Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Military leave without pay and retirement

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Q. I was hired as federal civilian Feb. 21, 2006. I was called to active duty August 2006-2007.

I went back to my civilian job from August 2007 until the end of March 2008 and was then called back to active duty through March 2011. I returned to civilian service and have been there since the end of June 2011.

I want to retire under the optional five-year retirement. I was on military leave without pay during all my active duty and paid into FERS when I returned to federal service. Is my time on military LWOP creditable toward the five-year civilian service requirement?

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Leave without pay, retirement and buyback

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Q. How does having slightly more than 600 hours of leave without pay for medical problems affect the calculation for qualified years for retirement? Is that time subtracted? Can any of it be paid back?

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Job overseas and high-3 calculation

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Q. I am an FERS GS with four years until I get my 20 under 6(c) law enforcement officer and a year and half after that until mandatory retirement. I have been offered a 6(c) job overseas — how is the high-3 calculated? Is it on the base level GS schedule (plus LEAP) I actually earn, or is it based on a modified amount of what I would have earned in DC — which is how the overseas postings on Foreign Service retirement seems to work? I am pretty sure all the COLA, post allowances and danger pays don’t calculate in either total.

If it is the lower amount basic GS schedule, my high-3 would instead be these last three years — but I was mobilized to military duty for the first of those. How is that year I was on LWOP-US calculated into the total?

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Returning from leave without pay

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Q. Are there governmentwide rules/regulations that provide clarity regarding the return rights civilian (nonmilitary) federal employees have when returning to their agencies after extended, approved leave without pay, or are agencies responsible for developing and administering their own policies in this area?

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Leave, USPS and retirement benefits

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Q. A Postal Service employee had to use all his sick and annual leave because of illness. He used leave without pay. When he retired, he was not entitled to benefits. He received only his contributions. Why did he get back only his funds and not the complete package because of LWOP? Read the rest of this entry »

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Step increases during disability

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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?

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Leave without pay and annuity

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Q. I understand that for leave without pay of less than six month, we receive credit for that time.

I am 52 with 32 years of service, all under FERS. My MRA is 56 (2016). In my last year or sooner, I believe my supervisor will allow me the last year before retirement to work 24 and 16 hours LWOP. Is there any impact? I’m under retired spouses FEHB.

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Leave without pay for more than six months

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Q. I’m a FERS employee whose federal service has been broken up by multiple periods of leave without pay due to permanent changes of station accompanying my active-duty spouse. I looked over your website and found lots of questions/answers regarding high-3 and LWOP of less than six months but not much on what happens when it is more than six months.

Based on the answers I found, is LWOP greater than six months considered a break in service and thus possibly damaging to your high-3?

For example, I worked 18 months at a base salary of $57,146 and $58,141, followed by 12 months of LWOP until I was transferred to a position with a base salary of $35,657. Will the higher salary be considered at all since I was in LWOP status for more than six months, or did my “three consecutive years” start over when I ended the LWOP status and transferred to the lower salary position?

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Annual leave versus leave without pay

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Q. Can a supervisor force an employee to take leave without pay over taking annual leave? The employee’s day care provider called in sick, and the employee had to stay home with a healthy 4-year-old child. The employee has exhausted sick leave but has an annual leave balance, as well as some comp and credit time. The supervisor denied the request for annual leave and instead put the employee on LWOP for the day. The employee called in and left a voice mail for the supervisor promptly on the day the child care provider was not available. Can the supervisor do this?

A. According to OPM, “An employee may use annual leave for any purpose, including vacations, rest and relaxation, and personal business or emergencies. An employee has a right to take annual leave, subject to the right of the supervisor to schedule the time at which annual leave may be taken.” Therefore, your supervisor was operating within authority in putting you on LWOP. However, there was no requirement that your supervisor do that.

Because there may be more going on in your supervisor-employee relationship than you’ve revealed in your email, you’ll need to discuss with your supervisor the reasons behind the decision.

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Leave without pay and creditable service

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Q. As of January, I had 36 years of creditable federal service for retirement. This is based on a federal retirement benefits estimate I received from a company contracted by my agency to provide this service. I was on leave without pay while in a master’s degree program from June 23, 1984, to June 7, 1986. The company providing the benefits estimate counted all of this time as creditable for retirement. Is this correct, or would I only be allowed credit for a maximum of six months during each of the three calendar years covered by the leave without pay?

Secondly, I am in the CSRS Offset retirement program. Can I pay into my retirement program for the LWOP period, similar to what I was allowed to do for my military time? If so, where do I start? I am not in CSRS Offset because of the LWOP period but for a period between Aug. 23, 1988, and June 30, 1994, during which I taught two years at a University and completed a Ph.D. in my current field.

A. Periods of LWOP that are less than six months in a calendar year are considered to be creditable service and no deposit is required to get credit for it. LWOP that exceeds six months in a calendar year isn’t creditable service for any purpose, and you can’t make a deposit to get credit for it.

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Leave without pay and injury

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Q. I am a federal employee under FERS. I have 13 years of service with a minimum of 10 years to become eligible for regular retirement. Due to an injury, I was on leave without pay for several months, then returned to work overseas. After I was on the job eight months, my condition manifested in physical symptoms, at which point my physician recommended that I take leave. My employer approved sick and annual leave but said I was ineligible for LWOP because I was overseas. I am still on my own leave, but it will soon be exhausted, and I am not cleared to return to work.

Are federal employees eligible for LWOP while assigned outside the United States? Also, what are my options for early retirement?

A. The granting of LWOP is entirely in the hands of your agency. It makes the decision about whether, when and where it can be granted.

The only option that could result in your receiving an immediate annuity would be if you were approved for disability retirement. Your agency is required to explain the process and help you fill out the paperwork.

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No break in service

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Q. I came into federal service in 1995 with the Air Force (civilian). In May 2012, I began a Schedule A excepted service temporary appointment to the Army to serve in Afghanistan. The Air Force put me on leave without pay, and I have return rights and will return to my old position and location when this one-year assignment is done. I want to ensure that there is no break in service or other problem when it comes time to retire. Is there anything that I should do now to ensure that things don’t get messed up at retirement time? I want my time with the Army in Afghanistan to be counted for retirement. Will there be a problem later if, at retirement, one agency shows me on leave without pay for 12 months, while another agency has me on an excepted service appointment for that time? I’m continuing to pay into FERS while with the Army.

A. Just make sure that the Standard Form 50 cut by the Army to bring you onboard makes it into your Official Personnel Folder, along with the SF-50 separating you from that position. Having them placed between the SF-50 putting you on LWOP and the one returning you to your former position, your employment record will be seamless.

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Disability and leave without pay

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Q. If an employee has a disability (schizophrenia), can the employee request two years of leave without pay to get away from a hostile work environment due to co-workers?

A. An employee may make such a request. Whether it would be granted would be up to the agency. Depending on the employee’s ability to provide useful and efficient service, the agency might recommend that the employee file for disability retirement instead.

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Leave without pay vs. LWOP-US

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Q. I am a dual status technician GS employee in the Air National Guard. I’m trying to figure out if a three-month activation on Title 10 active duty for which I go leave without pay from my technician job will require me to make a military deposit to credit that tour after completion? Does such a short tour fall under the LWOP six-month rule and therefore doesn’t require any payment? Our agency has been calculating deposits to cover less than six-month tours in the past, but I’m curious if that’s necessary.

A. Your agency is correct. You won’t be taking LWOP. You’ll be taking LWOP-US, which means that you must make a deposit to get credit for that time.

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Advanced annual leave

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Q. OPM’s Standard Form 71 (Request for Leave or Approved Absence) contains options for Advanced Annual/Sick Leave in addition to Accrued Annual/Sick Leave, Leave Without Pay (LWOP), etc. Due to personal circumstances, I asked my immediate supervisor for both Advanced Leave and LWOP, and he said that he while he could grant LWOP, he would not be able to grant Advanced Leave because his upper management discourages it. Can my agency legally exclude Advanced Leave as one of my leave options?

A. Yes. You’re not entitled to advanced annual leave. In making a decision, your agency may consider such factors as its need for your services, the likelihood of your returning to duty and the benefits to the agency of retaining you.

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Leave without pay, disability retirement and creditable service

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Q. I started a position with a federal agency in October 2010 and worked through July 2011 (about nine months) when I was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer and had to go on leave without pay. I was on LWOP for all of 2012. I am still on LWOP and a colleague suggested I apply for disability retirement. I started collecting Social Security disability in January 2012. Do I have enough creditable hours to meet the 18 months under the FERS disability retirement? Does collecting Social Security disability when I did affect my creditable-hours calculation? I also received several hundred hours in donated annual leave in 2012. Do the donated leave hours have any effect on the creditable-hours calculation?

A. You’ll have to talk to a specialist in your personnel office to learn if you have the 18 months of creditable service needed to apply for FERS disability retirement. Donated annual leave would be included in that tally, while any LWOP that exceeded six months in a calendar year would not.

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Postal Service VERA

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Q. I am a 55-year-old Postal Service employee with more than 26 years of creditable service who has been on active duty under Title 10 for the past 10 years.  Late last year, I was offered the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority, which I accepted and submitted the irrevocable application along with all of the required documents.  On Jan. 31, I received a phone from the Postal Service human resources office to inform me that my retirement could not be processed because I am on active duty. I was also told that I had to return to pay status to be eligible for retirement.

1.  Is leave without pay or on military leave a pay status?

2.  Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, my employer is obligated to rehire me after five years of military service. What would guarantee that I will be rehired after 15 years of military service?

3.  Since the Postal Service is offering the VERA because of reorganization, what precludes them from honoring the offer for retirement?

4.  Do I have any legal recourse to pursue this issue?

A. 1. No.

2. No.

3. You aren’t an employee.

4. No.

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Terminally ill — survivor benefit

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Q. My wife, who is terminally ill, is covered by FERS and is an employee of the Postal Service. She is running out of sick and annual leave. If she goes on leave without pay and passes away while on leave without pay, will I, as her current husband (25 years +) still be eligible for the basic employee death benefit (50 percent of final salary plus $15,000)?

A. If your wife had more than 18 months service but less than 10 years, you’d receive a lump-sum payment of $31,316.46 plus a lump-sum of the higher of 50 percent on her annual basic pay at the time of her death or 50 percent of her high-3 average salary, plus any Social Security benefit that may be payable, plus any Thrift Savings Plan death benefits. If she had 10 or more years of service, you’d receive all of the above plus a survivor annuity equal to 50 percent of her basic annuity under FERS.

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Leave without pay to test private sector

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Q. I am career permanent in federal government employment as GS-14. I wish to leave to take a private-sector job to see if I like it. How long can I remain on unpaid leave of absence and still have return rights back into federal employment?

A. You are asking about leave without pay, the granting of which is solely at the discretion of your management. Your management would be unlikely to grant LWOP to someone who wants to test private-sector waters. It would provide little or no benefit to them and would tie up a position they would be better off recruiting for and filling.

If you want to resign from the government and take another job, you are free to do so. If you leave your contributions in the retirement fund and later return to government employment, you’ll get full credit for your years of service in your leave accrual rate, determining your eligibility to retire, and your annuity computation. If you withdraw your contributions, you could redeposit that amount plus accrued interest to get retirement credit for that time.

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Leave without pay and benefits

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Q. I’m a dual-status federal tech. I am 47 and have 16 years under FERS counting 10 years of military service I bought back. I was injured during military duties that will make me unfit for my position in the Air National Guard. Will I be eligible for the 60/40 annuity when the ANG finds me unfit? If I receive disability payments from the Veterans Affairs Department, how will they affect my FERS disability annuity? I am out of sick and annual leave and have been told from the beginning there is no limited or light duty — if I can’t do all of my job, I can’t do any of it.

Will there be negative issues that crop up from being on extended leave without pay until my medical issues have resolved?

A. You would be able to receive both benefits with no reduction in either of them. Being on LWOP would have no effect unless you exceed six months in a calendar year.

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