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

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Friendly Supervisor

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Supervisor — and therefore the Agency itself — will be informed of one’s application for Federal Disability Retirement, because of the requirement of the SF 3112B.

Standard Form 3112B is the “Supervisor’s Statement”; it is a form which needs to be completed by a Supervisor of the Federal or Postal employee who is applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Because the form must be completed by a Supervisor of the applicant, it is therefore presumed that “others” at the agency will come to know that the Federal or Postal employee has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Often, the question is asked as to “when” the Supervisor should be informed of the employee’s application.  It can be a touchy issue.  Because the Federal or Postal employee contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits often feels a certain sense of loyalty, especially if the Supervisor has been “good” to him or her, the instinctive sense is to inform the Supervisor sooner, rather than later.  But remember that loyalty in the Federal government is almost always a unilateral approach; it runs one way — from the individual to the agency; rarely is it bilateral, where it runs both ways.

Further, once a Federal or Postal employee contemplates filing for Federal Disability Retirement, the loyalty of the Supervisor is normally seen as connected to, and only to, the agency; and the very fact that an employee has mentioned the term “Federal Disability Retirement” is often the turning point of any connective loyalty.

Loyalty is what one is doing now and for the future, not what one has done in the past.  Such words may invoke a sad truth, but one which should be heeded.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Medical Disability Retirement and Agency Promises

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is often easy to confuse the varying roles of the individual and agency entities which are involved in the process.

First and foremost, the Agency for which the individual works, has certain administrative obligations which must be met — of completing certain forms, such as the Supervisor’s Statement (SF 3112B) and the Agency Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation (SF 3112D).  The Office of Personnel Management, on the other hand, is the ultimate arbiter and deciding entity determining the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, as to meeting the legal criteria for eligibility for the benefit.

The agency cannot make promises to the Federal employee, or the Postal employee (if the case happens to be the U.S. Postal Service), as to “getting” the individual Federal employee or Postal employee, a Federal Disability Retirement.

There can certainly be actions taken by the agency, or the representative of the agency, which may help to “enhance” the chances of an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement.  However, enhancing the chances of an approval is quite different from promising to “give” or to “get” a Federal or Postal employee a Federal Disability Retirement from the Office of Personnel Management.  Only the latter entity can accomplish that.

As for any promises by the agency that “he said X” or “he promised Y” — get it in writing.  It may only be worth the paper it is written on, but at least by asking, you can determine the truth or falsity of such a promise.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Exaggerated Supervisor’s Statement

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the Federal and Postal employee should focus upon those aspects of the OPM Medical Retirement which are under his or her “control” — directly or indirectly — and not worry excessively about those things which are beyond one’s control or responsibility.  

Thus, obtaining the proper medical documentation; accurately, succinctly and coherently formulating the Applicant’s Statement of Disability on SF 3112A, etc., are within the purview of one’s control and responsibility.  Having the Supervisor complete the Supervisor’s Statement — SF 3112B — is part of the required final Federal Disability Retirement packet; what is contained within the parameters and confines of the form itself, however, is often beyond one’s control.  

While one assumes that a Supervisor’s Statement will be completed with a fair amount of accuracy, it will necessarily contain a certain perspective, intent, and often a sense of “protecting” the agency’s interest and goals.  Thus, the Supervisor will often overstate the extent of an attempted accommodation engaged in, real or imagined, in order to justify its actions concerning the Federal or Postal employee.  Further, it will often mis-state the concept of “light duty” and how it relates to accommodating the Federal or Postal employee.  In other sections of SF 3112B, it may over-state and exaggerate the employee’s conduct or impact of the medical conditions upon the Agency’s workload.  

An exaggerated Supervisor’s Statement will often be helpful to a Federal Disability Retirement case. Don’t be too hasty in attempting to correct inaccuracies and differing perspectives; sometimes, the exaggerated statements are merely differences of opinions and viewpoints, and may in fact be helpful in obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.  

In any event, a Supervisor’s Statement is beyond one’s control — and undue focus upon those issues beyond one’s control can detract from the greater mission at hand.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire