Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Agency’s Actions

“That which the Federal Agency determines is tantamount to the hand of God — only more powerful.”  Or so it may often seem.  And so the Federal (and Postal) Worker will often wait with trepidation and anxious disturbances, caught in the limbo of a Federal bureaucracy, whether in issuing a leave-restriction letter, a warning, a formal PIP plan, a determination of being fit or unfit for duty, and multiple other actions which will adversely impact upon a Federal worker.

Preemptive actions rarely have any efficacy with a Federal Agency; an appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board is often seen as a mere formality for the Board to render a decision in the agency’s favor, especially when it comes to agency actions concerning discipline and work; and an EEO complaint, while a tactic for forestalling ultimate decisions, is a burdensome and lengthy process of litigation.

Federal Disability Retirement is often the most advantageous of avenues to pursue, if only because the standard of proof to meet the eligibility criteria is quite low — not the high standard of Social Security Disability, where one must show a deleterious impact upon the daily living abilities, but the much lower standard of being unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

Proactive choices in life are often limited, especially when one is confronted with a seemingly omnipotent entity like a Federal Agency; but Federal Disability Retirement is an existent benefit which allows for the Federal or Postal employee to opt out and reach that rehabilitative period of seclusion, in order to regain one’s health and come back for another day, another fight, another round.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: “What If” Scenarios

The problem with “what if” scenarios is that they rely upon fear.  What if I file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and the agency then removes me?  What if I file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and OWCP decides to send me to a Second-Opinion doctor and begins the process of trying to get me off of their rolls?

Fear and the anticipation of unknown future events is often the trigger-mechanism to prevent a person from acting.  The fallacy of making decisions based upon such fear factors, however, is an obvious one:  The agency can begin the process of removal with or without the Federal or Postal employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement (because of one’s medical conditions, his or her attendance, overuse of sick leave, less than full performance of duties, etc., is normally quite obvious to the agency already, anyway); OWCP can send the Federal or Postal employee to a second-opinion doctor or cut off benefits arbitrarily with or without the Federal employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; and in general terms, “what if” scenarios can occur even if the event in question is never pursued.

Fear is the factor which bullies, totalitarian regimes, and Federal agencies and the U.S. Postal Service relies upon.  Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is merely the great equalizer against the fear factor.  That which can happen regardless of a triggering event, will occur anyway; so the logical conclusion should be to decide to file for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits in order to acquire the “safety-net” against the future possibility (and probability) of adverse actions which the Agency is already likely contemplating.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Thoughtless Agency Actions

The term, “oxymoron” comes from the Greek, meaning “sharp dull” — a phrase or concept which embraces two or more contradictory terms.  When was the last time that the combination of terms, “thoughtful” and “agency” made any sense?  

Thus, it is a waste of one’s time to rant and get upset over an agency’s actions because of bad timing (i.e., to propose a removal during the holidays; to initiate a PIP on the day before Thanksgiving; to suspend a person without pay on a Federal employee’s birthday; and other such coinciding thoughtless encounters).  It is fine to be upset for a moment because of the thoughtless actions of an agency; to continue to heave insults and focus upon the thoughtlessness, however, is a waste of one’s time, and ultimately misunderstands the role, intent and goal of an Agency.  

The reason why “thoughtless” and “Agency” do not ultimately and technically comprise an oxymoron, is because inherent in the very definition of the entity identified as a Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, is the idea that it is indeed a Hobbsian Leviathan which a singular purpose of “doing” something, whatever that “something” is.  

In the administrative process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, one should expect that one’s Agency, or the U.S. Postal Service, will engage in multiple thoughtless actions.  That is the innate nature of a Federal agency, or the U.S. Postal Service.  And, inasmuch as Federal Disability Retirement involves medical conditions, a sense that “empathy” and “sympathy” are called for — of a person’s career coming to an end; of an often progressively deteriorating medical condition, etc. — one would think that the agency would consider putting some thought into their actions.  But that would be asking too much.  

Federal Disability Retirement is an option which the agency sees as merely a problematic solution that needs to be dispensed with — yes, an oxymoron, but a truth, nonetheless.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Agency Removal & Resignation

Whether an Agency is willing to wait while a Federal or Postal employee files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, or if removal becomes the preferred action, is always a concern to the Federal or Postal employee.  

Often, no matter what medical documentation is submitted as documentary proof of one’s inability to come to work, an Agency will insist that a Federal employee is “AWOL” because of some minutiae or technicality in the paperwork provided.  Regardless (no, I will not use the grammatically incorrect non-word, “irregardless”, which is a combined double-negative of the suffix and prefix, leaving the root word “regarding” intact, thereby making irrelevant the necessity of both the prefix and the suffix) of the Agency’s actions, it is important for the Federal or Postal employee to proceed with his or her Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Attempting to predict how the agency will act or react; waiting upon an Agency’s response — ultimately, one must proceed affirmatively and not be concerned with what the Agency will or will not do.  Concurrently, however, the Federal or Postal employee should respond to an Agency’s removal actions.  

Sometimes, if in fact the Agency is able to produce sufficient “evidence” to justify an adverse removal action (lack of sufficient notice; lack of medical justification submitted in a timely manner; violation of PIP provisions; violation of previously-imposed leave restrictions, etc.), an offer of resignation in order to maintain the official personnel file “clean” of any such adverse actions, is a reasonable course to take, both for the Agency as well as for the Federal or Postal employee.  

More often than not, the Agency will be responsive to opening a discussion for a mutually beneficial removal based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  Since the same medical documentation to prove one’s medical disability retirement application should be sufficient to justify such a removal, the timing of such a removal could not be better.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Using the Bruner Presumption

Argumentation on a point of law, persuasive argumentation based upon a logical implication of a legal finding, extended argumentation based upon an implicit extension of a finding of law — all can be effective tools in a formulation of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

Thus, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, often the question is posed as to whether the “Bruner Presumption” (that presumption which is derived from being separated from Federal Service based upon  a medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, or a finding of a parallel delineation of being administratively separated while concurrently showing that a medical condition was the underlying basis of such separation from Federal Service) can be applied based upon the proposal of an administrative separation, or whether the actual separation from Federal Service must occur.  

While the application of the legal presumption can be applied only upon an actual separation, certainly a persuasive argument can be made that OPM and the Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board should effectively grant the presumption, inasmuch as the intent of the Agency is (once a proposal to remove based upon the medical inability to perform the job is made) certainly to follow through on any proposal; nevertheless, technically, the Bruner Presumption is applied only after a decision on the proposal to remove is made.  However, as has been previously stated on many occasions, one should never wait upon the Agency to propose anything, let alone to act upon the proposal.  Instead, one should always affirmatively move forward — especially when contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The PIP

Let’s be very clear:  while the designation of a Performance Improvement Plan is often characterized or defined as an “opportunity” for both the Agency as well as the Federal employee to assess the performance of an individual, in order to show areas of needed improvement, to identify areas of needed accommodation, etc., the truth of the intended placement of a PIP is one clear roadmap:  To get rid of you.  It is a way for the Agency to have an “objective” basis in which to propose a termination of a Federal employee.  It is a way for the Agency to be able to say to the Judge, “Hey, we tried; we gave him/her the opportunity to improve…”

The consequences and linkage between a PIP and a Federal Disability Retirement application, however, is almost always there to take advantage of:  The Performance Improvement Plan (a corollary for the Postal employee is the “Investigative Interview”, or other similar nonsense) is proof-positive that one’s medical conditions directly prevent one from performing all of the essential elements of one’s job.

The key is to try and document the linkage — between the initiation of a PIP and having the Agency acknowledge that there are underlying medical conditions which caused the necessity of a PIP initiation, as well as leading to the resulting failure within the PIP.  While it may be that the Federal employee wants to continue to work, and not file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the reality is that the initiation and institution of a PIP is a good indicator that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is no longer a choice; it has become a necessity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Conflicts & Peripheral Issues

Man is the only animal who has more than one side on his mouth, and the lawyer is a special species of the animal who, unlike the limitation of the cat who only has nine lives, possesses an infinite number of geometric sides of a mouth.  Lawyers make concurrent and conflicting arguments all the time, but as long as the arguments are bifurcated and the issues kept separate and do not directly conflict or contradict, there is certainly nothing wrong with that.

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, if a Federal or Postal employee wants to pursue a collateral issue in another forum while concomitantly filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, there is normally no conflict or problem which arises.  But in the limited instance where a Federal or Postal employee is attempting to reverse a termination and regain a position, at some point in the process the two issues may come to a direct conflict.

Normally, however, the issue involves merely changing the underlying reasons which the Agency proposed for the termination, and it is a legitimate argument to litigate with the Agency to change the terms of the termination.

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

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Agency Supervisors

Federal Agencies, and the Postal Service, can act as little fiefdoms, with minimal oversight in the use of power. There is no school which teaches the proper use of power; power is something which is too often misused, misapplied, and abused. And, those who possess power, often exponentially apply it when the focus of such power has become vulnerable. Federal and Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, who are in the vulnerable position of necessarily filing for disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS because of the imposition of an unwanted medical condition which impacts and impedes his or her ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, are especially in a sensitive position, precisely because they are at the complete mercy of the Supervisor. Supervisors need to understand and appreciate the great power which he or she possesses. The powerful need not misuse such power in order to show how powerful he or she is; indeed, it is in the very act of kindness, empathy, and the ability to show sensitivity and “human-ness” which is the true showing of the powerful. Supervisors should “bend over backwards” to show what it means to truly be a Supervisor — one who recognizes and appreciates the long years of loyal service the disabled employee has shown; empathy for the vulnerable situation the employee now finds him/herself in; kindness in the treatment of the employee. Such kind treatment will go a long way towards encouraging a sense of community and family within an agency, and will foster the other employees in the department, office, and greater agency to work that much harder, knowing that it is not “just a job” — but a career worthy of greater devotion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Employee's Usefulness

Federal Employees and Postal Employees should never consider or entertain the thought that filing for disability retirement benefits is a negative judgment upon his or her lengthy and productive career.  It is merely a statement of reality — that the Federal and Postal employee has had a good career; medical conditions may have shortened the first career, but this merely means that there will be opportunities to have a second career; and, in no way does it mean that there is a blemish upon the Federal career; merely that it is time to move on to something else.  And, indeed, the interruption of the Federal or Postal career as a result of impeding medical conditions merely is a statement that you are no longer a “good fit” for a particular kind of job. Further, if you are removed from the Federal sector because of your medical inability to perform your job, such a removal is a “non-adversarial” and “non-disciplinary” action, and therefore (again) should not, and cannot, be considered a “blemish” upon one’s career. And, finally, it is often the case that it is precisely because of the long and loyal hours you put into your job, that you paid a price for such loyalty — by embracing the stresses of the job, of working despite impending medical conditions.  In other words, very often I see that the stresses inherent in the position took a large and heavy toll upon the individual, such that medical conditions resulted from the long years of such heavy toll.  There is never a need to feel guilty about taking disability retirement; you’ve paid your dues; it is time to move on to another phase of your life.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire