U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
Employees' Compensation Appeals Board
Washington, D.C. 20210
The Board's Function
I. Board Composition
The Employees' Compensation Appeals Board (Board) was created by Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1946 (60 Stat. 1095), effective July 16, 1946. The Board is a three member quasi-judicial body which has been delegated exclusive jurisdiction by Congress to hear and make final decisions on appeals from determinations of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (Office) in claims of federal employees arising under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA). The Board is independent of the Office and its jurisdiction is strictly appellate and extends to questions of fact and law. The Board's decisions are binding upon the Office and must be accepted and acted upon by the Director.
II. Scope of FECA Coverage
Congress, in enacting the FECA, provided a statutory waiver of the sovereign immunity of the United States Government for injuries arising out of the performance of a federal employee's job activities. In turn, the Board has been delegated the ultimate responsibility for interpretation of the statute. The FECA provides payment of disability compensation for wage loss or permanent physical impairment, medical care, and vocational rehabilitation for employment-related injuries sustained by Federal civilian employees. In the case of death, the FECA provides compensation for their dependents. Currently, there are approximately 3.2 million civilian federal employees covered by the Act. Further, Congress has amended the statute to extend federal workers' compensation coverage to state and local law enforcement officers who are injured or killed while apprehending, or attempting to prevent or apprehend, individuals suspected of committing crimes against the United States. In addition, coverage under the Act includes noncitizen and nonresident employees who are employed abroad by agencies of the United States Government. The Board's jurisdiction extends to review of employees of sensitive agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Handling of these cases requires the utmost security and discretion on the part of the Board members.
III. Responsibility for Precedent
In light of the vast coverage extended under the FECA, the Board has the responsibility to establish a sound body of case precedent in the interpretation of the statute, implementing regulations, and procedures adopted by the Office in order to provide guidance to the Office and practicing bar in the administration and processing of federal workers' compensation claims. The Board is also required, in particular circumstances, to interpret foreign laws and treaties of the United States relating to workers' compensation and the laws of the various states relating to such matters as marriage, divorce, and dependency. The final responsibility for interpreting the FECA and its amendments rests ultimately with the Board.
IV. Board Functions
The Board reviews all relevant questions of law and fact and questions involving the exercise of discretion. The decisions of the Board are based upon a full review of the case record upon which the Office rendered its decision to deny, award, or modify compensation benefits. In this regard, the Board conducts a de novo review of the case and is not limited to the terms of the Office decision appealed from. The Board makes its own independent judgment of the relevant facts in an effort to reach a fair disposition of the issues supportable on the record. As an appellate body, however, the Board is precluded from reviewing any evidence which was not before the Office at the time of its review of the claim. The Board, through its written decisions, has the responsibility for definitively interpreting the FECA in the resolution of controversies raised on appeal and in such a manner as will fully protect the rights of all interested parties. The written decisions of the Board set forth the relevant facts of each claim, evaluate the facts in terms of applicable workers' compensation law, and may direct corrective action or discretionary relief depending on the merits of the case. The Board holds in excess of 60 appellate oral arguments each year.
V. Specific Areas of Law
The subject matter presented on appeals to the Board often involves novel legal and factual questions unique to the field of workers' compensation. In addition, the information contained in the case records involve review of highly technical areas of science and medicine. The Board has seen a dramatic increase in the number of appeals involving controversial matters such as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS); occupational exposure to potential carcinogenic chemicals or other agents, such as asbestos or low level radiation; emotional conditions; and repetitive motion injuries. The determination of the etiology of certain diseases or medical conditions, i.e. the causal relationship of a federal worker's employment to the development or progression of his or her illness, is one of the most complex aspects of the Board's review of a claim. A substantial number of cases involve physical or emotional conditions whose origins are obscure and uncertain in the field of medicine and occupational health. Due to the vast numbers of civilian federal workers and the many capacities in which they are employed, e.g. from manual laborers, air traffic controllers, intelligence agents, scientific researchers, to law enforcement officers, the nature of injuries sustained are often vastly different from those generally faced by state workers' compensation agencies. For this reason, the Board's decisions often establish case precedent on the cutting edge of medical and scientific knowledge.
VI. Impact of Board Decisions
The Board's decisions establish case precedent and become part of the general corpus of Workers' Compensation Law. The Board's decisions have been cited to in other court decisions and by generally recognized authorities such as Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law and Horovitz on workers' compensation. In cases involving dependency issues, the Board must also determine the relevancy of state laws involving marriage and divorce or family law as it pertains to adoption and custody. In the cases of noncitizen employees of the United States, the Board must review the laws, regulations, and customs of foreign nations and United States treaties which are applicable in determining benefits under the FECA.
In addition to serving as precedent in the field of workers' compensation, the rulings of the Board are of national scope as compared to state decisions and have a widespread impact. The decisions of the Board, in broadening or restricting benefits to civil employees, affect millions of federal employees in the performance of their jobs and the industry practices maintained or developed by federal employing agencies. In turn, the decisions of the Board impact the expenditure of billions of dollars from the Federal Treasury. Costs of workers’ compensation charged back to federal employing agencies for the period ending fiscal year 2015 totaled $2,987,000,000.00. It is generally recognized that benefits under the FECA in amount, duration and scope are among the highest under any workers' compensation statute. For this reason, appeals before the Board are often vigorously contested, extensively briefed, appellant's represented by able private counsel or union representation, and oral arguments conducted in response to specific requests. For this reason, the Board's administrative office processes many requests from the private bar and labor unions for copies of Board decisions as they are issued. Due to budgetary cutbacks, the Board is not able to publish every written decision. Therefore, great care is spent on selecting those decisions which represent important case precedent for inclusion in the Board's annual volume of published decisions. In addition, individual cases before the Board in overpayment and termination of benefit cases may involve the disposition of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
1) The Board was reorganized and transferred to the Department of Labor in 1950. See Reorganization Plan No. 19 of 1950, 64 Stat. 1272.; 3 C.F.R. 1949-53 Comp., p. 1010. The Board is a separate and distinct agency from the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs. The Federal Employees' Compensation Act (5 U.S.C. §§ 8101 et seq.) is the exclusive remedy for Federal employees who sustain injury or disease in the course of their employment. See Clinton K. Yingling, Jr., 4 ECAB 529 (1952).
3) Anthony Greco, 3 ECAB 84 (1949). The decisions of the Board are final upon the expiration of 30 days from the date of its decision or order. See 20 C.F.R. § 501.6(d); Hugo A. Mentink, 9 ECAB 628 (1958). The subject matter of the appeal is res judicata and, in the absence of a claimant seeking further review by the Office, is not subject to further consideration by the Board.
4) As noted by Larson in his treatise Workmen's Compensation Law, the ultimate social philosophy behind compensation liability is to provide, in the most efficient and dignified manner, financial and medical benefits for victims of work-connected injuries. Section 2.20. Workmen's compensation statutes are remedial legislation and should be liberally construed in favor of the employee. Pearl Phillips Parker (George Tom Parker), 9 ECAB 200 (1956).
6) See Clara Anne Anderson, 5 ECAB 42 (1952). In this regard, the work of the Board must be distinguished from other administrative appellate bodies which are bound by the factual determinations made by a lower reviewing authority.
8) In addition to ensuring that the claimant for compensation has his case examined and judged correctly, the Board has the duty to insure that procedural due process rights have not been violated and that the final decision is just.
9) Among the subject areas of workers' compensation reviewed by the Board are issues concerning abandonment of hearings; abuse of discretion of the Office; attorney fee approval; back injuries; burden of proof; cancers or tumors; computation of pay; death benefit claims; dependency determinations; emotional conditions; exposure to asbestos, chemicals, radiation or other toxic materials; forfeitures of compensation; hearing loss; heart conditions; local law enforcement officer claims; overpayments of compensation; performance of duty; pulmonary and respiratory conditions; refusal to accept suitable work; schedule awards; statute of limitations; suicide; suspension of compensation benefits; termination of compensation benefits; vocational rehabilitation; and loss of wage-earning capacity determinations.
10) In construing similar provisions of the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, the Board will give considerable weight to the logical and reasonable conclusions reached by Federal and State courts, see Viola Davidson (John O. Lynch), 4 ECAB 260 (1951); however, the Board has noted that the decisions of other administrative agencies or courts are not binding on whether an individual is disabled under the FECA, see Constance G. Mills, 40 ECAB 317 (1988).
11) See, e.g., Mary Bee McCabe, 35 ECAB 218 (1983); Marolyn M. Videto (William R. Videto), 23 ECAB 207 (1972); Patrice Newkirk (Maurice D. Newkirk), 18 ECAB 254 (1966); Jo Ann Ensor (Mark Townsend Ensor), 9 ECAB 260 (1957).
13) Information taken from the OWCP Annual Report to the Congress, submitted 2017. https://www.dol.gov/owcp/AnnualReportOWCPFY201320142015.pdf