OPM Disability Retirement: Termination (Part 2)

There are times when an Agency will proceed and terminate a Federal or Postal employee based upon adverse grounds — of “Failing to follow proper leave procedures”, for being AWOL, for Failure to do X, Y or Z.  Such adverse actions may be the “surface” reason for the actual, underlying reason — that of one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

Once a proposed termination becomes an actual termination, then the course of action to take, of course, is to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board.  An Administrative Judge can often be of great assistance in defining and narrowing the issues, and in gently persuading and convincing the Agency to consider changing and amending the “surface” reason to the true, underlying reason of medical inability to perform the job.

The goal here, of course, is to do everything to help in “weighting” a disability retirement application in your favor, and while obtaining the Bruner Presumption in a case is not critical, in many cases, it can be helpful.  And the way to get the Administrative Judge on your side, so that the AJ will then try and persuade the Agency to consider amending a removal, is to obtain well-documented, well-written medical narrative reports from the doctors.

As is almost always the case, the underlying basis for any disability retirement application begins and ends with a well-written medical report.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Termination (Part 1)

Termination by a Federal Agency or the Postal Service can be a trying time, even if it has been a long time in expectancy.  The key is to try and begin negotiating with the agency even before the Notice of Proposed Termination is issued.

During that period when you know that the Agency is considering filing a Notice of Proposed Termination, is precisely the window of opportunity to try and convince & persuade the agency that the underlying basis of any proposed termination is and should be based upon your medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of your job.

This would be done through various means:  Submission of medical documentation to your supervisor, agency & Human Resources personnel; addressing key points concerning conduct or performance with medical evidence showing a direct and causal correlation between such conduct or performance with the medical evidence, etc.

If, on the other hand, a Notice of Proposed Termination is issued but one which is not based upon one’s medical condition, that does not mean that the window of opportunity has been lost — it just may mean that the strategy and tactic to try and persuade the Agency to amend the proposed termination may have to be adapted.  The key to all of this is to make sure and aggressively attack, rebut, and answer, at all stages of any proposed termination, in order to gain an advantage for one’s medical disability retirement.

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

OPM Disability Retirement: Can the Agency Accommodate You?

The term “accommodations” continues to be a highly misused one.  There is the general conceptual application, as when an agency attempts to do something to help a Federal or Postal employee by “allowing” for “light duty”, or allowing one to work at a reduced schedule, or to take sick leave, annual leave, or Leave Without Pay.  But such actions (as kindhearted as they might be intended) do not constitute a legal accommodation under disability retirement rules, statutes, laws or case-law.

To legally accommodate someone must always mean that the agency does something, provides something, or creates something of a permanent nature, such that it allows you to perform the essential elements of your job.  Temporary measures, or allowing you to take time off, does not allow you to perform the essential elements of your job — instead, it merely allows you take time away from being able to do your job.  Remember, on the other hand, that there is nothing wrong with your Agency doing these things to “help you out”.  It simply does not constitute, or rise to the level of, an “accommodation” under the law.

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

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Be Careful

As part of a Federal or Postal employee’s process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, one may have to negotiate, respond to, or fight against an unfair Agency’s attempt to remove the Federal or Postal employee — based upon factors other than what is truly the underlying basis — of his or her medical inability to perform the essential elements of the Federal job.

For whatever reason — of incompetence, of pure unkindness, of personal vendettas, etc. —  Agencies will often refuse to remove an individual for the administratively neutral reason (by “neutral”, to mean that it is not an “adverse” action) of “medical inability to perform the essential elements of the job”.  Instead, they will often revert to other reasons:  “excessive absences”, “AWOL”, “excessive LWOP”; “violation of a PIP”, and other such overtly misleading reasons.

When, the truth of the matter is/was, the Federal or Postal employee was sick, has a medical condition, and could not come to work because of medical reasons.  Be careful.  Fight the removal action.  Don’t accept the unfair basis.  File an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board.  Remember, a removal for medical inability to perform the essential elements of the job can help you get an approval in a disability retirement application.  Better yet, hire an attorney who will fight for you.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Bruner Presumption – Agency Actions, Part II

One must never misunderstand the law and its application.  This is true in any legal arena of every area of law; when it comes to Federal Disability Retirement law, the misunderstanding of an application of law can have direct and irreparable consequences:  the failure to secure disability retirement benefits and, therefore, the financial security for one’s future.

The “Bruner Presumption” is one such application of law which is often misunderstood.  Without revealing all of its proper applications, it can (and is) often misunderstood to be equivalent to a “presumption of innocence” — but that would be wrong.  The Bruner Presumption comes about as a result of an Agency Action — of removal based upon the employee’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of the job.

With or without the Bruner Presumption in Federal Disability Retirement law, the “Burden of Production” — i.e., of the medical documentation, the factual establishment that the Agency is unable to accommodate the individual — still rests and remains with the applicant.  One must never think that the applicability of the Bruner Presumption makes a case a “slam dunk” of any sort.

This is especially so where we are talking about those medical conditions which are often viewed as “suspect” by the Office of Personnel Management — such as Fibroymyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc (by “suspect”, however, I do not mean to imply that such medical conditions make it harder for an applicant to get it approved; rather, it merely requires that the one who is preparing such an application, do it properly, thoroughly, and with legal force).

Remember that the initial, and continuing, burden of production always remains with the applicant; what the Bruner Presumption merely does is to “shift” some of the weight of the burden of proof over to OPM, and in the event of an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, of placing a Federal Disability Retirement case into a more favorable light with the Administrative Judge.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Actions, Part I

Can adverse agency actions to terminate a Federal employee impact a potential disability retirement application?  The short answer is “yes”, but the longer answer would have to consider multiple factors:  what is the underlying basis of the adverse action?  Does a person’s medical conditions (often psychiatric, cognitive dysfunctions impacting upon less than stellar performance ratings, or perhaps impacting upon the essential elements of one’s job in other ways) explain, in whole or in part, the “adverse” nature of the action?

Also, has there been a “paper trail” established with respect to informing the Agency of medical conditions, such that it can “explain” — again, in whole or in part — the apparent basis of the adverse action?  Is the Agency open to negotiating a material change in the proposed removal — i.e., from one which is adversarial (and therefore would be appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board) to one based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job (with a stipulation that no appeal will be filed, thereby saving the Agency’s time, resource, and personnel).

It is important to “get involved” in the process of any contemplated Agency action — early.  If the Agency puts an employee on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), it is time — in fact, overdue — to become active in the future plans for filing a disability retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: VER, the Economy, & Decisions to Make

The news coming out on the Voluntary Early Retirement offer for Postal employees has not been very positive.  My information has been gathered from multiple sources:  Official Statements from the U.S. Postal Service; “insider information” from Postal employees; various newspaper accounts and website information.  Recent statements from the APWU President, of course, sheds further light on the matter.  Mr. Burrus warns (wisely, in my opinion) that, in this “uncertain economy, there is no reason to make a hasty decision.”  That is certainly true.  The loss of potential future income over a period of years or decades should be considered; the one sector of the economy which seems to be expanding at an alarming pace is the Federal government, and if the Federal government is unwilling to let AIG and banks fail, then surely it will not allow the Postal Service to self-destruct.  Now, with respect to Federal and Postal employees who must, because of medical conditions which impact his or her ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, a decision to file for disability retirement benefits is a pragmatic one:  either disability retirement, or risk being terminated because of the continuing decline in performance and ability to complete the essential elements of the position.  An offer of a VER without financial incentives — taking into account what an individual will lose in benefits, pay increases, etc. over the next decade or two — is not a very attractive offer.  Any such VER should be considered carefully.  On the other hand, disability retirement is a different matter:  It is a pragmatic decision to accept the fact that one has a medical condition such that you cannot perform the particular kind of job you hold, anymore.  It is a decision that it may be the right time to “move on” — bad economy or not.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Lawless Supervisor

Every now and then (or perhaps more often than we like to think) a Supervisor will fill out the SF 3112B (Supervisor’s Statement) with such venom and innuendo and half-truths, as to make the disability retirement applicant out to be John Gotti’s half-brother and reincarnate of the conceptual paradigm of the greatest incompetent the Federal Government has ever seen (next to the Supervisor himself, of course). Or, it will state that the applicant has been “under investigation”, or that he/she has “mislead” the Agency, or other such half-truth, unsubstantiated allegation.

The problem in addressing such a Supervisor’s Statement with the Office of Personnel Management (if, in fact, one has the opportunity to address the issue before it gets to OPM or, as is more often the case, if the disability retirement application is denied, and the Supervisor’s Statement is referenced in the initial decision of denial), is the following: If you address it too forcefully, or emphasize it, then you are in danger of focusing the “fight” on the truth or falsity of what the Supervisor has said. In other words, you have essentially allowed the Supervisor to win the fight by shifting your focus upon the venom of the Supervisor.

It is more likely the wiser course of action to grant minimal attention to the Supervisor’s Statement; give it the due response it deserves, addressing the falsity of the statement, and how it is entirely unsubstantiated; and, sometimes, express outrage that OPM would have even considered such scandalous charges when it has been unverified; then focus most of the attention upon the validity and force of the Medical Narrative Report that accompanies the disability retirement application.

For, after all, always remember that this is a “Medical Disability Retirement Application” — with the emphasis upon “medical”, and not “Supervisor”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire