“We are living in unprecedented and uncertain times.” By now, you have likely heard this ad nauseum, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that we are collectively concerned about the future. Whether it be a volatile economy, furlough fears, or the spread of a novel virus, we are all concerned about how the future might look. As a federal employee, you have a valuable benefits package available to you, and now is the time to understand how to use them when you need them most.
Let’s take a brief look at 7 different benefits that can serve you well during these difficult times. Whether you are still working or are an injured/ill no longer able to work, you have options to ensure a more secure future. Read on, weigh each option appropriately and see if it can positively affect your specific situation.
Sick and Annual Leave (S&A)
Sick and Annual Leave is the first and simplest option available to federal employees. This route would allow you to distance yourself from your workplace and continue to receive the benefit of full pay for the time away from work. This benefit will let you miss up to the amount of time that you have in your bank of hours saved.
Additionally, you can tap into the donated leave bank of hours as well. However, using these hours must be due to illness. Borrowing hours both from the agency and from donated hours should be carefully considered based on your specific situation.
If you are sick or at risk, using sick and annual leave to distance yourself from your work environment and potential health risks are recognized as a valid and viable option.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Family and Medical Leave Act can be an excellent option for people who are needing to take off time from work for up to 12 weeks. While this is an unpaid benefit, it can give you the necessary leave from work to take care of yourself, a spouse, child, or parent without risk of termination or losing health benefits. Additionally, FMLA can be used in conjunction with Sick and Annual Leave, FFCRA, and Leave Without Pay (LWOP) to maximize the allowable leave time.
Remember, this secures your position while you are away. Once you return from FMLA leave, you must be returned to the same position or an equivalent position with equivalent benefits, pay, status, and other terms and conditions of employment.
Each federal employee who is thinking about using FMLA at this time should check carefully, their agency’s guidelines for using FMLA and follow accordingly.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
In addition to the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Department of Labor (DOL) has enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This new program is available to all federal employees and allows employees to take an additional 2 weeks of paid leave for any qualifying reason.
The FFRCA will pay 100% of the regular rate of pay for reasons 1-3 below, and 2/3 of the regular rate of pay for reasons 4 and 6 below.
- You are subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID- 19;
- You have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
- You are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking a medical diagnosis;
- You are caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2);
- You are caring for your child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) due to COVID-19 related reasons
- You are experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
If you are a federal employee that has made contributions to your Thrift Savings Plan, you can access your retirement savings funds in times of need. Remember, any TSP contribution you make is your money. If you are in an emergency, where financial assistance is needed, you can utilize these funds to help.
In 2019, the TSP Modernization Act created a new online platform for easier access and allowed more withdrawals, giving you greater flexibility to from which to use your funds. Read our recent article highlighting the important changes from the TSP Modernization Act: https://www.federaldisability.com/blog/2019/09/the-tsp-modernization-act-cheatsheet/
It’s important to note that there are different situational stipulations for withdrawal, and these should be considered when choosing how to withdrawal from these funds. The people at the TSP offices are friendly and knowledgeable by reputation. If you find yourself in a situation where you need financial assistance regardless of the reason, calling the agency representatives at TSP can be an excellent way to get a clear path set out of how to utilize your money.
Temporary or Long-term Reasonable Accommodations (RAs)
Many federal employees have real, honest needs based on injury/illness that need to be considered by their employing agency. If you are one of these employees, the Reasonable Accommodations process can provide concessions that will allow you to have much-needed peace of mind and relief during difficult times.
Federal employees can ask and obtain RAs with concern for and cause by a medical condition(s). With Dr and Healthcare Professional support for the accommodations requested, the probability of approval is much higher. However, the ultimate approval for such requests is entirely at the agency’s discretion. Some examples of accommodations that are common are the following: a separate workspace, complete remote work capabilities, ergonomic work station (i.e., mouse, desk, chair…etc), coming in at different hours, working part-time hours, etc.
Currently, the federal government is being notably lenient on granting certain kinds of accommodations upon request due to COVID19. The federal government is also making certain types of accommodations and concessions mandatory, such as telework flexibilities both as partial and full-time telework (dependent on position and agency).
If you have been waiting to file for much-needed accommodations, now may be the right time to ask for those.
OWCP Federal Workers Compensation & FERS Federal Disability Retirement
The Federal Workers’ Compensation and Federal Disability Retirement benefits are specifically for injured or disabled federal employees and can bring much-needed peace-of-mind during difficult times. These benefits offer different kinds of relief and we often find that federal employees are unaware of their eligibility. It’s worth noting that these benefits can be challenging to be approved for. We recommend seeking guidance from a qualified legal representative to assist in obtaining these benefits.
While both of these benefits are intended to aid injured workers, what they offer federal employees is very different.
Federal Workers Compensation
If a federal employee has been hurt on the job in a traumatic event or the injury or illness was caused over the course of employment, then that employee may be eligible for Federal Workers Compensation benefits. The three main benefits that Federal Workers Compensation offers are the following:
1. Reimbursement for Medical Expenses for the life of the injury(s)
2. Wage Loss Payments—Compensation payments for time lost because of doctor appointments, therapies, and/or reduced hours due to medical restrictions. The pay rate is 66 percent of your salary or 75 percent if there are dependents. This is a temporary benefit and it is fully expected that these payments will be cut off at some point by The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP)
3. “Schedule Award” (SA) …This benefit allows for the federal employee to get a form of a settlement for the permanent percentage of loss of function to a body part that is affected by the injury/disease.
The federal employee that may be eligible for the above benefits due to meeting the eligibility for Federal Workers Compensation may also be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement.
Federal Disability Retirement
This program is administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and pays federal workers for a disabling disease or injury regardless of how it was caused or when it was caused, as long as it has worsened while under your tenure as a federal employee under The Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). The main requirement here is that the injury or disease must be keeping you from performing at least one essential requirement of your job.
Federal Disability Retirement is designed to be an annuity that allows you to receive payments until the age of 62. During the time that a federal employee is on Federal Disability Retirement annuity payments, creditable years of service will also continue to accrue. This is important because when your annuity is recalculated at age 62, the creditable years of service accumulated while on the benefit will count towards your final retirement calculation. This means that the annuitant will receive the same pension rate that he or she would have received if they had continued to work all the way until age 62.
The Federal Disability Retirement annuitant is also allowed to work in the private sector, state, or even local government while receiving payments from OPM and earn up to 80% of their original position’s current salary. Additionally, they may maintain their current health and life insurance benefits while on the annuity.
As you can see, these benefits are very different, but it is possible to be approved for both Federal Workers’ Compensation and Federal Disability Retirement. While you cannot receive the Federal Workers’ Compensation wage loss benefit and Federal Disability Retirement annuity payments at the same time, you can receive Federal Workers’ Compensation medical and Schedule Award payments while receiving Federal Disability Retirement annuity benefits at the same time.
Don’t go at this alone. You need the experience and expertise of a qualified individual or team to maximize your benefit opportunities.
The federal benefits outlined here have their pros and cons, but during difficult times, you can use these to find peace of mind and refuge. Some of these benefits require simple actions and processes to be covered by them, while others can be very taxing and difficult to navigate.
Harris Federal Employee Law Firm has been navigating federal benefits for more than two decades. We are prepared to help and assist federal employees in getting approved for their benefits. We have helped thousands of federal employees to get approved for their benefits, and we are here to serve all federal employees who can find peace of mind with benefits coverage and approval.
If you are a federal employee reading this article and you feel that you may need Federal Workers’ Compensation or Federal Disability Retirement assistance, give us a call at 877-226-2723 for a FREE Consultation. Let us help you navigate these often over-complicated and bureaucratic processes, and do what is needed to get you approved for your benefits.