OPM Disability Retirement: The Reality of Accommodations

Medical conditions test the value of a worker; for, while people may engage in theoretical discussions of “cost-benefits analysis“, where the cost of X is compared and contrasted to the benefit of Y, such that the hypothetical analysis results in a business decision based upon pure economic need — the reality of such an approach rarely gets a true test beyond such dinner table discussions.  But when a Federal or Postal Worker begins to suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition visibly impacts one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, then the economic paradigm of a cost-benefits analysis is applied, whether overtly or in a more subtle, inconspicuous manner.

The agency may recognize the need to allow for temporary suspension of certain positional duties — travel may be taken up by some other employee; heavy lifting may need an additional helper; telecommuting may be a viable option.  The cost of such temporary measures is felt in the work left undone; the benefit is accrued by the experience, wisdom, and knowledge of the disabled retained worker.  In rarer occasions, a formal request for an accommodation may be submitted by the Federal or Postal Worker, and an administrative process of attempting to provide a legally viable accommodation may ensue; but that is a rare process, indeed.

The reality of accommodations in the Federal sector is one of practical need versus the trouble such attempts bring; for the Federal or Postal Worker, whether under FERS or CSRS, the true option left is to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Such an option results from an agency being tested — and loyalties revealed.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Legally Sufficient Accommodation

Whether the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service has offered a legally-viable accommodation is determined by the criteria of an offer made which is either at the same pay or grade as the position one currently occupies; but, moreover, as the Bracey case and subsequent cases which elaborate upon the issue have made clear, it cannot be a position which is merely “made up” or temporary by nature, or one in which the current Supervisor merely whispers in one’s ear and says, “Just don’t do X, Y and Z essential elements of the job.”

The reasoning behind the view that such a temporary, modified “position” does not constitute an “accommodation” under the law — and therefore would not prevent eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits — is easily justified by the age-old adage that, where one lives by the sword, one dies by the sword; meaning, thereby, that if Supervisor X can simply suspend certain essential elements of a job, a future Supervisor Y can just as easily reinstate the requirements of performing those previously-unattended elements, and require that they be performed.

That being said, there is nevertheless nothing wrong with an Agency allowing for a Federal or Postal worker to work at a position and lessen the requirements of the job.  For some, it may be that such a modified position is acceptable, especially in light of receiving a regular paycheck.

The issue of “accommodations” should not be confused with the eligibility requirements of being able to file for, and be approved with, Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  There is the issue of legally-sufficient accommodation for purposes of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefitsfrom the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; then, there is the commonplace parlance of being informally “accommodated” if one wants to continue to work; the two are not contradictory.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Working while Waiting

During the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question is sometimes asked as to whether a Federal or Postal employee who is filing, or has filed, can either (a) continue to work in the Federal or Postal job he or she is occupying, or (b) work at another, private-sector job, during the process.

Because Federal Disability Retirement is not a disability annuity based upon “total disability” (unlike Social Security Disability), but in fact encourages Federal and Postal workers to remain productive in the workforce, the fact of continuation of work during the process should not generally have an impact upon a decision rendered by the Office of Personnel Management.

The key, operative word, of course, is “should”.  The Office of Personnel Management will sometimes bring the issue up, and make certain assumptions — as to the similarity between positional duties of one’s Federal/Postal position and the private sector job, or that the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service has “accommodated” the Federal or Postal worker, and therefore that is the reason why continuation in the position has been possible.

Such assumptions obviously need to be addressed, but they are often based upon a presumption founded in error — for, “light duty” or “temporary” duties do not constitute a legally viable “accommodation”, but that is something which OPM has a difficult time understanding.  The fact that the Federal Agency which makes the legal determination on the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application, has a lack of understanding of “the law” governing the legal criteria, is rather astounding, but true.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire