When a postal worker or federal employee applies for disability retirement through OPM under CSRS or FERS, one element that the applicant must show is that their employing Agency has tried, but cannot, accommodate him or her.
To meet this element, the Federal employee or postal worker will need to get a certification from the Agency’s supervisor or HR/ER/LR office. The certification must state that the USPS or Federal agency has reviewed all vacant positions in a reasonable geographic area, and that there are none at the same grade or pay level and tenure in the commuting area that the postal worker or federal employee can perform.
If the HR/ER/LR folks at the USPS or Federal agency are able to locate a vacant position that the applicant can perform with their medical condition and limitations, the employee will not be granted disability retirement.
However, some Federal Agencies, quite frequently the USPS, will assign disabled employees to light duty or limited duty positions and claim that they have accommodated them. For example, the USPS commonly assigns people to the position of “Lobby Director”. In EEO cases, the USPS will take the position that the Lobby Director is not a formal position, and does not qualify as assignment for accommodation purposes. However, I have seen the USPS take the exact opposite position when trying to prevent an employee from securing disability retirement.
So here’s the law. The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has held, following appellate court case law in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, that light duty positions are not vacant positions for the purposes of a disability retirement application. In fact, the Federal Circuit has held that the employee is not accommodated, for disability retirement purposes, if the assignment to a “vacant position” consists of a set of ungraded and/or unclassified duties that have been assigned on an ad hoc basis.
If your employing Federal Agency or the USPS places you in a light or limited duty position, or assigns you a series of ad hoc duties without a position description, you will not be disqualified from receiving disability retirement. Be aware of any Agency supervisors or ER/LR/HR representatives in your Agency that advise you to the contrary.