Last Updated on February 20, 2009 by Federal Disability Lawyer
As I stated in my previous blog, OWCP is not a retirement system. Instead, it is meant to return an injured worker back to productivity with his or her agency. This is done through means of providing for medical treatments; paying the Federal employee temporary total disability benefits during the time of treatment and recuperation; then, if the Federal or Postal employee is unable to return to the former position in full capacity, to offer a “modified position” to the employee. At each step in the process of OWCP/DOL, the onerous and burdensome hand of the process becomes clear — for, if at any time, the employee refuses to follow the mandates given by OWCP, the real threat of having one’s temporary compensation suddenly terminated is always a possibility.
Thus, in accepting OWCP benefits, there is a clear trade-off: tax free compensation for the price of being completely governed by OWCP. Then, when the modified job offer is given, you have no choice but to accept it, in whatever form, and must be accepted “as is” — otherwise, your temporary total disability payments will be terminated. Remember, however, that accepting such a position does NOT preclude you from filing for disability retirement benefits, because the case-law governing Federal Disability Retirement has a “safety” feature: in order to be considered a legally viable “accommodation” under the law, the modified job that is offered and accepted must have been one which was previously in existence, and vacant. It cannot be your old job slot, modified by a piece of paper prepared by your agency and the Department of Labor. It must be a true job.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire
I am a representative of AFGE who has specialized in workers’ comp for many years. In fact, I filed for it for myself and won. I have yet to lose a workers’ comp case. It is not true that a disabled employee must acccept an unsuitable modified job offer. If the employee’s doctor puts in writing that the employee cannot do the work described in the offer without suffering further pain or injury, OWCP will find the offer to be unsuitable and the benefits will continue. OWCP, unlike private insurance companies, does not profit by cutting people off. The employing agencies have to pay the costs out of their own budgets. Neither OWCP offices nor their employees are rated on the numbers of people approved or denied workers’ comp. The reason most claims end badly is that doctors do not receive a thorough explanation of all the job entails or do not state what accommodations the employee needs in enough detail.
For example, a manager at the Social Security Administration recently tried to do away with accommodations saying that the doctor said the employee could do “light duty” and there was no heavy lifting on the job, that the job was sedentary. The employee, like many at SSA had bi-lateral carpal tunnel syndrome from typing information into a computer all day every day. “Light duty” for her meant not having to do so much typing. It is necessary to get the doctor to describe what he/she means by “light duty.”