Research Notes

Here’s still another “headscratcher” decision issued by the U. S. Department of Labor (USDOL) in its Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) program

A client just came into our office with this one. Back in December the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board (ECAB) issued a decision agreeing with an OWCP decision that found a clerical job suitable for this permanently injured federal worker. The USDOL’s own doctor – incidentally a notoriously anti-claimant doctor – had told them in 2014 that the worker could do the job full-time, but yet on the same page had said he was limited to 2 hours per day of repetitive movements of the wrists and elbows, and 2 hours of pushing and pulling. The job description said it required up to 8 hours per day of all the following: intermittent simple grasping, pushing and pulling, and fine manipulation using a keyboard.

But USDOL/OWCP ignored this discrepancy and terminated wage-loss benefits in July 2014. Later, in December 2014, the employer “clarified” that actually its own position description was wrong, and the required keyboard use was just “occasional”. But for these purposes “occasional” is defined as up to 1/3 of the day, or about 2-2/3 hours, which would still be more than OWCP’s doctor had said the employee could do.

You would think that someone at USDOL would have noticed that the employee’s capabilities – even the capabilities as measured by their own choice of doctor – did not match the physical requirements of the job they had found suitable.

The employee filed an appeal with ECAB in Washington DC. The ECAB, which is supposed to independently evaluate the evidence and render a new decision unshackled by the way OWCP handled the case, missed these glaring problems too.

Now, months later, the employee is forced into the position of having to explain the obvious – that he can’t handle the physical requirements of a clerical job with his severe limitations on use of his wrists and elbows, etc. , and that the evidence in the file already proves that. All this time since 2014 he has been
without any wage-loss benefits because of USDOL’s mishandling of his claim.

One wonders what the claims examiners at OWCP and the lawyers at ECAB were doing when they were supposed to be reading this file and making a fair decision. Unfortunately, decisions like this are common in this supposedly “non-adversarial” system of workers’ compensation.

NOTE: Legislative proposals affecting FECA remain pending in both houses of Congress. No action has been taken on them, but the Postal Service’s continuing financial woes may again bring postal reform, and with it proposed FECA “deform” legislation, to the attention of Congress.

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