By Reg Jones
Q. We have an employee who has been unable to report for duty since pay period 10 (May 15, 2012) due to an auto accident, which occurred May 15, 2012. On March 6, the employee advised that her claim had been accepted by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Program. Effective May 15, it will be one year since her injury. Can you advise the next steps once the employee has reached a full year? Is the employee still covered? If the employee is still unable to return to work after May 15, are there preclusions under OWCP from proceeding with removal based on medical inability?
Q. My husband has been on workers’ compensation (previous air traffic controller) since 1980. If he should die before me, will I receive any monthly benefits?
Q. After 25 years of service, I was approved for OWCP disability. Now, 15 years later and at age 68, I am still receiving the annuity. If I die still receiving OWCP benefits, will my wife receive survivor benefits from my CSRS service? Should I leave the money in the CSRS or draw it out?
Q. I have been an 1811 status (federal agent) federal employee for 16 years. I have been on leave without pay and receiving workers’ compensation for the past year due to an on-the-job injury.
I have received little if any guidance from my agency’s HR, as the representatives admit they have little or no experience with workers’ comp.
What should I do to maintain the best possible benefits for me and my family if this becomes a long-term/permanent situation and I am not able to return to work? And if I can return to work, how would the time on workers’ comp affect my retirement benefits etc.?
What survivor benefits will my spouse have if I die while on workers’ comp?
Q. I am a law enforcement officer who has been out on workers’ compensation since June 2011. My scheduled retirement date is in July with 20 years of service at age 55. I’m being paid partial disability at this time. Since I haven’t been on the job since 2011, did annual and sick leave still accrue? What happens with workers’ comp after retirement?
Q. I was injured in September 2010 and was out of work until I retired on disability in March 2011. I exhausted my annual and sick leave, since my initial workers’ compensation claim was denied.
After numerous appeals, my workers’ compensation claim was approved in October 2011. I began receiving interim retirement payments in September 2011 but have yet to receive payment from OPM for annual and sick leave I would have accumulated during that period. I have contacted DFAS and OPM, along with filing two congressionals regarding this issue, but no resolution.
Shouldn’t I be paid for the time I would have been on workers’ compensation? Shouldn’t OPM pay the lump sum after receiving notification that my workers’ compensation claim was approved? I have contacted OPM, and it seems to lack adequate professionals to decipher this mess.
Q. I was injured on the job while working for the federal government and spent 26 years as an annuitant under the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. Recently, I was terminated from OWCP as being recovered from my work-related injury and retired under CSRS as a disability retiree. When I received my first retirement check, I noticed that federal taxes had been deducted. Is this correct? I had thought that disability retirement annuities were not taxable. Will these tax deductions end at some time in the future, perhaps at my minimum retirement age? I will be 68 years old in August.
Q. I am eligible to retire and want to do so, but I also have a pending workers’ compensation case. My percentage for disability has been determined, and I am waiting for further calculation. If I retire before the calculation and payout is finished, will it all be lost? Will my workers’ comp case be jeopardized?
Q. I’ve retired on disability and am 33 years old. I receive a measly $400 per month. I haven’t received my retirement plaque, let alone more pay. I receive $1,300 in Social Security. When I was working, I made over $53,000 per year. Where can I find a retirement lawyer for the federal government and why haven’t they sent me my plaque? I’ve been retired since 2011. I’ve been in appeal process with the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs for my on-the-job injury.
October 5th, 2011 | Workers' compensation
Q: My wife is a nine-year CSRS VA employee injured on the job.She was on LWOP receiving workers’ compensation till she reached over 80 percent of her former pay in the private sector. When she reaches retirement age, will the cost of living adjustments for the last 16 years be added on to her annuity. If she receives a new federal position does that entitle her to receive 16 years as time served? How is sick time calculated?
A: If your wife doesn’t return to federal employment, she could apply for a deferred annuity at age 62. That annuity would be based on her nine years of service and her highest three years of average salary on the day she went on LWOP. Her time on LWOP would not be included in that calculation. If she were to return to federal employment and later retire, the time she was actually on LWOP would be included in determining her years of service and used in the calculation of her annuity. Any sick leave she still had to her credit when she went on LWOP (and any new sick leave she earned) would be added to her service time after she met the age and service requirements to retire and used to increase the amount of her annuity.
September 20th, 2011 | Workers' compensation
Q: I worked for the Defense Department at an Air Force base for 4 1/2 years under FERS. While at work, I got hurt and became disabled. Within a month they RIFed me. That was in 1997. I am now 60 years old and still on OWCP and unable to work after several operations and numerous procedures. What happens when I reach retirement age in 2 years? Will my income just stop?
A: As long as you are disabled, you will continue to receive workers’ compensation. To preserve your rights, you should have applied for a disability annuity within one year after you were RIFed. If you didn’t, and you are found recovered from your disability, you wouldn’t be eligible for FERS disability retirement. And because you didn’t have five years of FERS service when you left, you wouldn’t be eligible for a regular annuity beginning at age 62.
September 18th, 2011 | Workers' compensation
In my Aug. 15 and Sept. 5 columns, I described eligibility for and calculation of disability retirement benefits. In this column, I’ll discuss workers’ compensation, which may be a better option if you are disabled or injured in the line of duty.
To be considered disabled, you and your agency must provide the Office of Personnel Management with proof that you are unable to perform on the job because of a disabling condition. It doesn’t matter if the disease or injury that disabled you was incurred on or off the job. Further, your agency must certify that you aren’t qualified for reassignment to any other vacant position within your agency and in your commuting area. If OPM agrees that you are disabled for any “useful and efficient service,” it will approve your application for disability retirement. The annuity you receive will partially replace your lost salary.
On the other hand, if you have a permanent, total or partial disability because of disease or injury that occurred on the job while you were performing your assigned duties, the Labor Department’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) will pay you lump-sum benefits in the form of scheduled and nonscheduled awards.
Nonscheduled awards are compensation for the loss of wage-earning capacity. They are paid for the period during which you are unable to resume regular work because of an injury or a disease-related disability. The amount of compensation is based on the difference between your capacity to earn wages and the wages of the job you held when injured.
Scheduled awards are paid for a permanent impairment incurred on the job, such as the loss of an eye. The amount you can receive is spelled out in law. With one exception, you can receive a scheduled award even if you are still employed or have retired. The exception is that you can’t receive both a scheduled and an unscheduled award for the same injury.
If you apply for workers’ comp, you should also apply for disability retirement benefits. That way, you can preserve your rights and those of your survivors if you should die. If you are a Federal Employees Retirement System employee who applies for disability retirement, you must file for Social Security disability benefits. If you don’t, OPM won’t process your application.
If you are approved for both workers’ comp and the disability benefits, you’ll have to decide which one to take. That’s because you can’t get both benefits at the same time. Since workers’ comp benefits are usually greater, employees usually choose them.
If you have applied for both benefits, as a rule OPM will make its decision before OWCP does. If it approves your application for disability retirement, it will start making annuity payments. If OWCP later awards workers’ comp benefits and you elect to accept them, the annuity payments you’ve already received must be repaid to OPM. However, in most cases, OWCP will handle this by withholding the required amount from your workers’ comp payment or payments, which will be retroactive to the day when you separated from your agency.
While on workers’ comp, your disability annuity payments will be suspended. If workers’ comp benefits end for any reason, including personal choice, OPM will reinstate your annuity as long as you haven’t recovered from your disability or been restored to earning capacity.
If your disability annuity is reactivated, the time you spent on workers’ comp won’t be included when OPM computes your new disability annuity or regular annuity. Instead, your annuity will be based on your actual service and high-three salary — the average of your highest-three consecutive annual salaries — on the day you retired on disability, increased by any cost-of-living-adjustments that have occurred since then.
Clearly, not all job-related injuries or disabilities cases require that you separate from the service. If they are of short duration, you may be able to receive of workers’ comp while you are on leave without pay (LWOP).
In that case, all the time you spend on LWOP is creditable for future retirement computation and high-three purposes. Unlike regular LWOP, the time spent on workers’ comp isn’t subject to the six-month per year limitation on creditable service.
July 29th, 2011 | Workers' compensation
Q: I work for the DHS/TSA. I am 58 and have worked there for seven years. I fell at work four years ago and have been on workers’compensation since that time. I get cortisone injections but it is becoming more difficult to overcome the pain. I have been working most of the time since then. I am at home now waiting for another injection. Can I retire early and if so, where do I start? Would I ‘retire early’ or apply for disability?
A: Even if your agency was offering an opportunity to its employees to retire early, you don’t have the right combination of age in service to do that. Nor do you meet the age and service requirements for regular retirement. Therefore, your only option is to apply for disability retirement. However, even if your application is approved, you may still want to stay on workers’ compensation because it provides the higher benefit. If OWCP later found that you were recovered and stopped your disability comp payments, you would be able to ask OPM to activate your disability retirement benefit.
Tags: Early retirement
May 20th, 2011 | Workers' compensation
Q: I left work from the Veterans Affairs Department in January. I left because of injury and was awarded workers’ compensation. But I also applied for disability retirement. Now I have been approved for retirement. What happens to my retirement money while on OWCP? And will I be pushed into taking disability retirement? What happens to my time on LWOP?
A: Your disability retirement benefit will be suspended while you are on workers’ compensation. If your workers’ comp ends and you still meet the medical standards for disability retirement, your disability annuity would be reinstated. You’d have to let OPM know so they could do that. For more information about the relationship between disability retirement and workers’ comp, and how they are treated if one or both of them ends, go to www.opm.gov/retire/pubs/handbook/C102.pdf.
Q: I was injured on the job in September and was denied workers’ compensation. I have submitted additional information from my physician and am now considering early retirement. Can I retire early while waiting for a decision on the compensation claim?
A: Yes, you can.
Q: If I received compensation for two years because of an injury at the U.S. Postal Service, does this delay my retirement for two years?
A: If you were in leave-without-pay status while in receipt of workers’ compensation benefits, you’ll receive full credit for that period of time in determining your length of service and your high-3. LWOP while receiving Federal Employees Compensation Act, or FECA, benefits isn’t subject to the six-month limitation in a calendar year, as is other LWOP.
Q: I have some medical expenses paid for under workers’ compensation because of an on-the-job accident. When I retire, will these medical expenses continue to be covered?
A: If your workers’ compensation benefits terminate or you elect to retire instead of remaining on workers’ compensation, payment for your medical expenses by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs will end.
April 20th, 2010 | Workers' compensation
Q: I have a friend who works with the Veterans Affairs Department. Because of his illness (expected to last more than 6 months) he has been provided information regarding his eligibility for FEMA and unpaid sick leave without pay for three months by our Human Resources Department. Is he entitled to any type of disability, or workers’ compensation entitlements from his federal service? Or will he only be able to apply for SSI/SSDI? His illness was not incurred at work. Because of the seriousness of his illness, how long will his position be held for him? Is the VA required to offer him a light-duty position and still pay at his present rate?
A: The federal government doesn’t have a short-term disability provision for its employees, only a long-term one for those whose disability is expected to last for at least a year. While unable to work, he can use any sick or annual leave he has to his credit. Further, he can ask that his name be added to the agency’s list of people for whose benefit other employees can donate annual leave. While his agency should check to to see if there are any other positions for which he is qualified at the same grade or pay, it isn’t required to do so. As for how long his position would remain open, that’s something that only his agency can tell you.
Q. I am currently on approved Leave Without Pay due to a work injury and I am receiving federal compensation benefits. I am nearing regular retirement age and I am concerned about my high-3 retirement calculation. I have been on LWOP for 3 years. Will the salary I would have earned during these years be used in my calculation? I also understand that a new law may increase by retirement calculation for lost TSP contributions.
A. As long as you are on LWOP and receiving compensation, that time will be treated as if you were still on the job, both for length of service and high-3 computation purposes.