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Guide to Disability Benefits Under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS)

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The Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) is the primary retirement plan for federal employees. Congress created this plan in 1986 to replace the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), which had existed since 1920. FERS covers all employees who joined the federal service on and after January 1, 1987. One of the most important components of FERS is its disability benefits. 

If you are an injured or disabled federal employee, it’s critical for you to understand the disability benefits that FERS offers. It is also essential for you to understand the amount of compensation that you may potentially obtain.

Is FERS the Same as CSRS?

Many people ask whether FERS offers them the same disability benefits as CSRS. The answer is that the two systems have significant differences. For one, CSRS disability benefits are calculated differently than FERS disability benefits. 

Furthermore, CSRS only has one component—an annuity. FERS consists of three parts:

  • The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP);
  • Social security benefits; and
  • An annuity. 

The tax consequences of each retirement plan are also different.

Which Federal Employees Are Eligible for FERS Disability Benefits?

To be eligible for FERS disability benefits, you must have:

  • Finished at least 18 months of Federal service;
  • Become disabled because of a medical condition that prevents you from performing the essential functions of your position; and 
  • Applied for social security disability benefits. 

On top of all that, your disability must be expected to last at least one year. 

Your federal employer plays a significant role in this process as well. Specifically, your federal employer must demonstrate that it attempted to accommodate your disability within your current position. It must also show that it looked for and failed to find any other jobs you could perform with your disability.

There are two important things that you do not need to demonstrate to be eligible for FERS. First, you do not need to show that your disability prevents you from performing all work. You only need to demonstrate that it makes you unable to perform your position of record with or without reasonable accommodations. 

Second, you do not need to show that your medical disability resulted from your job.

How Can I Calculate the Amount of My Benefits? 

To calculate your FERS disability benefits amount, you first need to determine the highest average basic pay you earned during any consecutive three- year period in your federal career. This figure is called the “high-3” average salary

Most federal employees receive their high-3 average salary during the final three years of their career. However, you can use an earlier period of time if you received a pay cut near the end of your career. 

Once you know your high-3 average salary, you can calculate your disability benefits in one of two different ways based on your age and years of service. 

If you are over 62 and have 20 or more years of service, your disability benefits equal 1.1% of your high-3 average salary multiplied by the number of years you worked.

If you are older than 62 with fewer than 20 years of service, or under 62, you will receive just 1.0% of your high-3 average salary multiplied by the number of years of service.

Two Examples for Calculating FERS Disability Benefits


Let’s look at a couple of examples to show you how this process works.

Example 1: Fred’s high-3 average salary is $100,000. He is 65 years old and has 35 years of federal service.

Therefore, he can use 1.1% of his high-3 average salary. 1.1% of $100,000 is $1,100. $1,100 times 35 equals $38,500. Therefore, Fred will receive $38,500 a year in FERS disability benefits.

Example 2: John’s high-3 average salary is also $100,000. He is 50 years old and has 20 years of service. Because of this, he can only use 1.0% of his high-3 average salary when calculating his disability benefits. 1.0% of $100,000 is $1,000. $1,000 multiplied by 20 equals $20,000.

Therefore, John will get $20,000 a year in FERS disability benefits.

One final note. If you are less than 62 years old, your FERS disability benefits get reduced by the amount of any social security benefits you receive during the first 12 months of your disability retirement. After 12 months, your disability benefits get reduced by 60% of any social security benefits you receive.

How Can I Apply for FERS Disability Benefits?

You must do several things to apply for FERS disability benefits. First, you must complete Standard Form (SF) 3107, titled “Application for Immediate Retirement.” You must also complete SF 3112, titled “Documentation In Support of Disability Retirement.“ Although completing these forms may sound daunting, the good news is that your employing
agency will help you complete them. Your employer can also provide you with advice on what to include in your application package. Finally, your employer will forward your completed application package to OPM, the federal agency responsible for processing disability retirement applications.

If you are less than 62 years old, you also need to show whether you have applied for social security disability benefits after you separate from federal service. You can learn more about applying for FERS disability benefits here.

What Do I Do If the Government Denies My Application for FERS Disability Benefits? 

Your best choice is to contact a qualified federal employment attorney. Federal employment attorneys can evaluate why the government denied your application for disability benefits.  They can also assess whether the government was right in denying your claim. Moreover, a federal employment attorney can protect your rights to disability by appealing your denial of benefits.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Aaron Wersing is the founder of The Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC. His practice
focuses on assisting federal employees with a wide variety of litigation and transactional matters.


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Can a Federal Job Guarantee Unite the Left?

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As left-wing economic policy proposals go, a federal job guarantee has never quite reached prime time status, despite the fact that the underlying idea has been around since at least 1944, when President Franklin Roosevelt proposed it as part of his ?“Economic Bill of Rights.” Now, with Democrats in control of the federal government and as the nation tries to emerge from the economic devastation of the pandemic, a progressive coalition led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D?Mass.) is attempting to push a job guarantee into the political mainstream. 

Two weeks ago, Pressley introduced a resolution in Congress calling on the federal government to create a job guarantee program, run through the Labor Department, that would provide a job to anyone who wants one. (The fact that she introduced a resolution rather than a bill is a sign that this is just the beginning of a long process of building political support.) She frames the job guarantee as a powerful racial justice policy, citing the work of Sadie Alexander, the first black economics Ph.D. in America; of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who called for a job guarantee more than 50 years ago; and of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, who both championed the idea. 

“The March on Washington has been, for most, just defined by the ?‘I Have a Dream’ speech. But it was a march for jobs and freedom,” Pressley said. ?“It’s time, if we’re really serious about a reckoning, that we enter into a third reconstruction to truly have a robust and just recovery from this pandemic, and a federal job guarantee should be a part of that. Economic justice is racial justice.” 

Pressley’s proposal would provide jobs paying at least $15 an hour, and offering standard benefits like health insurance and paid sick leave. She floats a number of examples of projects that could be accomplished by people employed in the program, including child and senior care, added school staffing, infrastructure and community projects, disaster relief, environmental sustainability work, and a revival of the WPA’s Depression-era public employment projects for artists and writers. While other grand economic reforms, like universal basic income, are often presented as replacements for our current structure of government benefits, Pressley is emphatic that the jobs guarantee would be purely an expansion?—??”a supplement to, not a substitute for”?—?our current social safety net and unemployment insurance. 

One alluring quality of a job guarantee is that it could fit snugly together with almost any other progressive priority. Its army of workers could improve public education and public healthcare. It could serve as the jobs program for Green New Deal projects. And given the correlation of poverty, unemployment and race in America, it would automatically have the effect of attacking the economic inequities that have only been exacerbated by the job losses and health impacts of coronavirus. 

“We just saw those very sobering jobs numbers come out. And they really prove the old adage: That when white America gets a cold, black folks get pneumonia,” Pressley said. ?“That is as literal as it is metaphorical. It’s true when it comes to Covid. It’s true when it comes to how our economy works.” 

A federal job guarantee would effectively serve to set the floor on the labor market?—?private employers would have to raise their pay and benefits to match or exceed those of the government in order to attract any employees. Seen in this light, it could be extremely attractive to labor unions: They would no longer have to fight to win anything less than what was provided by the government’s own jobs. 

“If you do a job guarantee correctly, and you build in certain requirements, you are setting a standard. It’s a little bit like having a minimum wage. You’ve got to lift the floor to raise the roof. You don’t want to have to be competing with the absolute lowest standard of work,” says Sara Nelson, the head of the Association of Flight Attendants and a vocal supporter of the policy. ?“What you legislate, you don’t have to negotiate.” 

Many unions spend time and effort fighting for diversity and against discrimination in the workplace, but Nelson points out that Pressley’s policy could stamp much of this discrimination in one fell swoop. ?“If you have an assumed rate of unemployment, that means you are not selecting people for certain jobs. And that gives room for discrimination,” Nelson says. A policy eliminating that accepted unemployment rate ?“doesn’t give any space for discrimination. It helps to close that racial and gender gap.” 

Nelson also points out that the federal job guarantee could be another way to achieve some of the provisions of the PRO Act—a bill that would radically improve America’s current labor laws and is a top priority of unions, but which is unlikely to pass in Congress unless the filibuster is done away with. The prospect of using a job guarantee to raise labor standards that have languished for decades could be an attractive incentive for organized labor to flock to the issue as its profile grows. 

As the public perception of what is ?“radical” continues to shift, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that a job guarantee could be the rare policy that naturally unites labor, environmentalists and racial justice activists all at once. Still, it will not advance in Washington without answering the inevitable ?“How will you pay for it?” question. The economist Darrick Hamilton estimated in 2015 that a federal job guarantee would have an all-in cost of around $50,000 per job?—?$750 billon to employ the 15 million unemployed at the peak of the Great Recession, though far less during normal years. That is a large number, but it is comparable to the U.S. defense budget, and less than half of the current coronavirus relief bill now making its way through Congress. 

Considering the far-reaching economic and social benefits that the elimination of unwanted unemployment would provide, that might be a bargain. And, as Pressley points out, the cost is a matter of perspective. ?“The reality,” she says, ?“is that we’re already paying for not having this policy.” 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on March 3, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere.


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Overcoming Inequality in Unemployment Benefit Access and Utilization

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History may not repeat itself but it certainly rhymes. Today’s unemployed Black workers face a system of unequal state policies and practices that were created after the Civil War to maintain white supremacy and prevent Black Americans from obtaining wealth. These discriminatory policies drive enormous and persistent wage and wealth gaps, as well as the ongoing exclusion of Black workers from the benefits, rights, and protections we all deserve.

A reckoning is due.

Early in the pandemic, Working America — an organization that mobilizes working-class people to take action on pocketbook issues — partnered with policy experts at the National Employment Law Project, with the support of Open Society Foundations, to address a portion of this legacy: the unequal distribution of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Black workers are not only more likely to be unemployed during the pandemic but much less likely to receive UI. Law, policy, and practice may be the problems, but the solution begins with mobilization. 

Money Changes Everything

It’s no secret that the United States has a history of exploiting Black workers. But the extent to which one can draw a direct line between the current unemployment crisis and the history of enslavement is staggering. Throughout America’s history, Black Americans, especially in rural communities, have been subjected to discriminatory laws and policies aimed at keeping them from achieving economic parity with white workers.

Unemployment insurance is a good example. The program was designed so that not all workers would be eligible for benefits — including lower-paid workers, workers with short periods of employment, seasonal workers, and workers in industries that tend to be more highly populated by people of color, such as domestic and agricultural work. As a result, many Black workers don’t expect to be eligible for benefits and, therefore, never apply. Why apply just to be denied? 

The lowest UI benefit levels are in southern states with large Black populations. In states such as North Carolina and Florida, for example, fewer than 12 percent of jobless individuals received unemployment benefits last year. When workers in many southern states do get UI, the benefits are so low that they would barely cover the essentials. The maximum weekly benefit in Florida and Tennessee is $275; in Alabama, it’s $265; in Arizona, it’s $240; and in Mississippi, it’s $235. 

Black workers are far less likely to receive UI even when they apply for benefits. In a survey our organizations conducted in July, a majority of Black workers responded that they had exhausted their savings; nearly two-thirds admitted that they were now going without necessities. In comparison, only one in four white workers said they had exhausted their savings and only one in five admitted to skipping necessities.

A major reason for this disparity was workers’ ability to access UI. An analysis by Nyanya Browne and William Spriggs of Howard University and the AFL-CIO found that, “Just 13 percent of Black people out of work from April to June received unemployment benefits, compared with 24 percent of white workers, 22 percent of Latinx workers and 18 percent of workers of other races.” What’s more, 30 percent of Black adults who filed for unemployment benefits did not receive their payments. 

The difficulties people of color — and Black people in particular — have in accessing UI are systemic and ongoing. It isn’t only that most UI systems create barriers to access, including insufficient staffing, outdated web systems, and lack of adequate explainers for claimants. Individuals with uncommon or ethnic names were more likely to be denied benefits they were entitled to. This is not a function of law or policy but of individual people practicing discriminatory conduct. This practice robs individuals and their families of the meager economic safety net our society provides, putting them at a disadvantage that is hard to recover from. That is a lot of historical rhyming.

Changing the UI Experience

Working America and NELP partnered on this project to understand the problems with UI access and utilization for Black workers, use our available toolset to mitigate harm, and assist eligible workers in enrolling in UI. For this project, Working America is leveraging its digital organizing capacity and clinical testing know-how to boost UI utilization rates among Black workers using targeted text messages, email, and phone calls that can reach three million people a week.

Listening is the key to all good organizing, so we began our project by reaching out to 14,531 workers. Our goal was to document their experiences with the unemployment system, their attitudes toward the system, and their knowledge of the application process.

A full 53 percent of people told us that they or someone in their households had lost a job as a result of the pandemic. That number rose to 68 percent when we asked them about their friends.

Ayana, a 46-year-old Westland, Michigan, resident working in health care, said, “My friends, neighbors, and family members all have had to apply to UI … They all had technical difficulties [when applying]. It seemed like no one could ever talk to a live person.”

Keshia, a 44-year-old Greensboro, North Carolina, resident who works in human resources, said, “My sister lost her job in the medical field. She had to wake up very, very early, like 3:00 a.m., in order to apply through the online portal. Otherwise, it would be so slow it wouldn’t work. She was denied because there was some discrepancy with her name and had to keep going back and forth, but she eventually got it.”

Through conversations like these, we diagnosed several problems.

First, there was a clear geographic disparity. In southern states, problems were borne of deliberate policy choices that continue the long legacy of structural racism, including restrictive eligibility and low benefit levels. In addition, those living in rural counties faced greater difficulty accessing benefits than those living in urban areas. Even with Working America’s help, unemployed Black Americans in rural communities waited seven-to-eight days longer than unemployed white and Latinx Americans to receive benefits. 

Second, most people we spoke to were not aware of program eligibility rules and benefits. This was one of the primary reasons that they did not apply for benefits. Further, many saw their hours reduced rather than being laid off; these workers were often unaware that they were eligible for unemployment benefits.

In addition to these informal conversations, our large-scale survey of 14,135 workers found alarming but unsurprising conditions. Black and brown workers were the least likely to have savings, the most likely to have lost wages during the pandemic, and the most likely to be unable to pay for essentials such as groceries, medications, and rent. Across the board, there was little knowledge about the unemployment program’s eligibility criteria or benefit amounts, confirming what we heard in our informal conversations. 

There is reason to hope, however. A majority of people we talked with were willing to take action to help their friends and family access benefits. 

Our organizers provided Ayana, Keshia, and other similarly situated “peer organizers” with information about unemployment eligibility and how to access benefits in their state. We also followed up to make sure members of their communities were accessing benefits. 

We’ve been in back-and-forth communication with almost 7,540 Black workers who are sharing information about UI in their networks. By constantly testing our outreach through randomized control trials and making adjustments based on the evidence of what works, we are finding agents of change in the community. 

One UI recipient in Pennsylvania told us, “We’re never going to get out of this mess here in Philadelphia unless we start treating Blacks like everyone else … I can tell you care, and it sounds like you’ve been helping people here, so I’m going to share your stuff because I know a lot of people that sure can use it, and you’re right, I already know a few that might get evicted.” 

Another Pennsylvania resident told us he works as a manager for a construction company that had to lay off a lot of workers. He wanted information so he could help his employees file for unemployment benefits. Yet another man told us he was a landlord, and while he didn’t need help applying for benefits, he was interested in helping his unemployed tenants get the benefits they needed to stay afloat. 

Turning Enthusiasm into Action

We know we need to scale up this program to reach more affected workers. Our goal is to build an organizing formula that measurably increases the application and filing rates — and ultimately the level of income — in these communities.

Working with the Labor Lab at Columbia University, we are implementing randomized control trials to assess the effectiveness of campaign strategies in increasing awareness of unemployment benefits and action on UI claims in Black communities. We are focusing our efforts on the 42 counties across the country with the highest concentration of Black workers. In half the counties, we’ll saturate residents with calls, digital contacts, and grasstops organizing techniques. We will then track the change in claims at the county level to get hard data on the impact of our work.

We found that there is a lot of misinformation about unemployment benefits, so we developed quiz-style engagement actions. For example: “True or false? If you were out of work but found a new job, you can still get unemployment benefits for the time you were out of work.” These types of actions tend to have greater engagement.

In phone conversations, we have found that people are much less likely to agree to help with unemployment outreach if they have not been personally impacted by the unemployment crisis. However, upon learning that only one in four eligible Black workers applies for benefits, many wonder if people they know might be missing out. Overall, 70 percent of these people agreed to help others apply for unemployment benefits.

Our next step is to follow up with these peer organizers who have been sharing UI information in their communities to connect them with fellow activists, skilled organizers, and resources to help them become more effective at reaching those who need it most. By talking directly to workers and members of the community, we are able to help them navigate the complexities of accessing regular and expanded unemployment insurance benefits. By recruiting them as community organizers, we’re creating a movement that will help many more families who have lost wages gain financial ground.

Fixing Broken Policies

At the grasstops level, Working America and NELP are collaborating with other organizations to advocate for short- and long-term policy solutions to the unemployment crisis.

In the short term, we must meet the immediate needs of unemployed and underemployed workers. Congress must not only reinstate the $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefit and other CARES Act provisions but also provide funding to state and local governments, ensure paid sick leave and child care for all working people, and deliver relief for workers ineligible for unemployment payments. USDOL’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) must also make it clear that suitable work does not include unsafe work; if employers have not taken the minimum precautions set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 workplace guidelines, workers who quit their jobs should be eligible for unemployment benefits.

In the long term, Congress should consider federalizing UI — to operate similarly to Social Security — in order to address the wide disparity across states and populations. We should have permanent levers to automatically extend benefits during a recession, make worksharing available in every state, and provide dependent allowances for people who have children. Workers who are fleeing domestic violence, following a spouse whose job has moved, or leaving a job that jeopardizes their health and safety should be able to receive UI. And we should make sure that all workers, including those with erratic or part-time schedules and those whose job categories are currently excluded, are eligible to receive meaningful UI benefits. Finally, UI information technology (IT) systems must be easier for claimants to access. Individual states can take steps now to immediately address problems.

Ground-Up Systemic Change 

Many smart organizations and people have tried to increase UI access over the years, and a lot of work has gone into improving actualization of similar programs, such as Medicaid, EITC, and SNAP. What all these programs have in common is that they can change the dynamics of personal wealth and give working people what they need to gain some stability. We aren’t the first to tackle this issue, and we won’t be the last. 

The real power of this organizing project is the movement we’re creating to fix this rigged political economy and fight for the policy changes we desperately need. By arming people with the information they need to navigate the systems that have failed them for centuries, we can begin to break down some of the barriers that have kept wealth out of the hands of Black people. The key, we believe, is organizing communities not only to demand change of their elected officials but to make change themselves.

This blog originally appeared at The Forge on October 19, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Matt Morrison is the executive director of Working America, a three-million-member labor organization mobilizing working people who don’t have the benefit of a union at their jobs. He is a leading political practitioner with experience working in over 500 elections throughout his career.

Rebecca Dixon is executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP). NELP is a respected leader in federal workers’ rights advocacy and the go-to resource for state and local worker movements, providing unmatched policy, legal, and technical assistance.


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Bloomberg aides cut loose despite yearlong employment promise

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Mike Bloomberg’s shuttered presidential campaign is dismissing staffers across the country and inviting them to reapply for jobs on his new independent committee — despite extending guarantees of being paid through the November election when they were hired.

The consolation prize: They get to keep their Bloomberg-issued iPhones and MacBooks.

Multiple Bloomberg aides told POLITICO they participated in termination calls with the campaign on Monday. Some of them complained after the calls that they were originally told they would be paid by Bloomberg though the November general election regardless of whether he remained in the race. Most staffers will receive their last paycheck on March 31, sources said.

After a poor showing on Super Tuesday, Bloomberg dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden. The former New York mayor is now underwriting an outside effort to help Democrats defeat President Donald Trump.

Hiring materials from Bloomberg headquarters shared with POLITICO stated that regardless of what happened, field organizers could expect to have a job with “Team Bloomberg” through November, though it didn’t promise interviewees where they would be based. It outlined that organizers would be paid $6,000 a month, plus a $5,000 relocation stipend and full health, dental and vision benefits.

“Employment through November 2020 with Team Bloomberg (location not guaranteed),” the document stated.

The Bloomberg campaign has said it plans to remain active in six battleground states and could give priority to the aides still on payroll. But it’s unclear how many positions the new independent expenditure will have.

A Bloomberg spokesperson said it was always the campaign’s intention to keep its staffers employed in the six battleground states where the pro-Biden effort will be carried out: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

“As we’ve said over the course of the campaign, this election will come down to six battleground states,” the spokesperson said. “It’s imperative that we invest there with staff and infrastructure. Staff who were working in non-battleground states and would like to learn about future opportunities in the battleground states are being asked to let us know so we can consider them for jobs there.”

One Bloomberg campaign source said aides in those states have been asked to submit their personal plans through the general electionto Bloomberg’s team.

The outside effort has not been given an official name, and the billionaire has not released how much he intends to spend on it, though he had previously said he would shell out up to $1 billion of his more than $60 billion personal wealth on his own election. (As of his Jan. 31 filing, the most recent available, he had spent nearly $500 million on his campaign.)

Bloomberg has said he would assist any Democrat in defeating Trump, though Bernie Sanders has said he would not accept Bloomberg’s money. (Because “independent expenditures” cannot be coordinated with any campaign, he wouldn’t have much say in the matter, anyway.) The new campaign apparatus will also fund down-ballot Democrats in key House and Senate races, an aide said.

It will work alongside Hawkfish, a digital company that Bloomberg set up last spring to work for Democrats in races across the country. Hawkfish operated in tandem with the Bloomberg campaign but maintained a separate corporate structure.

Federal rules require Bloomberg designate a new vehicle to fund Democratic efforts and pay staffers. Three aides who were on different calls with the campaign said those possible jobs with the outside group were not presented as being guaranteed.

Said a staffer, “I think they are using the FEC regulations as an excuse to lay off a bunch of people” because they have to set up a new entity.

After hearing from the campaign Monday, a Bloomberg field organizer sent a mass email to other staffers that was obtained by POLITICO, also saying they expected to be paid though the general election.

“If you were told the same thing, please contact me at my personal email,” the aide wrote.

“I didn’t think I was going to have to apply for a job,” a different Bloomberg aide told POLITICO. “It was presented as being automatic. Field organizers were told during interviews that they had a guaranteed job through November.”

But, the aide added, “I don’t know if I want a job with Bloomberg, anyway. There are going to be so many opportunities — everything under the sun will be guns blazing to take out Trump. And I’m not sure what Bloomberg’s contribution is going to be to that fight.”

This article was originally published at Politico on March 9, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sally Goldenberg is City Hall bureau chief for POLITICO New York. She joined the team in October 2013 to cover New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, with a focus on budget and labor contracts. She also spent three years covering the city’s housing and economic development agenda.

Previously, Sally covered the New York City Council and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration for the New York Post. She also reported for the Staten Island Advance (July 2005 to May 2008), and covered municipal government for the New Jersey Star-Ledger (December 2002 to June 2005) and the Hillsborough Beacon (June through December 2002).

A native of Elizabeth, New Jersey, Sally now lives in Brooklyn. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Rutgers University.

About the Author: Christopher Cadelago is a National Political Reporter.


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With Shutdown Over, OPM provides Guidance on Back Pay for Federal Employees

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In late January, federal employees across the country returned to work for the first time in over a month.  In an effort to provide retroactive pay as quickly as possible, The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has issued guidance to federal agencies impacted by the shutdown to explain how their employees should receive back pay and other benefits.

Back Pay

Employees who were furloughed will receive back pay at their standard rate of pay for the time that they would have been in a regular pay status if the shutdown had never occurred. This includes overtime pay, night pay or other premium pay (e.g. LEAP, holiday pay, etc.) that the employee would have received.

However, if an employee was scheduled to be in a non-pay status during the shutdown, including Leave Without Pay (LWOP) or serving a suspension, then the employee is not eligible for backpay during that period, including holidays.

For excepted employees who were required to work without pay during the shutdown, they will receive their regular pay for the hours they actually worked, including any overtime or other premium pay. Conversely, if the employee did not show up for work and did not request leave, they will be marked absent without leave (AWOL) and will not receive back pay.

For any employees who received unemployment payments during the shutdown, the state involved will receive notice of the back-pay amount and then make a determination as to what repayment is required.

Leave

Furloughed employees cannot be charged paid leave or other paid time off during the shutdown, even if they had prescheduled paid leave. On the other hand, excepted employees may be charged leave – and compensated for it through back pay – for periods during the furlough where they used paid leave in lieu of reporting to work.

Many employees were planning to take “use or lose” annual leave but were furloughed before they could do so. According to OPM, agencies must restore any annual leave that was scheduled in writing prior to November 24, 2018. Note that restoration of leave will not apply to scheduled leave for December 24, which was declared a federal holiday in 2018, unless the employee can show they would have rescheduled the leave for another day. Restoration also does not apply to leave that had previously been restored. In those instances, the leave is lost for good.

Similarly, employees who were unable to use compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay due to the shutdown will be paid for such time. Compensatory time off for travel that was forfeited can be restored and extended for another 26 pay periods.

In regard to accruing leave during the shutdown, all employees receiving back pay are considered in a pay status for that period and will also accrue leave at normal rates.

FMLA

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks but employees are permitted to substitute paid leave during this time to continue receiving pay.  For employees that were on FMLA during the shutdown, back pay will be dependent on whether the employee was scheduled to substitute paid leave. If the employee had planned to use paid leave during their FMLA leave period, these employees will not only receive back pay but they will also not be charged any leave. However, employees scheduled to be in a non-pay status (i.e. FMLA LWOP), will not receive back pay. For all employees using FMLA leave, the shutdown period will still count toward their 12 weeks of protected leave.

Benefits & Retirement

Employees are also entitled to retroactive benefits. Deductions will be taken out of the back-pay checks to cover employee contributions to health and retirement plans. Loan payments to Thrift Savings Plans (TSP) will also be made.

For those employees who requested to retire during the shutdown, the retirement will be made effective retroactively to the date requested and no back pay will be received after that date.

It isn’t yet clear when agencies will begin making these retroactive payments. If you believe the agency has incorrectly calculated your back pay or you have been improperly denied any benefits as a result of the shutdown, you should contact an experienced federal employment attorney to determine what options you have to protect your rights.

About the Author: Alan Lescht has been successfully litigating employment discrimination, civil rights, and commercial litigation cases for more than 30 years and has won dozens of notable trials. He is the founding partner of Alan Lescht and Associates, PC, where he oversees the firm’s employment litigation and counseling practices.


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First Women Graduate from Fort Campbell Welding Program

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Kenneth QuinnellOne of the great benefits of joining the military is the opportunity to learn skills that benefit a soldier after their service is completed. Some soldiers, such as Specialist Tanya Preddy and Sergeant Alyssa Tamayo, prepare for careers that provide good jobs while breaking ground at the same time. Preddy and Tamayo just became the first women to graduate Fort Campbell’s Veterans in Piping program in Kentucky. Veterans in Piping is a program of the United Association (UA).

Preddy said: “I was pretty excited going into this, to be honest, because I mean, who wouldn’t be excited about making stuff with fire,” she joked. “That’s awesome to me. I’d never welded before this class, ever. I just thought it would be really cool and fun.”

“I think the guys were surprised to see us [in the classroom],” Tamayo added. “A lot of people think welding is just for men and with us being the first two females at Fort Campbell ever, in the back of my mind I was thinking ‘I have to beat everybody in here.’ I just felt like I had to be perfect.”

Read the full story.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on June 4, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.


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This Veterans Day

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grace baehrenThis Veterans Day we’d like to take a moment to thank all veterans for their service and sacrifice for our country. In turn, we’d like to make sure that veterans are aware of their rights in the civilian workplace. At the federal level, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) is the main source of protections for veterans in the civilian workplace.

USERRA has two main goals:

  • To ensure that veterans seeking civilian employment can do so free from discrimination because of their service; and
  • That should a veteran need to take military leave — or is activated from reserve to active duty status – they can retain their civilian employment and benefits.

Generally, a veteran is eligible for USERRA benefits if they left a civilian job to perform military service and:

– Have given prior written or verbal notice of the military leave to their civilian employer;

– Have 5 years or less of cumulative service during the employment relationship with the civilian employer;

– Have been released from service under conditions other than dishonorable;

– And return to work, or apply for reemployment, at their civilian job in a timely manner after the completion of service.

For more information on veterans’ rights under USERRA and how to enforce these rights, see our page on military leave.

Additionally, it is important to know your state’s laws on military leave. While some state laws merely reinforce the USERRA benefits, others include additional benefits for veterans. To view the applicable laws for your state, see our State Laws on Military Leave page.

Finally, veterans should be aware of the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Act (VEVRAA), which provides additional protections to “protected veterans” who are employed by federal contractors. Protected veterans are defined to include disabled veterans and veterans who are recently separated (are within the initial 3 year period after discharge or release from active duty). VEVRAA makes it illegal for federal contractors to discriminate against protected veterans in employment decisions and further requires that federal contractors take affirmative action to recruit, hire, and promote protected veterans. For more information on VEVRAA see this fact sheet from the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs.

About the Author: The author’s name is Grace Baehren. Grace Baehren is a student at The University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law and an intern at Workplace Fairness.


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Read our lips: Americans want to expand Social Security – not to raise the retirement age

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seiu

The recent presidential debates reminds us that Democrats and Republicans are polar opposites when it comes to Social Security.

While many of the Democratic candidates want to bolster the program and increase benefits, GOP candidates Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have all called for cutting Social Security’s modest benefits by raising the retirement age.

Raising the retirement age may not be a big deal for the wealthy Americans who finance political campaigns or even politicians proposing these cuts. However, it would have a devastating impact on Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, including Patricia Walker of Tampa, Fla.

“For me as a home care worker, I couldn’t work until 70. I already have problems with my knees. I’m already trying to make it,” says Walker, who’s in her early 50s.

Although she works long hours, Walker’s low wages prevent her from being able to purchase a car let alone save money for her golden years. Social Security will be her only plan for retirement.

If Walker and other working Americans apply for Social Security’s retirement benefits before they reach the full retirement age, their benefits will be permanently reduced. For example, when someone retires at age 62, their benefit would be about 25 percent lower than it would be if they waited until they reach full retirement age.

This is a Social Security cut Republican presidential contenders seemingly want to avoid discussing while on the campaign trail.

These same candidates also seem to be ignoring the voices of voters who want lawmakers to expand Social Security; not cut its already modest benefits.

A 2014 poll from the National Academy of Social Insurance found 69 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of independent voters support Social Security and they don’t mind paying higher taxes to preserve benefits for future generations. The poll also found 71 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independent voters oppose raising the full retirement age to 70.

Republicans calling for raising the retirement age may be willing to ignore the fact that income levels and life-expectancy rates remain stagnant for the poor as well as the needs of nurses, home care providers, construction workers and others with strenuous jobs that would suffer under their proposal.

One thing any presidential candidate can’t ignore is the retirement crisis looming over the United States. Our country’s next president must be willing to put ideology aside and focus on policies to deliver retirement security to more workers. That includes increasing Social Security benefits, especially for low- and middle-income workers.

Wonder what your full retirement age will be or how your monthly benefits may be reduced if you retire before your full retirement age? Click here.

This article was originally printed on SEIU in October, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.


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Thousands rally for growing movement

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seiuThousands of SEIU janitors are traveling to the City of Brotherly Love today to hold a massive rally in support of nearly 75,000 east coast janitors who are negotiating fair wages and benefits this fall. Across the country, thousands more are stickering up in their worksites and marching in the streets to fight for $15 and to #RaiseAmerica with good jobs.

This rally is the latest escalation in a nationwide movement to raise our communities by standing together for good jobs.

Already this year, janitors have won historic wage and job improvement increases. In March 2015, thousands stood in solidarity with Chicago and Cleveland, as they negotiated their contract, and in June we rallied again in solidarity with Detroit and Washington D.C.

More than 50% of janitors with new contracts will make more than $15 an hour by the end of this next contract. And each city has won important additional standards, like increased sick days, full-timing of work, strong non-discrimination language, and protecting employer-paid healthcare.

And we’re not done yet. 130,000 members are standing strong for our east coast brothers and sisters today. In 2016, we’re taking the fight back out West – to Minnesota and LA, Houston, Seattle and Denver. And we’re supporting our brothers and sisters in airports, security, industrial laundry, home care, child care, and in fast food.

We fight because we know our country can do better. We fight because the communities we live in are still fighting for $15 and the right to form a union. We’ve won for working people before, and we will win again. We will keep fighting until every working person in America has $15 and union rights.

This article was originally printed on SEIU in October, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.


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Workers at Trump Taj Mahal Begin Preparations for Strike

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Mario VasquezUNITE HERE Local 54 members speak to the press outside of their “strike pod.”

While Donald Trump’s push for the Republican nomination for president is showing no signs of slowing, worker unrest at a hotel and casino that bear his name appears near the boiling point. Strike preparations have begun for over 1,100 non-gaming casino employees at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The workers, represented by UNITE HERE Local 54, gathered near their local headquarters last Tuesday to load strike materials like bullhorns, signs and drums into a storage container in a public attempt to prove to management that they are ready and willing to strike over large compensation package cuts that occurred last year.

The Trump Taj Mahal has been at the mercy of billionaire investor Carl Icahn since 2009, when bankruptcy led Donald Trump to cut ties with the casino and resort’s operator, Trump Entertainment Resorts. After months of courtroom drama, Trump exchanged the rights to his name and likeness over to Icahn (who Trump has mentioned in recent months as a possible cabinet member if he were elected president) in exchange for a 10 percent stake in the restructured company.

While Trump has run into his own problems in Las Vegas, where workers at his current gaming jewel, the Trump Casino, have started a union drive (though Trump is adamant that his workers love him), conditions at his namesake in Atlantic City have deteriorated into escalated conflict between new management and the organized hotel housekeepers, bartenders, servers, cooks, and sanitation workers at the Trump Taj Mahal.

Since Icahn began his attempt to gain control of Trump’s Atlantic City gaming empire, the unionized workers at the Trump Taj Mahal have consistently derided Icahn’s alleged role in driving the casino-hotel toward bankruptcy, with workers and UNITE HERE arguing that Icahn, as Trump’s main debt holder, pushed higher interest rates onto the company as a way to reach personal profit of hundreds of millions of dollars and ultimately maneuver into ownership position.

In October 2014, Icahn successfully gained permission from a bankruptcy judge to end company contributions to health care and pension benefits as a way of cost-cutting, saying it would help keep the casino-resort open. “Workers were stripped of their health and retirement benefits; they even cut paid lunch breaks. Our calculation was that the average full-time worker would lose approximately $12,000 over the course of the year as a result of these cuts,” says UNITE HERE spokesperson Ben Begleiter.

UNITE HERE Local 54 contends that the bankruptcy court was out of its jurisdiction with the decision, and because Icahn has declined to renew the union’s contract since its expiration in September, the matter is a labor dispute fit for the NLRB, who has since agreed in a January statement. The union’s case against the cuts is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

A survey of workers conducted by UNITE HERE in March found that 44 percent of responding workers, who had previously been covered under a health care plan since their first day of employment, no longer had health insurance. This was a much-valued health care package that had led workers over the past decade to accept near-stagnant wages in order to maintain their health benefits.

“I’ve been part of the negotiating committee for the past 11 years, and I voted to have my pay frozen numerous times in order to preserve our health insurance. I got one 25-cents-an-hour raise in the past decade,” says Paul Smith, a surveyed cook, who has been at the site for 21 years. “In 2005, I had a massive heart attack. The bill was over $1 million. If I hadn’t had the union health insurance, I would have been destroyed financially. Right now, my health is out of whack. I need three surgeries, which is difficult because I have no insurance since Icahn took it away.”

The survey also claimed to shed light on the mental toll of out-of-reach health care, finding that at least 70 percent of participating workers suffered from symptoms of depression at least every other day.

Dr. Alan Glaseroff, Co-Director of Stanford Coordinated Care and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine, reviewed the results and commented: “Strictly from a financial perspective, depression as an ‘add-on’ condition combined with diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions more than doubles the cost of treating those illnesses, making the lack of coverage an even greater problem for patients and those paying for and providing their care.”

When the October cuts were announced, 24 people were arrested staging a sit-in and shutting down traffic in front of the Trump Taj Mahal. In June, 68 more were arrested for participating in a similar action. Workers authorized the union’s contract negotiating committee to a call a strike if necessary on July 16, a decision that was followed up by reports that the Trump Taj Mahal was preparing to take on several hundred replacement workers.

Casino-hotel employees in Atlantic City last went on strike in 2004 when 10,000 UNITE HERE Local 54 members walked out for over a month at seven different locations; Trump’s casino-hotels workers did not participate in this strike. The Trump Taj Mahal and the Tropicana Entertainment, Icahn’s other bankruptcy capture in Atlantic City, are currently the only casino-hotels in the city working with an expired contract. The possibility remains open for Local 54 members at Tropicana to go on strike as well.

Workers like Hannah Taleb, a casino-hotel employee in Pittsburgh, allege that Icahn’s hardball tactics are an effort to lower workers’ standards throughout the industry. “If the standards are lowered in Atlantic City, how can I expect to fight for high standards in my city? All casino workers are linked in that way,” Taleb told the Press of Atlantic City before being arrested in June’s intersection-shut-down.

Icahn has a history of eliminating worker benefits at various companies he’s acquired over his years, building a reputation of as a corporate raider. “Mr. Icahn is worth more than $20 billion, but two months before the contract for PSC’s union workers was scheduled to expire in late 2013, management told them that it was dropping their health insurance benefits and that they would have to buy their own insurance through the new exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act,” the New York Times reported last December. Unsurprisingly, Icahn was the one of the inspirations for the Gordon Gecko character made famous by Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.

“Jobs that provided benefits, that were middle-class jobs where a worker could support a family on [are] part of the promise of casino gaming,” Begleiter says. “Casino gaming in Atlantic City is unlike any other industry in the state, because it’s an industry that came into existence by a vote of the people of New Jersey to change the constitution—specifically to rebuild Atlantic City. That means in part, making sure that it provided for workers,” Begleiter says.

As the protests expand and the so-called “strike pod” storage container is filled up with the essentials, the workers at Trump Taj Mahal say they are ready to defend their share of that promise.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on August 31, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Mario Vasquez. Mario Vasquez is a writer from Santa Barbara, California. You can reach him at mario.vasquez.espinoza@gmail.com.


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