By Reg Jones
Q. I am a former federal employee who left government service after 23 years. I have held competitive and excepted service positions. I work as a federal contractor and have held this position for 15 months. I was recently offered a federal job, and the human resources department told me that they could only rehire me at the grade and step level I was at when I left (GS-13/Step 2). However, my current contracting job pays more than that, and I thought they could rehire me at a higher step rate to match what I am making, but the federal agency said they cannot offer any more money since I left at a GS-13/2. Is this accurate? I know other people who left government service and came back were hired at a much higher grade and rate than what they held previously.
Q. A federal employee under CSRS becomes eligible to retire with 30 years of employment in December. Also, that same individual earns a step increase in late December. If that individual decides to retire in January 2014, will the 1 percent pay raise for federal workers be calculated in his/her retirement salary along with the higher salary? If yes, please explain.
Q. I am 45 years old with 15 years of FERS. My job is being moved 85 miles away and I am trying to determine the benefit (if any) to my FERS pension (beyond the addition of five years to the total) of continuing on five more years until I have 20 years and am 50 years old. Resign now with 15 years at 45 years old vs. tough out the drive for five more years and resign at 20 years at 50 years old? What advantage is there to this (if any) on my FERS pension?
Q. I am a government employee not to exceed five years. I am eligible for benefits and furloughs. Am I also eligible for a step increase or within-grade increase?
Q. Recently, I was informed that human resources made and error when I was recruited to my position. I was given four additional steps to meet my salary needs to accept the position. HR has learned that they were not authorized to give and has taken them away. This has now created an overpayment.
Secondly, I was allowed to maintain my previous station pay scale. My salary has been cut by approximately $18,000. How does this affect my retirement? If I request a waiver or hearing, will my last two years of salary (which are part of my high-3) be counted in my retirement? Is it better to request a waiver or a hearing to support my high two years of salary?
Q. I resigned from federal employment as a civilian in the Air Force after 18 months in March 2012. I have reapplied and been offered a position at same base. The position is a grade higher than the one I had when I left. I was a GS-11, Step 8. The new position is a GS-12. What should the salary offer be for that position? From what I have been told by several other sources, the offer being made is incorrect for my situation (offering a GS-12, Step 2). I have been told the salary should be calculated by moving two steps right and up from my previous GS-11, Step 8 — which would make the new salary a GS-12, Step 4. Which is the correct calculation?
Q. Do term employees get step increases automatically, or is it up to their supervisors to put them in for it?
Q. I’ve been offered a position with the Defense Intelligence Agency as a GG-13, step 6. I’m a GS-13, step 6, and have been for nearly a year. I accepted my position last year, going from my previous salary as a GS-13, step 4. Can I ask for a raise in the new position? Or, since I’ve been a step 6 for only around a year, am I ineligible? Also, with DIA, will my leave award of six hours per pay period apply? Should it? My new position with DIA will be outside the contiguous United States, so the allowances and leave days are different. And DIA is offering all applicable OCONUS allowances.
Q. The Office of Personnel Management website describes the federal high-3 salary as the average of three consecutive years of an employee’s base (gross) salary (consecutive years but not necessarily calendar years). Is this high-3 calculated for only within one GS level? (e.g. GS-11), or can it be calculated using more than one GS level? (e.g. GS-10 for one year and GS-11 for two years)?
Q. I am on military leave without pay on presidential recall orders. I was promoted to GS-12, Step 1 a few months prior to being mobilized on military orders. If I’m involuntarily extended on military orders for three years then return to my civilian employment and request deferred annuity, would my high-3 be based on GS-12 Step 1 that I held for a few months prior to being mobilized? Based on my career GS level, can you tell me my current high 3?
2000-2006 = GS-8, Step 6
2007 = GS-7, Step 8
2008 =GS-5, Step 10
2009 =GS-7, Step 8
2009-2011 = Presidential Recall Orders, Mobilized
2011 = GS-11, Step 3
2011-2012 = GS-12, Step 1 (for a few months)
2012-current = Presidential Recall Orders, Mobilized
Q. I am a veteran of the armed forces and a civilian federal firefighter of Hawaii and have about 13 years government time under FERS.
While on duty in 2010, we were in route in the fire engine and an oncoming vehicle lost control and collided with the fire engine, causing substantial injuries to myself and the crew. The majority of the kinetic energy was absorbed by me because the point of impact was where I was seated.
I sustained injuries to my lumbar area in my lower back and injuries to my left limb, for which I’ve undergone a major back surgery, countless doctors’ visits and therapies, etc. I am still recovering from the injuries and presently on modified light duty at four hours a day, five days a week. I was on total disability for about 2 years and noticed that my retirement investment into my Thrift Savings Plan was at a freeze or standstill, where an injured employee could not invest into their TSP while on leave without pay. I also noticed that while on total disability, an injured employee goes into LWOP status, which human resources said affects your within-grade increases to where you are not entitled to move up in step increases.
Is there a new law that helps with retirement benefits for workers hurt on the job? After intensive research, I stumbled across an article by Stephen Barr dated Oct. 10, 2003, informing that President Bush signed legislation that will help make up any shortfall in retirement benefits for federal employees who are disabled or injured while on the job. It mentions the new law will change the way a federal employee’s benefits are calculated during a disability by increasing the pension benefit provided under FERS to cover any shortfall.
Is there also any new law or standard act that helps with entitlements for step increases for workers hurt on the job? Ever since I was injured on the job in 2010, and because of the injuries I sustained I was on total disability in LWOP status not by choice, the opportunity to move up in step increase passed me over twice. As co-workers who were hired the same day as me moved up in step increase, I was denied. Can you advise?
Q. Can you tell me how Executive Level IV pay, which limits the maximum pay of GS scale employees, is calculated? What is the formula? In searching, I can find the pay rate but not the rules. In other words, will GS-15 Step 9s and Step 10s who have hit that ceiling ever see that ceiling rise?
Q. I have been on FERS disability retirement from the Postal Service since November 1996. I turned 62 in October and received a letter from the Office of Personnel Management notifying me that my annuity was recalculated and what my new monthly annuity would be.
My creditable service calculation is correct, but the high-3 doesn’t look right. FERS Publication RI 98-1 states, “The total service used in the computation is increased by the amount of time you were on the disability annuity roll and your average salary is increased by the FERS cost-of-living increase during the time you were on the roll. The basic annuity formula is then applied, using the adjusted time base and average salary.”
When I retired in 1996, my base salary as a PS4 Step F was $ 33,294. FERS tells me that my new high-3 is $ 33,934. Does this new high-3 seem correct for 16 years of FERS COLAs? (Currently, PS4 Step F base rate is $ 42,031).
A. I don’t do numbers, so I can’t confirm or refute the figure OPM gave you. What I can do is provide you with the COLA increases FERS retirees received beginning with the first full one you would have been entitled to: 1998 2%, 1999 1.3%, 2000 2.0%, 2001 2.5%, 2002 2%, 2003 1.4%, 2004 2%, 2005 2%, 2006 3.1%, 2007, 2.3%, 2008 2%, 2009 4.8%, 2010 0%, 2011, 0%, 2012 2.6%.
Q. In the last buyout the clerks had for $15,000, one of our clerks took that and said that she got paid for the holidays after her retirement date if her annual leave would have taken her through those dates. Back then, the retirement date was the end of November and she got paid for Christmas, New Year’s and Martin Luther King Day. Does this benefit apply all the time when a person retires, or is it just when a buyout is offered?
A. Yes. Unused annual leave is projected forward as if you were still on the job and paid at the hourly rate in effect at the time. For example, if an across-the-board pay increase occurred, any hours of unused annual leave that fell on or after that date would be paid at the new hourly rate. Note: No credit is given for step increases you would have received if you were still on the job.
Q. Have step increases been frozen?
Tags: step increase
Q. I am a new employee and have both service computation date (April 29, 2011) and date of hire (May 7, 2012). When calculating step increases (going from 7 to 8, for example) or vacation accrual (going from four to six hours per pay period) or similar, which date do I use for the calculations? For example, it’s three years between a step 7 and 8, so for me, will that happen April 29, 2014, or May 7, 2015? I don’t know the standard time period before I go from four to six hours’ sick accrual, but is that based off service computation date or date of hire?
Are there any pamphlets or books on these common questions or 1-800 numbers for federal employees? I’m a tenant at my work assignment, and getting answers to such simple questions isn’t simple. I would like to be able to research on my own when new questions arise. Thanks.
A. Your leave accrual rate and within-grade increases will be based on your Service Computation Date (SCD). The underlying law is at 5 U.S. Code Chapter 61 and the regulations at 5 CFR Part 630.
Leave without pay (LWOP) must be granted in some instances and is a matter of supervisory discretion in others.
Employees are entitled to LWOP in the following situations:
• Under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides covered employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for certain family and medical needs.
• Under the 1994 Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which requires LWOP for a period of military service.
• Under Executive Order 5396, from July 17, 1930, which requires LWOP for disabled veterans for necessary medical treatment.
A supervisor might also be willing to approve a request for LWOP for reasons such as enrollment in academic courses or training that would benefit the agency, personal reasons for which other types of leave aren’t available, or to protect the status and benefits of an employee who has applied for disability retirement or injury compensation.
Here is how LWOP affects the basic employment rights and creditable service of most employees:
• For career tenure purposes, the first 30 calendar days of each nonpay period are considered creditable service.
• During a probationary period following an initial appointment to a competitive service position, 22 workdays in a nonpay status is considered creditable service.
• There is no requirement for an agency to extend qualifying periods for General Schedule positions by the amount of time you are in a nonpay status. But you may have to meet training requirements or show your ability to perform on the job.
• All time in a nonpay status is considered creditable service in meeting the time-in-grade requirements for promotion.
• Calculation of creditable service for within-grade increases varies. If you are a General Schedule employee, an aggregate of no more than two workweeks in a nonpay status in a within-grade waiting period is considered to be creditable service to advance to steps 2, 3, and 4; four workweeks to advance to steps 5, 6, and 7; and six workweeks to advance to steps 8, 9, and 10.
If you are a prevailing rate employee under the WG, WL or WS schedules, an aggregate of one workweek in nonpay status is considered to be creditable service for advancement to Step 2; three workweeks for advancement to Step 3; and four workweeks for advancement to steps 4 and 5.
• In determining a service computation date, an aggregate of six months of nonpay status in a calendar year is considered creditable service. If you exceed six months a year in nonpay status, you’ll need to work longer to acquire the amount of service needed to qualify for a retirement benefit.
• Time in a nonpay status can affect accrual of annual and sick leave. For example, if you are a full-time employee with an 80-hour biweekly tour of duty and you accumulate 80 hours in a nonpay status from the beginning of the leave year, you won’t earn any annual or sick leave for the pay period during which you hit 80 hours. The same is true each time you accumulate 80 hours in a nonpay status. At year’s end, any nonpay hours that don’t add up to 80 are not counted against your annual and sick leave accrual and you start the next leave year with a clean slate. If you are a part-time employee, your leave accrual is prorated based on your hours in a pay status in each pay period.
• To meet qualifications for student loan repayments, the service completion date is extended by the amount of time you spend in nonpay status.
• For reduction-in-force purposes, an aggregate of six months in nonpay status in a calendar year is considered creditable service.
• Nonpay time is fully creditable for meeting the 12-month continuous employment period needed to qualify for severance pay. However, when calculating the amount of that severance pay, no more than six months in any calendar year can be used.
• If you have been called to active duty in the armed forces or have been placed in nonpay status because of an on-the-job injury with entitlement to workers’ compensation, you’ll get full credit for that time for seniority and length of service when you return to duty.
Whether you are an employee or a retiree, this year is a real bust when it comes to benefits.
Employee pay scales are frozen at 2010 levels for two years under a presidential proposal that was approved by Congress. Frozen are cost-of-living adjustments to the General Schedule, Senior Executive Service, wage grade and other pay scales in the executive branch for 2011 and 2012.
On the bright side, employees eligible for step increases will still receive them in those years. About 1.1 million GS employees — three-quarters of the GS population — will receive $2.5 billion in raises through step increases over the next two years, according to a Federal Times analysis. Others will also be eligible for promotions and bonuses.
Also on the bright side, the maximum taxable earnings amount for Social Security purposes will stay at the 2009 level — $106,800 — just as it did in 2010. That’s because there won’t be any increase in Social Security benefits in 2011. Therefore, if you are under the Federal Employees Retirement System or Civil Service Retirement System Offset, any amount you earn over $106,800 won’t be subject to the 6.2 percent Social Security deduction.
As a retiree, for the second year in a row, you won’t receive a cost-of-living adjustment in your annuity; and, if you are receiving a Social Security benefit, you won’t get an increase in that, either.
COLAs for retirees and Social Security beneficiaries are determined by changes in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers from the third quarter of one year to the third quarter of the next. The CPI-W dropped between 2009 and 2010, as it did between 2008 and 2009 — negating a COLA increase in 2011, as it did in 2010.
Among the good news: There’s a “hold harmless” provision in the law, which does two things to make not getting a COLA increase more palatable: First, it prevents benefit recipients from having their annuities and Social Security benefits reduced. Second, it protects nearly three-quarters of Medicare Part B enrollees from having their monthly premiums increased.
On the other hand, more than one-quarter of Medicare Part B enrollees will see an increase. You will be among those if you are a new enrollee in Medicare Part B, are subject to the income-related additional premium amount or don’t have your Part B premiums withheld from your Social Security benefit payments.
If you receive a Social Security benefit, the Social Security exempt amount — the amount you can earn from another job or self-employment without causing that benefit to be reduced — is the same as it was in 2009 and 2010: $14,160 for an individual or $37,680 for a couple.
If you are under full retirement age, $1 in benefits will be deducted for every $2 you earn above the limit. In the year in which you reach full retirement age, $1 in benefits will be deducted for every $3 you earn above the limit. There is no limit beginning with the month in which you reach full retirement age.
While there was talk all last year about giving Social Security recipients a $250 payment to compensate for their loss of a COLA in 2010, nothing happened. And, barring a legislative miracle, nothing is likely to happen in 2011.
Although many benefits for employees and retirees will not increase in 2011, some expenses will increase. Depending on which Federal Employees Health Benefits Program plan you are enrolled in, a substantial bite for premiums might be taken out of your income. The same is true if you are enrolled in the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program. There are no “hold harmless” provisions that can keep these premiums in check.
If you are a retiree who was upset when you didn’t get an annual cost-of-living adjustment in 2010, I can imagine how you feel now that you’ve learned that you won’t get one in 2011, either. Neither will Social Security beneficiaries.
Actually, I don’t have to imagine because I’m in the same boat. I’m a federal retiree, and I’m also receiving Social Security benefits. The only reason I’m not writing angry letters to my members of Congress is because I understand both the law and the process used to implement it. Let me share that information with you and see if it helps.
By law, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is charged with the responsibility of determining how much the annual cost-of-living adjustment will be. It does this by measuring the cost of living during July, August and September of the current year against the same months in the previous year. The percentage difference between the two determines the amount of the COLA.
Getting the data for the comparison is a multistep process. First, BLS goes around the country gathering information from professionals, urban wage earners, clerical employees, the self-employed, the poor, the unemployed and retirees. The product of that data is the Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers (CPI-U), which covers approximately 87 percent of the population.
Because the CPI-U includes both workers and nonworkers, BLS draws a subset of that data on urban wage earners and clerical workers (CPI-W) to more closely match the spending patterns of federal beneficiaries.
To learn about month-to-month changes in spending patterns, BLS gets detailed information from families and individuals about what they bought in more than 200 categories. This “market basket” of information is sorted into eight major groups: food and beverage; housing; apparel; transportation; medical care; recreation; education and communication; and other goods and services. Also included are a variety of user fees, such as water and sewerage charges, auto registration fees, vehicle tolls, and sales and excise taxes.
BLS doesn’t get information on income and Social Security taxes because they aren’t directly associated with consumer goods and services. For the same reason, investment items such as stocks, bonds, real estate and life insurance are excluded.
To validate what it learns about consumer spending patterns, BLS also gathers price information on thousands of items from retail stores, service establishments, rental units and doctors’ offices.
All this data collection and computation boils down to the COLA that retirees and Social Security beneficiaries will be entitled to in December of each year and receive in their January annuity checks and, where applicable, Social Security benefit payments.
With the exception of this year and next, COLAs have been pretty good. From 2000 to 2009, they’ve ranged from a low in 2003 of 1.4 percent to a high in 2009 of 5.8 percent for Civil Service Retirement System retirees and 4.8 percent for Federal Employees Retirement System employees. If the CPI-W increases by 3 percent or more, eligible FERS retirees receive the CPI-W minus one percentage point. Note: With the exception of special category employees, disability retirees and survivors, FERS retirees aren’t eligible for COLAs until they reach age 62.
So, is there any good news? Yes, there is. The law doesn’t permit any reduction in federal annuities or Social Security benefits if the result of the COLA computation is negative. Further, if you are receiving a Social Security benefit and enrolled in Medicare Part B, the hold-harmless provision in that law means that those premiums won’t increase for the second year in a row.
On the other hand, if you aren’t receiving a Social Security benefit and are enrolled in Medicare Part B, your premiums will go up, just like they did last year. Sorry about that.
Q: I’m a WG-9, Step 3. We just recently received the 2010 cost-of-living adjustment. However, it was not retroactive to January 2010 like the GS COLA adjustments were. Will this automatically be retroactive, or is this COLA effective the date the president signed the order?
A: Wage system and GS employees don’t receive cost-of-living adjustments. They receive pay increases. While the increases for GS employees are usually effective on the first pay period beginning on or after Jan. 1, wage system increases are based on wage surveys conducted at different times of the year and vary by locality.