In May 2013, a group of federal disability attorneys belonging to the OWCP Litigation Group met in Washington, D.C. for a two day seminar on federal workers compensation. Dan Goodkin of the firm Steven E. Brown, PLC presented on two topics, Strategies for Emotional or Stress Claims in the Federal Workplace and a second lecture on Interactions Between FECA Claims and EEO Complaints/ MSPB Appeals. The conference was attended by many of the most well known and respected federal disability lawyers in the country and included a discussion panel with the Chief Judge of the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board.
Emotional claims, often referred to as stress claims, under the federal employees’ compensation act can often be very complicated and difficult cases to win. Many federal disability attorneys avoid stress claims or claims for an emotional condition as they tend to be contentious, difficult claims to win. Federal agencies are likely to challenge any claim that alleges wrongdoing on the part of the agency or its employees. As anyone who has searched for an attorney who handles FECA claims knows, there are very few federal disability lawyers and even fewer who will represent claimants in stress claims.
Many things that occur in the federal workplace are not covered under FECA. For example, administrative actions, such as disciplinary actions, monitoring employee behavior and bad performance appraisals are not covered under FECA unless the claimant can prove error or abuse on the part of the agency. This is difficult as the burden is on the claimant to prove that the action was erroneous or abusive by providing evidence that consists of more than the claimant’s allegation. Typically, OWCP will look to see if another administrative body, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Merit Systems Protection Board has entered a finding of discrimination or has overturned the disciplinary action, or if the administrative action was found to have violated a collective bargaining agreement as the result of a union grievance. Absent an administrative finding of wrongdoing, many stress or emotional claims fail if the basis of the claim was an administrative activity.
An outline of activities in the workplace that are covered under FECA, and those that are not, is included below for download.