OPM Disability Retirement: Further Reflections on Accommodations

Because the term “accommodations” is rarely understood in its technical and legal sense, there is often the danger of a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS to “shoot one’s self in the foot” in the very use of the term — or in checking certain boxes on the application form (specifically, SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability), and further, there is the added danger that the Agency, in completing a Supervisor’s Statement or the SF 3112D, will mis-apply and mis-state the import, significance or relevance of any actions taken in attempting to assist the Federal or Postal employee.

Indeed, in a Supervisor’s Statement (SF 3112B) there are many instances in which the Supervisor completing the form will contradict him/herself when it comes to the issue of accommodations.  Moreover, the applicant him/herself will often mis-state the issue of accommodations on SF 3112A.

The term “accommodations” has a very narrow definition, and must be used and applied to the advantage of the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Additionally, it is not out of the realm of possibilities that the Office of Personnel Management also (whether deliberately or by chance) uses the very misuse (by the Applicant) of the term to its advantage.  In all cases, the term “accommodations” must be used and referred to carefully, technically, and with full insight of all of its consequences in the use or misuse of the word.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Accommodating Agency

During the course of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the issue of “accommodations” must be addressed — if only in completing Standard Form 3112D (otherwise designated as “Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts”).

It may well be that the Federal or Postal employee’s employing agency has been performing an informal “cost-benefits” analysis throughout the years, and that certain attempts at accommodating the Postal worker’s or other Federal employee’s medical conditions have been ongoing.

Thus, such attempts may include temporary suspension or unofficial elimination of certain key elements of one’s position description; allowance for teleworking for all or part of a workweek; disallowing necessary travel for onsite inspections, etc.  These and other attempts by an agency in order to retain the experience and technical expertise of a Federal or Postal employee, are all honorable and reasonable measures by the agency to keep the employee employed.

When the time comes, however, for the Federal or Postal employee to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits because he or she has reached a “point of no return” in terms of the progressively debilitating nature of the medical condition, where all such informal accommodations are no longer helpful in allowing for continuing functionality in the workplace, the Federal or Postal entity may well have always considered such measures to meet the standard of an “accommodation”.  Such a thought process is normally wrong.  But agencies, in completing SF 3112D, will often thoughtlessly attempt to characterize such prior attempts as legally-viable accommodations.

It is up to the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement applicant to point out the error — something which OPM is more than willing to pounce upon unless corrected by the applicant or his/her attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Technical Application of Terms

Wittgenstein’s contribution to Western Philosophy was twofold:  On the one hand, his insight into the role of language and how much (if not all, according to him) of philosophy’s substantive problems and complexities could be unraveled through the analytical dismantling of linguistic confusions, and secondly, the idea that philosophy as an academic discipline should not be given greater stature than any other — in other words, he believed that philosophy was a waning and anachronistic field which would eventually wither on the vines of history, and properly so.

While the undersigned disagrees with the latter assessment, it is the former contribution concerning “language games” and their import to society, daily living, and even to the technical world of legal jargon, which is of interest and relevance.  Lawyers necessarily have a “language game” of their own.  Within the peculiar universe of legal terms, the technical application of such “legalese” has direct and dire consequences if not understood properly and applied narrowly.

In the world of Federal Disability Retirement law, the term “accommodations” is often and profusely applied by agencies and Human Resources Personnel, but more often than not, in a loose and inappropriate manner.  Agencies bandy about the term, to wit:  “Mr. X. was accommodated by allowing for temporary light duty“; “We provided him with an accommodation by letting him take liberal sick leave and LWOP”; “Ms. Y was accommodated with instructions not to lift over her medical restrictions”; and other such implied applications of the term.

Which of the previously-cited statements constitute a technically correct use of the term “accommodation” within the context of Federal Disability Retirement?

Answer:  None of them.

Language games have inherently peculiar traits and rules of application; within the parameters of Federal Disability Retirement, too often the rules of usage are not complied with.  The consequences of non-compliance, unfortunately, is that Federal and Postal employees actually believe that they are being “accommodated”, when in fact they are not.

Further, believing that one is being accommodated by an agency may lead to the mistaken belief that one is ineligible for Federal Disability Retirement, when in fact one has always been eligible precisely because the agency cannot or has failed to provide a legally viable accommodation.  Look into the proper use of terms, and the technically correct application of terms.

In the end, Wittgenstein was right:  Language games reveal more about the competence of those who play them, than about the lack of precision exhibited by human behavior.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Question of Accommodations

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, certain essential issues must be addressed, including:  the medical condition itself (obviously); the impact of the medical condition upon one’s ability/inability to perform the type of positional duties required in one’s job (also quite obvious); the length of the medical condition itself (it must last for a minimum of 12 months); as well as multiple issues surrounding the question of whether the Agency can “accommodate” a medical condition.

The question of accommodations has been widely discussed by the undersigned author, especially in light of the case of Bracey v. OPM and multiple subsequent cases.  Nevertheless, despite much discussion on the subject, and attempted clarification between the legal, technical usage of the term “accommodation” and the more loosely understood concept of an agency “accommodating” an individual, there is often a surrounding confusion about the conceptual distinctions being made. This is because, perhaps inherently, the technical term of art is not self-evident.

Take, for instance, Question 7a on SF 3112A, where the form asks the question, What accommodations have you requested from your agency?  This question implies that you may have done something “wrong” if you have not specifically requested a certain type of accommodation — meaning, that you must have the knowledge to request of an agency the particular accommodating act of the agency which would allow you to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.

Yet, this implicitly contradicts the very existence of SF 3112D, Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts — which clearly places the burden of any attempted accommodation upon the agency, where — upon receipt of the disability retirement packet, or the medical evidence at any time — the agency must see if there are any jobs available or any method of accommodating the Federal or Postal employee such that he or she can perform the essential elementsof the job.

Thus, while the question (7a of SF 3112A) may have an underlying tone of a threat (as in, what have you done wrong?), it is in fact a fairly irrelevant question, and should be addressed as such.  Remember, there is a distinction to be made between the question, the answer given, and the relevance of either.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Revisiting the Concept of “Accommodations”

Accommodation” is a legal term of art.  At least, in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is a specific term, with specific definitions, with underlying meanings that need to be fully understood in preparing a viable and successful disability retirement application.  In very loose, non-legal terms, there is never anything wrong with an Agency Supervisor “accommodating” a good and loyal Federal employee — by allowing the person to take LWOP; of instituting liberal leave policies; of lessening the workload; of allowing for temporary light duties; of minimizing travel, restricting certain physical requirements, or reassigning certain complex projects to other employees of the Agency.  Every good supervisor does this; and, indeed, sometimes everything works out for the best, and the temporary measures undertaken by the supervisor may allow for the employee to sufficiently recover and later reaffirm all of the essential elements of the position.  But the remaining question is:  Were those measures considered an “accommodation“?  The answer is:  No.  Why not?  Because such measures do not constitute and meet the definition of “accommodation” under the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement.  They may be “good” for the Agency, but they do not preclude one from filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire