Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Danger of Assuming Terms

Assuming knowledge is generally a dangerous endeavor to begin with; in a legal forum, assuming the meaning of a term can have dire consequences.  “Accommodation”, of course, is a particular term in the field of Federal Disability Retirement law which has a specific, narrow definition.  

Thus, for instance, on SF 3112A, there is a “loaded” question where the applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is asked to choose the various options of one’s current status, and one of the choices provided is, “In pay status, and working with accommodation“.  Such a status is rarely the case, and in all likelihood, does not properly, technically or otherwise apply to anyone who is preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Indeed, if that box is checked, the Office of Personnel Management would have every right to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application on that basis alone, precisely because (A) A Federal or Postal employee who has been accommodated, according to that term of art, is therefore assumed to be able to perform all of the essential elements of his or her job in accordance with the terms of the accommodated position, and (B) Since the Federal or Postal employee who has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits has been accommodated and can perform all of the essential elements of the positional duties, therefore it implicitly acknowledges that the medical condition complained of no longer prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

Terms can have various conceptual meanings depending upon context and circumstances; particular terms may have very narrow definitions; in the field of law, terms of art must be interpreted in the greater context of statutes, regulations, and case-law expansion of meanings and import.  As the commercials often admonish:  don’t try this on your own; leave it to the professionals.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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