The following is an article from Attorney Robert R. McGill written exclusively for PostalReporter:
There was a time when the U.S. Postal Service worked in conjunction with the Department of Labor (under FECA/OWCP) to keep hard-working Postal employees who were injured on the job, with offers of modified duties to retain a productive workforce. It was a time when the USPS was forward-looking; when competition from other companies was of no concern, because the USPS had the most productive workforce and could compete with the best of them. Part of the reason why this was so was because of a conceptual paradigm which is fast disappearing: Loyalty.
Loyalty, as a working corporate model, requires a bilateral conceptual paradigm. By retaining injured workers and providing them with meaningful work in a modified environment and tools, the U.S. Postal Service was daily telling its people: You worked hard for us those many years; we will work with you and remain loyal.
Fast-forward to the present day. Postal Workers who for several years have worked under the Rehabilitation Job Offer Guidelines, are suddenly handed a letter which states: “Notice of No Work Available within the operational needs of the service.” The letter goes on to delineated the fact that such determination of unavailability of work is based upon a “comprehensive review” of the USPS operational needs and comparing them to the current medical documentation of the injured Postal Employee. What is missing in this “new” paradigm? Does this reflect an organization which looks to its competitors with a positive view to challenging them in the marketplace? Does it value its employees? Does it engender a desire on the part of its workforce to work harder, be more competitive, and to expend all efforts to the point of excellence? Or, does it act like a wounded animal, fearful of its own shadow, and trying to protect its executive-level benefits and perks?
In professional football, how many times have we seen the team try and protect its 3-point lead for the remainder of the game? What inevitably happens?
Under the National Reassessment Program (the “NRP”), the U.S. Postal Service is attempting to validate a methodical paradigm of cutting its workforce by going after everyone who is less than “fully productive”. By doing so, it has destroyed any sense of corporate unity and company loyalty.
The Postal Worker today who is subject to the NRP is left with limited choices. On the one hand, he or she can accept the determination of the U.S. Postal Service that “no work is available”, and go on to file for benefits under FECA/OWCP. However, the Postal Worker must recognize that OWCP is only a temporary system of monetary compensation. Another avenue which the Postal Worker needs to consider is to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. While Federal Disability Retirement benefits do not pay as well as OWCP benefits (generally, 60% of the average of one’s highest-3 consecutive years the first year, then 40% every year thereafter, under FERS; a different calculation under CSRS), it provides for one benefit which FECA/OWCP does not: independence and separation from the government entity.
Loyalty is a dying concept. It was a concept which was alive and well when, once upon a time, companies took the long view, looked to the future, to its continuum of growth and prosperity, and sharing that vision of a bright future with its employees. For the essence of loyalty always encapsulated a sense of the long term – of “being in it together” through prosperous times, as well as challenging times. Of course, even during the primacy of the U.S. Postal Service, Federal Disability Retirement benefits were still there for Postal employees (and similarly for all Federal employees) who could no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. The interesting thing, of course, is that many Postal employees continued to work at modified jobs offers by the U.S. Postal Service, because of their sense of loyalty and commitment.
Indeed, when the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rendered its opinion in the case of Bracey v. Office of Personnel Management, 236 F.3d 1356 (Fed. Cir. 2001) — most Postal employees continued to work at their modified jobs, despite being eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. Bracey is still the prevailing case addressing the issue of accommodations for Federal and Postal employees. It stands for the proposition that a Federal or Postal employee is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits even if he or she works in a “light duty”, modified position which may include “an ad hoc set of light duties” and may even continue “to pay the employee at the same level as before.” (Bracey, 236 F.3d 1356, at p.1362). Thus, while some may argue that the primary reason why injured Postal employees continued to work at the U.S. Postal Service was because the jobs were “easy” and that they couldn’t find a better-paying job elsewhere, the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of Postal Workers continued to work under the Rehabilitation Job Offer Guidelines because of an overriding belief that it was a career worth pursuing.
Loyalty was still a paradigm which Postal Workers believed in. With the implementation of the National Reassessment Program, in conjunction with the deep economic recession which the country is undergoing presently, Postal employees should not feel that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is an act of “disloyalty”. Loyalty, in order for it to retain its meaningful paradigm, must at its core reflect a bilateral proposition. By initiating and implementing the National Reassessment Program, the U.S. Postal Service has abrogated its core pledge of loyalty. As such, the U.S. Postal Worker is left with a unilateral avenue of loyalty – one which must now be viewed with a singular focus: not upon the best interests of the organization that once was – that competitive entity called the U.S. Postal Service; no, rather, that singular focus must be concentrated upon the best interests of the individual Postal Worker. Federal Disability Retirement is an avenue which allows for independence and a foundation of income; it is something to be considered.
Attorney Robert R. McGill specializes in securing Federal Disability Retirement benefits for Federal and Postal workers under both FERS and CSRS. He represents Federal and Postal employees from all across the United States, from the West Coast to the East, and every state in between, as well as Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Europe, Japan, etc. For more information about his legal services, please visit his OPM Disability Retirement and U.S. Postal Service Disability Retirement websites.
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