This Double-Dipping Leads to Removal

Continuing to receive worker’s compensation benefits after returning to work with an agency can lead to removal from federal employment.

A recent court ruling sustained the firing of a Walter Reed Army Medical Center Food Service Worker for wrongfully receiving benefits under the Federal Employees Compensation Act. (Bourm v. Department of the Army, C.A.F.C. No. 2006-3326 (non precedent), 12/7/06) Here are the facts as outlined in the court decision:

Ms. Bourm was injured on the job and approved for benefits by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). She remained off the job when she was first approved for benefits. The agency does not contest that Bourm was injured and approved for benefits. But the agency does contend that Bourm received benefits to which she was not entitled once she returned to work.

Apparently one issue in Bourm’s case was whether she was informed that she could not continue to receive benefits once she returned to work. Bourm in fact returned to her Army position full-time but she continued to receive OWCP benefits for more than a year after that. The agency argued it had informed her that she was not entitled to do this. Bourm argued that the agency failed to notify her that she could not keep the benefits and that she kept the benefits due to an honest mistake on her part.

The Merit System Protection Board’s Administrative Judge found that Bourm was told that she was not entitled to receive benefits once she returned to work. The court did not disagree.

Bourm raised several additional arguments to the court, including that the agency had failed to establish nexus and had failed to show what was either illegal or wrongful about her keeping the benefits. These various arguments did not impress the court, which sustained the Board’s decision affirming her removal.

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.