Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Work as the Causal Inception

In a claim filed with the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), causality and whether it is work-related, occupationally related, etc., are issues which will inevitably arise, precisely because the statutory mandates which govern OWCP rules and regulations require proof of a causal connection.

Under Federal Disability Retirement for FERS & CSRS employees, however, such work-related causality is not an issue, because it is not a requirement that a medical condition was “caused” while performing one’s Federal or Postal job, or that there be some connection to an occupational hazard or inherent workplace relationship.  That does not mean, however, that there cannot be a workplace connection; merely that, whether or not there is any such relationship between the medical condition and the work environment, it is not an issue which possesses any significant relevance to the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

These “fine distinctions” can be confusing for non-lawyers (and, indeed, even for lawyers who are supposedly trained in being able to analytically dissect multiple compounding concepts within statutory language).  

“Causality” to the workplace can, however, be discussed and even referred to in a medical report, or in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112A), as a provision for historical and background context, but it is not an essential element to prove in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Too much emphasis on the historical context, however, can lead to the unforeseen and dangerous consequence of having one’s case characterized as a “situational disability“, and one must always be cognizant of such a danger.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: A Hostile Work Environment

Unfortunately, reality often outperforms and upstages any attempt at fictional characterization of the workplace.  Often, the meanness and temperamental behavior of a supervisor in the “real” workplace can never be properly represented by an actor’s attempt in a sitcom or a drama; the persistent, irrational, capricious and outright cruel behavior and acts of “the boss” or one of his/her underlings can never be accurately depicted in fiction.  Further, the reality of the consequences of such behavior can be devastating.  Workplace stress resulting from demeaning behavior, intentional acts to undermine, cruel and arbitrary acts against a specific employee, can all result in serious medical consequences.  

It is all well and good to talk about internal procedures — of filing an EEOC Complaint; filing a grievance; filing a complaint based upon discrimination, etc.  But beyond such agency procedures to protect one’s self, there is the problem of the eruption of a medical condition, be it Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, physical symptoms of IBS, chronic pain, headaches —  some or all of which may result from such stresses in the workplace.  There is no diagnostic tool to establish the link between the medical condition and the workplace stress.  

For Federal and Postal employees thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there is the context of harassment & stress in the workplace, and then the medical condition which prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. Sometimes, it is difficult to bifurcate the two.  That which is difficult, however, must sometimes be accomplished in order to be successful.  The origin of the medical condition may have to be set aside, because it “complicates” the proving of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  If one is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the story — however real — of the workplace harassment, may have to be left behind.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Those Workplace Issues

In preparing a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there are often multiple collateral issues which arise:  Harassment issues; Unequal Treatment; EEOC issues; Hostile Workplace issues; Discrimination issues; and multiple other issues which may or may not be viable complaints.  Such complaints have their proper place, in the proper forum, within the proper context.  As I have written multiple times previously on this issue — these employment issues should be avoided in the context of preparing for and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Many of these employment complaints may be viable ones to pursue; some may be pursued concurrently while seeking Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and will not ultimately defeat or impact such an application (remember that in law, not only can an attorney speak out of three or four sides of his mouth; one is also allowed to make contradictory legal arguments at the same time).  

The point is that such collateral arguments and issues should not be a part of the application itself.  It may be fine to pursue such workplace issues in a separate and different forum — just not in the process of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  If the issue is brought up, the Office of Personnel Management may well use it against you, stating, “Your medical conditions seem to occur as a result of your allegation of the actions of your Supervisor. As such, you suffer merely from situational disability.”  Case denied.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Workplace (Part 2)

In filing for FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to stay away from issues which may explicitly or implicitly characterize the particular medical condition as being “situational” in nature.  However, this does not mean that the medical condition cannot have originated from, or been exacerbated by, the workplace environment.  Remember that OPM disability retirement is not like OWCP/Worker’s Comp — the issue of causality, or whether the medical condition occurred as a result of your occupation, is not important to prove. 

However, sometimes, it is simply an indisputable fact that the medical condition originated from the workplace, or was exacerbated by conditions in the workplace.  Such origination or exacerbations, once it takes on a “life of its own” and becomes chronic and pervasive such that the medical condition impacts a person both at the workplace as well as outside the workplace, then it has transformed into a medical condition beyond being merely “situational”.  Thus, that which originated as a “situational” medical condition may well no longer be a situational one.  In such cases — and that is normally the case in almost all medical conditions which begin as a situational disability — there would be no problem with filing for OPM disability retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Situational Disability II

To reiterate: Situational disability can be an issue which can defeat a disability retirement application, precisely because OPM (and if it gets to the MSPB level, the Administrative Judge) can conclude that the Psychiatric disability in question originates and results in response to the hostile workplace environment.

These three concepts are important to understand — originate, result in, and result “in response to”. A psychiatric condition can originate from a hostile work environment, but as long as the medical condition then pervades beyond the work environment and impacts a person’s life through and through, then that alone does not constitute situational disability, because while it may have originated from A, it is not limited to A.

The second concept — results in — must be seen in the context of the condition of the psychiatric disability. Thus, does the (for example) Major Depression or anxiety result solely from the work environment, or does one experience the symptoms while at home, even while away from the work environment?

And thirdly, does the individual experience the symptoms of the psychiatric condition “in response to” his or her exposure to the work environment, or are the symptoms all-pervasive: i.e., throughout all aspects of the person’s life?

To differentiate these three concepts is important in avoiding the pitfalls of situational disability, and in helping to prepare a Psychiatrist in either preparing a medical narrative report, or in his or her testimony before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Federal Disability Retirement: The Danger of Situational Disability

The danger of falling into the trap of situational disability, which is one of a number of reasons for denying a disability retirement application, can come about quite regularly. Especially because, in the face of contending with a medical disability that is serious enough to warrant changing one’s career, of filing for medical disability retirement — there is often the Agency’s contentious response, of needing to have the continuity of the work accomplished, of being insensitive and lacking compassion for the applicant; in such a context, the applicant views the Agency’s response as hostile.

The employee/applicant, then, in filing for disability retirement, will often make the mistake of focusing upon the hostile work environment, or the lack of compassion and empathy on the part of the Agency — and this will often warrant a denial of disability retirement based upon the medical condition of the applicant as being “situational disability” — meaning that the medical condition of the employee/applicant is limited to the work situation of that particular office or agency. This is a completely wrong-headed approach for the applicant.

That is why, when I represent my clients, I am singularly focused upon the 2 or 3 main issues that form the essence of a disability retirement case, and insist upon focusing my clients upon those very same issues, while setting aside those tangential issues which can ultimately defeat a disability retirement application. Understand that these peripheral, tangential issues may well be “important” to my client — but I would not be doing my job in representing my clients if I allowed the peripheral issues to become “front and center” — for that would be a disaster for my clients. I represent people to obtain disability retirement benefits. That is my job. That is my focus. If I allow my focus to waiver, then I am not representing my clients properly.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire