If you are a federal or postal worker, and you have one or more disabling medical conditions that impair your ability to perform the full spectrum of your duties, you may be eligible for FERS Disability Retirement (FDR). As you may already know, your FDR application must contain form SF 3112D: Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts.
SF 3112D provides vital information about your medical restrictions and the severity of your disabilities. In other words, OPM uses the information provided by your agency to determine whether your medical conditions can be reasonably accommodated. This includes reassignment to a vacant position, which is often referred to as the “accommodation of last resort.” If OPM determines that you can be accommodated and/or reassigned, your claim will most likely be denied.
So, it is imperative for your agency to complete SF 3112D accurately and truthfully. To do so, your agency may ask you to participate in the “Reasonable Accommodation Interactive Process.”
What is the Interactive Process?
Simply put, the Interactive Process is the method by which a disabled employee and his/her employer determine the most appropriate reasonable accommodation(s) for the employee. By definition, a reasonable accommodation must allow the disabled employee to perform ALL essential functions of his/her position of record. The Interactive Process is an ongoing discussion between the employee and the employer, which allows both parties to suggest, evaluate, and implement suitable accommodations.
During the Interactive Process, both parties are expected to act in good faith and commit themselves to finding a suitable accommodation in a reasonable time frame.
Do I Really Need to Participate in the Interactive Process?
If you believe that there is an accommodation that will enable you to perform all essential functions of your position, then initiating the Interactive Process is a no-brainer. You may be thinking, however, “My underlying conditions and symptoms are so severe, there’s no way I can be accommodated.” And you’re probably right. For the majority of applicants with whom I’ve worked, we have been unable to identify any accommodations that are both reasonable and effective.
Does this mean, however, that you should refuse to participate in the Interactive Process if your agency requests you to do so? The short answer is “No.”
I can hear you groaning, and I sympathize. You’re probably envisioning weeks of paperwork and useless interaction with an ensemble of HR folks. If you are proactive, however, you can avoid many of the most common headaches.
Here is some real-world advice I can provide from over 8 years of experience.
Tips for Participating in the Interactive Process
- Be proactive. Before you request SF 3112D from your agency, work closely with your doctor to complete SF 3112C: Physician’s Statement. A well-drafted statement should discuss the severity of your conditions and symptoms and should identify potential reasonable accommodations. If the nature and persistence of your conditions preclude accommodation, this should be clearly stated. Then submit SF 3112C with your request. There is a high likelihood that the agency will expedite or forgo the Interactive Process altogether if it is clearly documented that your medical conditions are too severe to accommodate.
- Follow all directions carefully. In the event the agency does initiate the Interactive Process, they should provide you an overview, which outlines the steps and the responsibilities of each party (i.e., you and the agency). Be fully cooperative, and if there is anything you don’t understand, be sure to ask the agency to clarify. Keep in mind that the agency will ultimately complete SF 3112D, and you don’t want them to report to OPM that they were unable to accommodate you because you failed to participate in the process, as this could harm your FDR claim.
- Keep everything in writing! As the old saying goes, hope for the best and prepare for the worst. That is, hopefully, your agency will complete SF 3112D accurately and truthfully. If they don’t, however, you’ll need to refute their claims with documentation. For example, I recently worked with a federal employee who had fully participated in the Interactive Process, but his agency claimed that he had declined to participate. Luckily for him, he had saved several emails, which clearly documented his participation, and we submitted these as evidence to both the agency and OPM. Even if you have an oral conversation with your supervisor, HR, labor relations, etc., be sure to follow it up with an official email that summarizes and documents your conversation.
As discussed above, you want to cooperate with your agency and follow their IP procedure. If you suspect, however, that your agency is not acting in good faith, don’t hesitate to contact your union representative, attorney, etc. for guidance. I’ve seen too many applicants put blind faith in the agency only to find out that the agency is unfamiliar with the IP concept, or worse, that the agency is deliberately sabotaging the applicant’s FDR claim to serve its own interests. Remember, at the end of the day, the agency is looking out for the agency. They are not looking out for you. You need to look out for you. So don’t be afraid to speak up and be proactive!
I hope you find this information helpful. For similar topics, please visit my Blog and FAQ. Should you ever have questions about your eligibility for FERS Disability Retirement, please contact me to schedule your free 30-minute consultation!