Many federal employees rest easy knowing they have a disability retirement option in the federal government.
Under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), employees who are unable to perform their job duties due to a medical problem may be eligible for disability retirement.
However, that doesn’t always mean you have a secure financial future.
Most civil servants need additional income to supplement their federal disability payments.
Despite this need, many federal employees choose not to work because they think having another job will make them ineligible for disability retirement benefits. But this raises some important questions.
Can you still work while applying for disability benefits? Can you still work while on disability?
The answer is that you can work while on FERS disability under certain conditions. Read on to learn more about the rules and regulations governing working while on FERS disability.
We’ll separate the myths from the facts so that you can take action to secure your future.
Overview of FERS Disability Retirement
FERS provides a comprehensive retirement and disability program for federal employees, including disability retirement benefits.
You need to fulfill two requirements to be eligible for FERS disability retirement. First, you must have completed at least 18 months of creditable federal civilian service.
Second, you must suffer a disability that makes you unable to successfully perform your job duties.
The second requirement can take some time to complete because agencies will try to provide you with reasonable accommodation first. Your agency may also try to reassign you to another position.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is responsible for processing disability retirement applications and making determinations on eligibility.
An employee approved for FERS disability retirement will receive a monthly annuity payment based on their length of service and the highest three years of average pay.
Can You Still Work While on FERS Disability?
Yes. As OPM itself makes clear, federal employees who receive FERS disability retirement benefits can generally work in the private sector without seeing a loss of their benefits.
That said, there are restrictions on how much income they can earn from their employment.
OPM sees federal employees in either one of two categories. If you are under age 60, OPM will stop paying your disability annuity if they determine you can earn a certain level of income.
That amount is 80% of the current rate of base for the position you had when you retired. OPM will send you a survey form called “Annuitant’s Report of Income.”
In this survey, you must state all income earned from wages and self-employment. If you hit the 80% threshold, you will lose your disability benefits. You won’t lose your benefits immediately.
Instead, you will not receive those benefits for six months after the end of the year that you hit the 80% mark.
There are no earnings limits for federal employees who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in addition to FERS disability retirement benefits.
However, they must still meet the eligibility requirements for both programs and report their earnings to both the OPM and the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Situations That May Cause You to Lose Your Disability Benefits
OPM guidance specifies that you can lose your benefits in several other ways. One trigger for losing benefits is regaining employment in a position similar to your prior federal position.
Another way involves periodic medical reviews. OPM will periodically review your disability eligibility. If they decide to review your case, they will ask you to obtain updated medical paperwork from your doctor.
They will also inquire about your employment status. If your doctor communicates that you no longer have a disability, your disability payments will end.
Furthermore, if you fail to respond to OPM’s requests, they will suspend your disability benefits.
What If I Am Age 60 or Older?
If you are 60 or older, the situation changes significantly. OPM will conduct a periodic medical review only at your request.
Moreover, the 80% threshold mentioned earlier in this article will not apply. That means you can work a private job paying more than your former government job while receiving your disability annuity.
How to File for FERS Disability Retirement
You’ll also need to submit supporting medical documentation and other required forms. You send the application to your agency, which will forward it to OPM for review and determination.
The application process for FERS disability retirement is often complex and time-consuming. Working with an experienced FERS disability retirement lawyer can help ensure your application is successful.
What About CSRS Disability Retirement?
While this article has focused on FERS disability retirement, it’s important to note that it doesn’t cover all federal employees.
A few, more senior employees may fall under the old Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). The CSRS has a separate disability retirement program with its own set of limitations.
Contact us today to learn more about your disability retirement options under the CSRS.
Let Us Help You Overcome Federal Disability Retirement Challenges
If you are a federal employee considering applying for FERS disability retirement, you need legal assistance.
You will probably also benefit from a lawyer if you are on disability retirement benefits and interested in working.
In either scenario, the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, can help. Our experienced attorneys specialize in representing federal employees in a wide range of legal matters.
In addition, we pride ourselves on providing incredible customer service and excellent outcomes. Reach out to us today.