Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: OWCP Disability

Periodically, a telephone call will begin with the statement that the Federal or Postal worker has been on “Disability” for the past _____ years.  The first question that must be asked is, “Are you speaking about OPM Disability Retirement?”  If the answer is one of confusion or lack of clarity, then a further query must be made, trying to establish whether or not the Federal or Postal worker is speaking about receiving payments from the Department of Labor, Office of Worker’s Compensation.

As it turns out, most people who refer to being on “Disability” often mean that they are receiving Worker’s Compensation.  Once this is established, then it becomes important to know whether or not the Federal or Postal Worker has been separated from Federal Service; and if so, when was he or she separated (because if it has been over 1 year, then it is too late to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management).  

Receiving “disability” is often confusing to the Federal or Postal employee.  A revealing fact is when the individual states that the “Agency put me on disability”.  This normally means that the person is on OWCP.  Or, if you are receiving 75% of one’s pay.  Remember that there is a distinction and a difference between OWCP and OPM Disability Retirement.  The former pays well, but may not last forever.  Indeed, if the latter is not applied for within the time-frame allowed, you will be barred from ever applying for it.

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

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Agency Adverse Actions

Agency actions of an adverse nature seem to go hand-in-hand with filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.  If one pauses for a moment, one can easily understand the underlying reasons:  Medical conditions often result in attendance problems or impact the ability of a Federal or Postal employee to perform all of the essential elements of the position.  Disability Retirement eligibility is precisely that which attempts to prove the latter point — of the impact upon one’s ability to perform all of the essential elements of the positional requirements.  

Thus, when attendance, performance or conduct concerning the positional requirements become an issue, the Agency will often begin initiating adverse actions — ranging from instituting a “Performance Improvement Plan” (PIP), memorandums of warnings, suspensions, and removals.  While adverse actions reflect negatively by their definition, the positive aspect of such adverse actions, in combination with Federal Disability Retirement, is that the adverse action, having the underlying basis of resulting because of one’s medical condition and because of one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, can actually be used to argue for a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement approval.  As with most of that which is “true” in life, the irony of this cannot be overlooked.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire