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

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Potential Drawback

One of the potential drawbacks in pursuing collateral employment issues concomitantly with a Federal Disability Retirement application is that, as such employment issues are active and clearly in the collective consciousness of the Agency, the Supervisor, and all involved, the issue itself often gets sneaked into a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS via the back door.  

This is not necessarily a negative thing, but can be a potential drawback if the Supervisor insists upon inserting the details of the collateral action in the Supervisor’s Statement.  Whether such insertion and accompaniment with a Federal Disability Retirement application is “proper” or not, is a separate matter.  From the perspective of the applicant who is awaiting a decision from the Office of Personnel Management, it matters not as to the proper actions of the Agency.  What such actions by the rogue supervisor does, is to deflect the focus away from the medical issue, and redirects the reviewing official/representative at OPM that the “reason” for one’s early retirement is not one based upon a medical issue, but rather, is because of stresses or other factors caused by a hostile work environment, harassment issues, etc.  This is normally a proposition which can be easily sidestepped, by arguing to OPM that whether or not such workplace issues have any basis or not, the treating doctor has nevertheless stated X, Y & Z.  However, it can still be problematic, and that is why collateral workplace issues should be avoided, if at all possible.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Coherence

A Federal Disability Retirement packet must be coherent.  This may appear to be “self-evident”, but there have been many disability retirement packets which, upon a denial and a review at the Second, Reconsideration Phase of the process, lack the coherent coordination which results in a credible disability retirement packet.  Coherence results from the simple review of the entirety of the information submitted to the Office of Personnel Management:  The applicant’s personal statement; the medical records and reports; the position description; any additional statements or attachments.

Now, there are certain elements of a Federal Disability Retirement application which cannot be controlled — such as the Supervisor’s Statement (SF 3112B) and the Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts (SF 3112D).  However, while one may not be able to “control” the coherence of those elements which are the purview of the Agency, there are certain steps which can be taken to preempt such uncontrollable injections from the Agency.

Regardless, it is normally not the SF 3112B or 3112D which makes for the incoherence of a Federal Disability Retirement submission; more often than not, the culprit is the Applicant him/herself.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: SF 3112B

It is amazing how a Supervisor’s Statement is completed.  Normally, it is completed without much thought; sometimes, it is completed with too much thought (and self-protective, CYA language concerning how much effort the agency attempted in “accommodating” the employee, when in fact little or no effort was made); more often than not, there is a last, parting shot at the employee — some unnecessary “dig” which often contradicts other portions of the statement; and, finally, every now and then, the Supervisor’s Statement is completed in the proper manner, with forethought and truthfulness. 

Fortunately, the Office of Personnel Management rarely puts much weight on a Supervisor’s Statement in making a determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS — unless there is some glaring statement of a deliberate attempt to undermine the Application.  This is rare, because it is a medical disability retirement, not a Supervisor’s disability retirement — meaning, that it is the medical opinion, not the opinion of a Supervisor, which is (and should be) most important.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Service Deficiency & Medical Condition

The Office of Personnel Management will often use as a criteria of denial the argument/basis that despite the fact that an individual may have a medical condition such that the medical documentation states that the Federal or Postal worker can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, nevertheless, there has not been a showing that a “service deficiency” has occurred.  Often, agencies systematically write up performance appraisals without much thought or consideration; more often, Federal and Postal workers quietly suffer through his or her medical condition, and strive each day to meet the requirements of their duties. 

Whatever the reason for the lack of attention or perception on the part of the supervisor or the agency to recognize that the Federal or Postal worker has not been able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, such basis for a denial of a disability retirement application by the Office of Personnel Management is not a legitimate one, because existence of a “service deficiency” is not the whole story:  if it is found that retention in the job is “inconsistent” with the type of medical condition the Federal or Postal Worker has, then such a finding would “trump” the lack of any service deficiency.  That is not something, however, that the Office of Personnel Management is likely to tell you as they deny your disability retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: It Is a Medical Issue

If a Federal or Postal Employee is still on the rolls of the Agency, or if you have not been separated from service for more than 31 days, then the disability retirement application must be routed through your agency before being forwarded to the Office of Personnel Management for processing and review.  If you have been separated from Federal Service — meaning, you have actually been taken off of the rolls of your agency (this does include being on sick leave, or on annual leave, or on leave without pay) — for 31 days or more (but not for more than 1 year, in which case you have lost your right and ability to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, because you have allowed the 1-year statute of limitations to pass by), then you must file your case directly with the Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, PA.  Whether routed through your agency or directly to the Office of Personnel Management, remember that a Federal Disability Retirement application is ultimately a medical issue — not a supervisor’s issue, not an agency issue; it is not determined by your agency; your eligibility is not determined by your supervisor.  It is, essentially, and at its very core, an issue between you, your doctor, and your inability to perform the essential elements of your Federal or Postal job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire