determine whether or not it is prudent to go out on LWOP completely, while awaiting for the decision on one’s application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS?  Obviously, the initial criteria to be applied is whether or not you can afford to go out on LWOP.  Economic necessity (aside from considerations of one’s health and medical ability/inability to go to work during the long, drawn-out process) becomes a primary consideration.  If economic necessity dictates continuation of work, then the next question is, would your Agency consider allowing you to work 3 – 4 days a week, and allowing for 1 or 2 days to be taken off with LWOP?  This might be a prudent approach, since any back-pay for the first year, once your Federal Disability Retirement application is approved and payments start, will be paid at 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years.  Thus, mathematically, it would make sense:  a minimum of 3 days of work quantifies to 60% or more, and so you would not be losing anything.  However, if your weekly average falls below the 60%, then you might want to consider going out on LWOP completely (again, only if your personal finances will allow for such).

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Clarity over Question

While a compromise position on certain issues in Federal Disability Retirement for FERS & CSRS may be the best that one may hope for, obviously, clarity over question is the better course to have.  Thus, for instance, in a removal action, where a Federal or Postal employee is being removed for his or her “excessive absences,” it is best to have the proposed removal and the decision of removal to reference one or more medical conditions, or at least some acknowledgment by the Agency, that would explicate — implicitly or otherwise — that the underlying basis for the “excessive absences” were as a result of the medical condition.  There are cases which clearly state that where excessive absences are referenced by medical conditions, the Bruner Presumption would apply in a Federal Disability Retirement case. 

Now, in those cases where the removal action merely removes a Federal or Postal employee for “excessive absences”, there are other methods which may win over an Administrative Judge to apply the Bruner Presumption.  Such “other methods” may include emails or correspondence, at or near the time of the removal action, which appears to put the Agency on notice about specific medical conditions, including attachments of doctor’s reports, medical notations, etc.  Such concurrent documentation can convince an Administrative Judge that, indeed, the question as to whether the “excessive absences” were as a result of a medical condition, and whether the Agency was aware of such an underlying basis, is clarified by documents which provide a proper context within the reasonable time-frame of the issuance of the proposal to remove and the decision to remove.  It is always better, of course, to have clarity over a question, but sometimes the question can be clarified with additional and concurrent documentation.

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

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Confusion About The 1-year Rule

I am receiving too many questions about certain issues, which leads me to believe that a clarification is again in order. First, concerning the Statute of Limitations on filing for Federal disability retirement benefits. A Federal or Postal Employee must file for federal disability retirement benefits within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service. Thus, if you have been on LWOP, or on OWCP, or on sick leave, but you are still receiving “zero-balance” paychecks which show that you have NOT been separated from service yet, then your 1-year statute of limitations has not yet even begun. The 1-year Statute of Limitations begins from the effective date of your separation from Federal Service. Your SF 50 (or, for Postal employees, PS Form 50) would reflect that date of separation.

Second, some of the questions which have been posed to me suggest that there is a misunderstanding as to the substantive requirements of the law, as well. A Federal or Postal worker does NOT have to have been medically unable to perform one’s job for a full year before filing for disability retirement. Rather, the requirement is prospective — that your medical condition must last for at least 1 year. Thus, normally after a few months of treating with your doctor, your doctor should be able to make a reasonable medical determination that your medical condition is going to last for at least a year, and more often than not, for much longer. The distinction which I am attempting to clarify can make a tremendous difference: Federal and Postal workers filing for federal disability retirement do not have to wait a year after learning of his or her medical condition — that would be foolish, especially because the process of obtaining disability retirement can itself often take 6 – 8, sometimes 10 – 12 months. Rather, a Federal or Postal worker can file soon after learning about a medical condition, so long as the treating doctor can provide a reasonable medical opinion that the condition will last for a minimum of 1 year. I hope that this will help clarify any confusion people may have about the “1-year” rule — both as it applies to the ability to file for federal disability retirement benefits, as well as to the issue of how long the medical condition must last.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Time to File

A question often asked is, when is it the right time to file for Disability Retirement? Must you wait until one has been disabled for over a year? Do you have to file for Social Security first, before filing for OPM Disability Retirement? Should the Agency be notified at the beginning of the process, or some time later down the road? What is the best time to approach my doctor about getting his or her support for disability retirement? These are all “timing” questions — each important in its own right, as are all such timing questions.

Since the processing from start to finish, to obtain disability retirement benefits, may take 6 – 8, sometimes 10 months, it must be timed financially — is there enough sick leave, annual leave; should donated leave be requested? Once LWOP is taken, should one remain on LWOP throughout the entire process? As to whether one must wait for a year of being “disabled” before one can file — the answer is “no”. So long as the doctor believes that the medical disability will last for at least a year (within reasonable medical probability), one has the proper medical basis to file for disability retirement. As to filing for Social Security, the Office of Personnel Management actually only needs to see the receipt, showing that one has filed for SSD, at the time of approval of the disability retirement application. And how about notifying the Agency?

This is a question which should be decided after discussion of several factors, with one’s attorney, who may provide for proper legal advice, the potential consequences of informing the Agency, etc. Ultimately, timing questions are a matter of particular importance — particular to the situation and circumstances of each individual case. With that in mind, it is often a good idea to have the counsel of an experienced attorney in the area of Federal Disability Retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire