Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Facing a hostile work environment

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Q: I am a 48-year-old employee with 18 years of government service in the U.S. Postal Service and the Veterans Affairs Department. I am on a two-week leave of absence due to stress from my supervisor and would like to resign without filing action so that I may find other government employment. What is the longest unpaid absence I can take so that I may try another type of employment while on unpaid leave status?

A: If you didn’t report to work, you’d be considered to be absent without leave and your agency could begin the process of separating you by adverse action. On the other hand, if you requested leave without pay (LWOP), you’d be able to do that only for as many days as had been approved by your supervisor. Once again, if you failed to report for work at the end of that time period, your supervisor could begin adverse action proceedings to separate you.

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Working while on LWOP

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Q: I am a career federal employee. I still have a couple of years before I can retire. I have a family emergency on the other side of the U.S.  that I must attend to for several months. I have tried for months to find another federal job in that city, but have had no luck. I do have a hardship transfer approval. I have been told by my supervisors that I could use leave without pay. My question is this: Can I hold a nonfederal job while I am taking LWOP? I will need income when I move, and if I cannot find a federal job, I have to work somewhere.

A: There is nothing that would bar you from taking a nonfederal job while you are on leave without pay. However, what you do shouldn’t interfere with the purpose for which the LWOP is granted.

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Unused annual leave and LWOP

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Q: I’m a Federal Employees Retirement System employee who is about to take three-plus years’ leave without pay from my job to serve with an overseas international organization. What are the rules regarding unused annual leave?  I plan to return to this job upon completion of the overseas posting.  Can I cash in my days now? Will they be returned if I don’t use them, or may I use them after commencing my overseas post, in effect starting the other job while on “LWOP-leave”?

A: You cannot cash in your unused annual leave when you go on LWOP, nor may you use it while on LWOP. The full amount will be recredited to you when you return from your overseas tour.

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LWOP

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Q. Does leave without pay count toward retirement?

A. Yes, as long as it doesn’t exceed six months in a calendar year.

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LWOP impact on SCD and retirement

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Q. A couple of related questions. I was in a LWOP status for seven months and a few days. My SCD was November 1982. Time in grade prior to LWOP was 27 years and seven months (plus a few days). I am now off LWOP working full-time. Do I still hit my 30 years in November 2012 or do I need to make up the seven months of LWOP? Do I meet the 30 years of service for retirement in November 2012?

A. A total of six months in a nonpay status in any calendar year is creditable service. Coverage continues at no cost to you while in a nonpay status. If you are in a nonpay status for only a portion of a pay period, your contributions are adjusted in proportion to your basic pay. Any time in LWOP beyond that six months is not. So, if your period of LWOP occurred in the same calendar year, that seventh month and a few days wouldn’t count when determining your length of service. On the other hand, if that LWOP was split over two calendar years, it would, as long as you didn’t exceed six months in either one.

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Military leave for a term-hire job

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Q: My nephew has a term-hire job, and he just found out he will be deploying to Iraq soon. It looks like he will be leaving three weeks before the end of his contract. Will he be able to work those three weeks when he gets back? Also, it sounds like they were going to extend the contract, so would that mean he would also get that extension when he comes back? And, does a term hire get any paid military leave?

A: When he goes on active duty, during those three weeks he will be on military leave, called LWOP-US. At the end of those three weeks, he will no longer be a federal civilian employee. When he returns from active duty, if the project or workload needs that were the basis for his being hired in the first place still exist, his agency could, at its discretion, offer him a new term appointment.

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Counting injury leave toward retirement

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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.

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High-3 rules and military leave

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Q: I am an employee with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in a covered 6(c) law enforcement position. I have 19 6(c) law enforcement years for retirement purposes. I am also in the National Guard.

If I enter the active-duty Army and take leave without pay for the next five years, which years would be included to make up my “high 3″ for retirement purposes under the Federal Employees Retirement System? Is the high-3 calculation based on actual money earned (i.e., the three years prior to entering active duty with the military), or is it based on my paygrade and scale I would received if I retire at the end of my leave period? If it is the latter, would it include the 25 percent Law Enforcement Availability Pay which I am receiving now?

A: Your high-3 would be the one you had on the day you went on LWOP-US. However, you would have to return to a covered position and make a deposit to the retirement system to receive credit for that period of time as a law enforcement officer.

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LWOP vs. medical retirement

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Q. I am an Air Force civilian serving a three-year tour overseas, I have completed four years of government service as of March 20, 2010 and I am 41 years old. However, I suffered a serious spine injury in March 2009 ,which caused me to be on Leave Without Pay due to a work-related injury beginning in April 2009 to January 2010. Since I have been overseas during my convalescence, my housing allowance was misreported and reduced and my post allowance was eliminated. My personnel office calls this an “government incentive for employees to return to work.” Because I was being “starved out,” I returned to work in January part time. I am having difficulty sitting on my job since I returned back to work. and I cannot take my medication during the day. I cannot afford to live and raise two school age children on the $36,000 medical disability that I would receive should I medically retire ,as I am a single parent. I have 16 quarters on Social Security but need 20 for medical disability. My DOL OWCP pay would be substantial to live on but it is not considered retirement. I just learned three days ago that my doctors are now determining that my injury/symptoms are now considered to be chronic and will continue to substantially limit my mobility, and ability to stand, walk, sit, lift, etc. I have completed over 100 medical appointments trying to restore my function and I soon to be scheduled for occupational assessment at home and work. I am quite concerned that I am going to be medically retired and put out on the streets while overseas.

A. Remaining on workers compensation is the best financial option you have at present. However, to protect yourself, you should also apply for disability retirement under FERS. If you do that, you must also file for disability retirement under Social Security. Whether you would be eligible to apply for a Social Security disability benefit depends on your age and the number of credits you have under Social Security. To see where you stand, go to www.ssa.gov/retire2/credits3.htm. If approved for disability retirement under FERS, for the first 12 months you would receive 60 percent of your high-3 average salary, minus 100 percent of any Social Security disability benefit. After that you would get 40 percent of your high-3, minus 60 percent of any Social Security disability benefit.

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Federal Employees Group Life Insurance

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Q. I am a FERS employee who, prior to having five years of current life insurance through the federal government, will be required to file for FERS disability retirement. Does the period of Leave Without Pay qualify for purposes of continuing accrual toward the five-year mandatory period? I will enter into LWOP, awaiting the OPM decision, about five months prior to having the requisite five-year period.

A. Yes, periods of LWOP up to 12 months count toward meeting the five-year requirement. Further, that coverage is provided at no cost to you or your agency.

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