| Read Time: 4 minutes | Workplace Harassment

Federal Workplace Harassment: A Federal Employees’ Guide to Understanding Your Rights

Workplace harassment continues to be a problem at federal agencies, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reporting that most of the claims filed in 2019 were related to harassment. Federal employees should familiarize themselves with applicable harassment laws. These laws not only protect employees’ rights but can also potentially eliminate future incidents of harassment. If you believe you were the victim of workplace harassment while working in a federal government position, it’s time to contact an experienced federal workplace harassment attorney who can help. What Is Considered Workplace Harassment? So, what is considered harassment at work? Some people assume workplace harassment is just another term for sexual harassment. However, sexual harassment is only one type of workplace harassment that employees may suffer. Harassment can be verbal, psychological, physical, or in the form of online bullying.  Workplace harassment occurs anytime an employee suffers unwelcome or unwanted conduct based on: Harassment becomes illegal when the conduct creates an intimidating or hostile work environment or is offensive to reasonable people. There is a threshold test, whether the harassment is sufficiently severe or pervasive. Minor annoyances or petty slights will not typically rise to the level of federal law unlawful workplace harassment. Examples of illegal workplace harassment include offensive jokes, physical assaults, racial slurs, intimidation, and conduct that interferes with work performance. Sexual harassment can include requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, quid pro quo harassment, or other physical or verbal harassment of a sexual nature. In many cases, sexual harassment is not overt or physical; it’s often masked in comments or banter, making future encounters uncomfortable and awkward. Sexual harassment victims can be female or male. They may even be of the same sex as their harasser.  In 2019, sexual harassment claims accounted for 10.3% of the EEOC’s total complaints.  Harassment of a federal employee also includes retaliation for engaging in protected EEO activity. Anti-discrimination laws provide that harassment against people in retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint or engaging in other protected EEO activity is illegal. This protected activity includes someone who has filed a discrimination charge or participated in an investigation, or other EEO-type proceedings, requested a reasonable accommodation, or provided testimony in another employee’s EEO complaint. Complaints involving retaliation comprise more than half of all complaints filed with the EEOC. Out of 72,675 complaints filed in 2019, 39,110 involved retaliation. When Are Employers Liable for Workplace Harassment? Federal employers can be held liable for workplace harassment even when they are not directly involved. An employer must take reasonable action to prevent any harassment in the workplace. If harassment has occurred, the employer must take swift disciplinary action for harassment in the workplace. Federal agencies will be automatically liable for harassment by someone in a supervisory position that resulted in termination, loss of wages, failure to hire or promote, or other negative employment action. Suppose a supervisor’s alleged harassment resulted in a hostile work environment. In that case, the employer could be held responsible unless that employer can prove that it took appropriate preventative and corrective measures, and the involved employees did not follow the applicable policies. Harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees the employer controls, like a customer or independent contractor, is handled a bit differently. Employers are only held liable if they knew or should have known about the harassment and did not take swift and necessary corrective action. The best way to eliminate workplace harassment is to prevent it before it happens. Agencies should have an effective grievance or complaint process so that employees can report any unwanted conduct immediately. Speaking with employees about harassment and establishing anti-harassment training for both supervisory staff and employees are essential components of harassment prevention. What Can Employees Do About Harassment in the Workplace? When harassment occurs in the federal workplace, employees must take action to try and stop it. Employees can start by trying to resolve the issue at the lowest level, speaking directly with the person who has committed the harassment. It’s important to communicate that you find the behavior or words offensive. If the harassment continues, employees should follow the applicable reporting procedures for their employer. Report the conduct early on to keep it from escalating. Employees can also file a complaint with their agency’s EEO office, which eventually could come directly before the EEOC. Facing Harassment In The Federal Workplace? Contact Our Federal Employee Lawyer Today If you are a victim of federal workplace harassment, it may affect your work performance. The job you once loved may now be a source of extreme stress. You may experience difficulty sleeping, mood swings, or other symptoms as a result. Taking action to stop unwanted conduct can help you feel better. Putting a stop to workplace harassment can protect you and your federal career that you’ve worked so hard for over the years.  Don’t let someone get away with workplace harassment. Speak with a skilled federal workplace harassment lawyer who can help you understand your legal options. At the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, our focus is federal employee law, including workplace harassment. We can advise you on the best course of action and guide you through the process of reporting the unlawful harassment you have suffered. Our primary goals are to protect your rights and to make the harassment stop. Contact our office to schedule an initial consultation or to speak with a federal workplace harassment attorney.

Continue Reading

| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

How Does Social Media Use Impact Federal Employment?

There’s no denying that social media has transformed the way we connect with loved ones and keep up with current events today. Many Americans don’t think twice about how and when they engage with social media sites—it’s just part of their daily routine. However, federal employees can’t be so cavalier. For government workers, sharing certain information or engaging in specific behaviors online can lead to severe professional and even legal consequences.  This blog post will offer an overview of the federal government’s social media policy for employees. We’ll discuss the major rules around social media use and how to protect yourself and your job in your online activity.  What Are the Rules Around Social Media and Government Employees? For the most part, federal employees are allowed to use social media and other popular digital platforms to some degree. However, your actions online may face more scrutiny than those of a private sector worker. Several federal laws and regulations oversee how government employees behave online. These rules apply to activity on numerous public-facing digital platforms, including: Let’s examine two major rules impacting federal employees’ use of social media.  Office of Government Ethics (OGE) Standards of Conduct All federal government employees must follow the OGE’s Standards of Ethical Conduct. This document outlines the general expectations for principled behavior in and outside working hours. The Standards of Ethical Conduct don’t mention social media usage specifically. However, they do explicitly forbid government employees from using their public position or office for private gain, including by: In the context of social media use, this gives us a couple of important guidelines.  First, don’t share any non-public information you learn on the job online. Keeping personal and classified government information quiet is essential for safeguarding national security and your job security. Next, it’s important to remember that your work computer isn’t meant for personal use—neither is the time you’re on the clock. Scrolling Facebook from an employer-provided electronic device risks becoming an inappropriate use of government property and time.  The Hatch Act The Hatch Act regulates how employees use social media as a platform for expressing partisan preferences or engaging in political activity. Under the Hatch Act, most federal employees are prohibited from the following behaviors on social media: Some employees who work in certain specialized roles or at certain federal agencies have even more rules about what they can and cannot say online. For a complete picture of the social media policy for employees in your position, consult with your HR department or a federal employment lawyer. How Does Social Media Impact Employment? Improper or unlawful use of social media can have serious repercussions in your professional life. As a federal employee, you are a representative of the government to some extent. Many regulations around employee social media use aim to clearly distinguish between your personal opinions, statements, and endorsements and those of your agency or federal employer. Other rules are based on certain standards of ethics and impartiality expected of all federal employees. Employees who disregard these guidelines for legal and ethical social media use can face: For this reason, we recommend several basic guidelines for social media and employees in federal roles. For one, think before you share anything online. To be safe, it’s often best to avoid mentioning political topics or your job in your public social media posts. Take time to learn about additional policies or regulations that could apply to your role. Most importantly, if confronted about social-media-related misconduct, contact a federal employment lawyer immediately.  Experienced Legal Advocates Trusted by Federal Employees  Federal employees are often intimidated by the complex regulations around government employees’ social media use. If you have questions about what specific standards apply to your role, a trained advocate with the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing can help. Headed by award-winning federal attorney Aaron D. Wersing, our firm has spent years counseling government workers on various employment disputes. To learn how we can help you, contact our office online or by phone.  

Continue Reading

| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Which Federal Employees Are Title 38?

Title 38 employees are in a unique position compared to other civil servants. If you’re a healthcare professional at the Veterans Administration (VA) or the National Institute for Health (NIH), your rights and obligations as a federal employee may differ significantly from those of your coworkers.  So, what is a Title 38 federal employee? This blog post will shed some light on this particular employee category for medical professionals. We’ll examine how Title 38 status impacts your benefits, compensation, and protections as an employee. What Is a Title 38 Federal Employee? Put simply, Title 38 employees are a special category of workers not covered by Title 5 of the U.S. Code, the primary law governing federal employment. Title 5 outlines most federal workers’s standard working conditions, pay scales, benefits, and holidays.  However, certain VA or NIH medical professionals are regulated by a different part of the U.S. Code, Title 38.  What Is Title 38 in the Federal Government? Title 38 is a portion of U.S. law governing the benefits provided to military veterans by the VA. It outlines the rules for administering disability compensation, pensions, educational assistance, employment, and other rights and services veterans are entitled to. Since it regulates healthcare, Title 38 also sets the standards and benefits for certain specialized medical professionals employed through the VA. Who Are Title 38 Employees? Title 38 employees are healthcare providers who work for the VA or the NIHealth. Some medical professionals who fall under Title 38 include: However, not all health professionals at the VA or NIH are Title 38 employees. Some may fall into a special category involving a mix of Title 38 and Title 5 policies. Providers who often fall into this hybrid Title 38 category include dental hygienists and assistants, mental health counselors, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, and dietitians.  Be aware these aren’t definitive lists. Many other types of medical professionals may also fall into either of these categories. The best way to know what type of employee you are is to talk to your Human Resources department or consult a federal employment attorney. What Makes Title 38 Federal Employees Different? Title 38 workers face several different rules and procedures as employees compared to their Title 5 counterparts. Here are some of the significant unique features of Title 38 employment status. Non-Standard Working Hours Under Title 5, most federal employees work during regular business hours from Monday–Friday. However, it’s common for medical professionals under Title 38 to be available 24/7 for work, even on weekends. Different Pay Scale Salaries for Title 5 employees follow one of two pay scales: the General Schedule (GS) or the Executive Schedule (ES). However, Title 38 allows the federal government to use a different—and often more competitive—pay structure to recruit and retain qualified medical professionals.  Longer Probationary Period Your two years of work as a Title 38 employee are treated as a probationary period to ensure you meet the high standards for clinical competency and patient care expected by the VA and NIH. For Title 5 employees, this probationary period only lasts one year.  Complex, Administrative Appeals Process  Unlike most federal workers, Title 38 employees can’t appeal adverse or unjust employment decisions to the standard Merit Systems Protection Board. Instead, they have to take their appeal through a Disciplinary Appeal Board—run by their employer. Because the VA has discretion over these appeals, overturning a disciplinary action can be more challenging for employees. What Rights Do Title 38 Federal Employees Have? Despite the differences between Title 38 and Title 5 status, Title 38 employees still receive important protections under federal law. Some of the rights that Title 38 employees enjoy include: Although Title 38 employees face unique challenges appealing an employer’s decision, they can contest disciplinary actions, including suspension, pay reduction, license revocation, and termination. Importantly, you also have the right to legal representation in hearings where disciplinary actions are at issue. Dedicated Experts for All Federal Employment Concerns At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, we know firsthand how challenging it is to make sense of your rights as a civil servant and medical professional. Generic advice from HR or attorneys without experience in federal employment law won’t cut it. For a clear understanding of what your Title 38 status means, it’s essential to contact a qualified federal employment attorney. Our law firm proudly represents medical professionals serving in the federal healthcare system. Our team has years of experience guiding federal workers through various complex employment disputes, from unlawful license revocation to hostile work environments. To learn more about how we can help you, contact our office online or by phone.

Continue Reading

| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Overview of COLA for Federal Employees

Annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) safeguard the financial security of federal retirees and their loved ones. Every year, the government calculates and pays out COLA to help offset the toll that rising inflation takes on federal retirement benefits.  Most federal employees enjoying or approaching retirement recognize the importance of COLA. However, understanding how to calculate it isn’t always so straightforward.  In this blog post, we’ll discuss how cost-of-living adjustments work for federal employees. We’ll answer some common questions, including: Remember, always speak to a professional if you have specific questions about your federal employment benefits. An attorney trained in federal employment law is the best resource for qualified advice tailored to your unique situation. What Is the COLA for Federal Employees Based On? Annual cost-of-living adjustments for federal retirement benefits are tied to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The CPI-W measures the change in consumer purchasing power over time. To do this, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects monthly data on the cost of goods and services across the country. This includes information about the cost of food, housing, clothing, transportation, healthcare, education, recreation, and utilities. The Department of Labor uses this data on the inflation rate to make decisions about monetary policy and salary increases for civil servants. Since COLA aims to protect federal retirement benefits from eroding due to inflation, the CPI-W is an essential factor in the yearly cost-of-living adjustment calculator. Close to the end of the calendar year, the economists at the BLS compare the CPI-W from July, August, and September to the CPI-W from those months in the year before. Based on the rate of change in consumer prices, the BLS calculates whether eligible federal retirees can receive a COLA.  For example, in December 2023, the federal government announced the year’s COLA payments based on the change in CPI-W from the third quarter of 2022 to the third quarter of 2023. Retirees and beneficiaries eligible for COLA should have received their payments in January 2024. Is COLA the Same for All Federal Employees? No. The amount of COLA you’re eligible for depends on your federal retirement plan. Let’s break down the two major types of retirement systems that federal employees fall into. Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) FERS is the current plan for managing retirement benefits for federal employees. It became effective in 1987 for all federal employees hired after 1983.  For FERS beneficiaries, COLA payments can be broken down as follows: In all cases, the amount of a COLA is rounded down to the next whole dollar.  Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) You may be enrolled in the CSRS if you’re a long-time federal employee who began working before 1984. COLA calculations are simpler for CSRS employees. The adjustment is always equal to any positively calculated increase in CPI-W.  The COLA for federal employees in 2024 granted FERS beneficiaries an increase of 2.2%. For CSRS beneficiaries, the adjustment was 3.2%. To receive the full COLA payment, you must have been in retirement and receiving benefits for the full calendar year. If you retired within the last year, your COLA amount will be prorated. For example, imagine you retire in February 2024. By January 2025, when COLA is paid out, you’ll have been retired for 10 out of 12 months of the fiscal year, so you’ll receive ten-twelfths of whichever COLA payment you’re entitled to. Who Can Receive COLA? Eligibility for COLA also differs between the two federal retirement systems.  Under the current FERS plan, you’re eligible for COLA if you are: However, under CSRS, all retirees and eligible survivors can receive cost-of-living adjustments to benefits, regardless of age.  Questions About Your Federal Benefits? We Have Answers Navigating federal retirement plans can be overwhelming. Since cost-of-living adjustments change yearly, ensuring you’re receiving the benefits you’re entitled to can be challenging. If you have questions, don’t settle on generic advice from any employment lawyer. Contact the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing for qualified, reliable support from a trained federal employment lawyer. For years, our team of legal professionals has been helping shed light on the ins and outs of FERS and CSRS for beneficiaries and their loved ones. Our advocates can help you understand the rights granted by your federal retirement system and ensure you’re fully compensated for your years of service. To schedule a consultation, contact our office by phone or online.

Continue Reading

| Read Time: 5 minutes | Federal Retirement

5 Steps for Applying for Federal Disability Retirement

Federal employees who become disabled face significant stress. From handling pain and multiple doctor appointments to worrying about finances and an uncertain future, a federal employee can be overwhelmed. The last thing that a disabled federal employee should have to deal with is filing complex paperwork to apply for federal disability retirement benefits.  At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, our federal employee disability retirement lawyers take the worry out of applying for benefits. We help our disabled-federal-worker clients so that they can focus on their health and their families. Our hands-on approach keeps our clients informed throughout the entire process, from completing the initial paperwork to the appeal of benefit denial. We are experienced in all aspects of Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) disability retirement benefits so that federal employees don’t have to be. For assistance, please contact us online or call (833) 833-3529 today. Requirements For Applying For FERS Disability Retirement To be eligible for the FERS disability program, federal employees must have worked in a covered position for at least 18 months. In addition, an employee must have become disabled while employed and the disability must be expected to last for at least one year. Importantly, however, a work-related injury or illness need not have caused the disability. Federal employees can apply for disability retirement benefits at any age. What Disabilities Qualify for Federal Government Disability Retirement Benefits? To qualify for federal government disability retirement benefits, an employee must experience either a physical or mental disease or injury. The employee’s disability must prevent “useful and efficient service” in the employee’s current job with the federal government. Essentially, the federal employee must be unable to perform one or more essential job functions of their current position. If the employing federal agency can accommodate the worker’s medical condition, the employee may continue to work in his or her current position. In that case, the employee will not be eligible for federal disability retirement. Alternatively, if the employing agency can transfer the disabled employee to a different job, known as the accommodation of last resort, the employee will not be entitled to disability retirement benefits. The new job should be at the same grade or pay level and in the same commuting area. In short, the employee may apply for federal disability retirement only if the employing agency is unable to accommodate the employee’s disability. Five-Step FERS Disability Retirement Application Process There are five essential steps that a federal employee needs to follow to apply for FERS disability retirement. 1. Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits Why? Because when a federal employee applies for FERS disability retirement, the employee must indicate whether he or she has applied for Social Security disability benefits. Remember, you do not have to be approved for SSDI, but you must apply. The applicant also must attach a copy of the Social Security application receipt or award notice to the FERS disability retirement application. If a disabled employee receives Social Security disability payments, the amount of federal disability retirement payments under FERS will be reduced. Importantly, if the Social Security Administration denies disability benefits, federal employees still may be entitled to FERS disability retirement payments. 2. Complete Standard Form 3107, Application for Immediate Retirement Form 3107 is available from federal personnel offices or online here. Federal employees must file their application for federal government disability retirement benefits while still employed with the government or within one year of their separation date.  The Application for Immediate Retirement is several pages long and asks for detailed information, including: Form 3107 also includes the Certified Summary of Federal Service, SF 3107-1. The employing agency completes this certification form to provide a history of the employee’s federal jobs, earnings, and FERS coverage. You can apply for FERS disability retirement before the agency completes this form. After the agency completes that certification, the employee must review and sign it, attesting that it is accurate. The agency also should complete the Agency Checklist of Immediate Retirement Procedures, which is part of Form 3107. In addition, depending on your responses to certain questions, supplemental documentation may be required, such as a marriage certificate, W-4 form, or a DD-214, for example. For guidance on how to complete the application, disabled federal employees can review the instructions that accompany the Application for Immediate Retirement. They may also read an informational pamphlet SF 3113 titled Applying for Immediate Retirement Under the Federal Employees Retirement System. 3. Complete Standard Form 3112, Documentation in Support of Disability Retirement Application Disabled federal employees need to provide documents that support their FERS disability retirement application. Standard Form (SF) 3112 includes five main forms, some of which are completed by the applicant and others to be completed by their physicians or agency. In general, employees use these forms to document their medical condition to show that they are disabled and unable to perform their job duties.  The disabled employee must complete Standard Form 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability. On that form, the applicant describes his or her disease or injury and how it affects current job duties. The applicant then lists the physicians and dates of treatment that can support his or her claim of disability.  Next, the federal employee must ask each doctor to complete Standard Form 3112C, Physician’s Statement. The employee should also provide each doctor with a current job description. With that job description, each doctor can state how the employee’s disease or injury affects the employee’s ability to work. In addition to completing the form, each doctor must enclose medical documentation of the patient’s medical condition on letterhead stationery. Doctors must provide copies of all medical reports detailing the patient’s symptoms and history, diagnostic tests, diagnosis, treatments, and therapies. The doctors also must indicate if and when the employee will recover. Finally, if the doctors place any restrictions on the employee’s activities, such as lifting or standing limits, the doctor must describe those restrictions.  Next, the employing federal agency must complete forms that...

Continue Reading

| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Retirement

Can You Lose Your Federal Retirement If Fired?

In addition to competitive pay, federal employees enjoy good benefits and a generous pension. What’s more, federal employees with at least one year of service have significant rights with respect to their job security. Federal employees have a reputation for being hard to fire because of these rights and the corresponding processes. Nevertheless, agencies may fire federal employees for a variety of reasons, including poor performance, misconduct, or downsizing. If you’re a federal employee, you’ve probably wondered, can you lose your federal retirement benefits if fired? How Federal Retirement Benefits Work The Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS), administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), awards retirement benefits to eligible employees. FERS covers employees who started their service with the government after January 1, 1987. The Civil Service Retirement Act (CSRS) covers federal employees who started working for the government before that date. FERS is a retirement program that provides benefits from Social Security, a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), and a Basic Benefits Plan. The first two are transferable to other jobs if a federal employee leaves before retirement. These retirement benefits fully vest in employees after five years of service, though annuities won’t begin until an employee reaches minimum retirement age (MRA). For example, the federal minimum retirement age for employees born in 1970 or later is 57. Although the eligibility rules vary slightly depending on service length, federal employees with more than 10 years of service receive an annuity immediately upon reaching their MRA. Employees with 5-10 years of service can receive an annuity starting at age 62.  Federal employees with at least 10 years of service can elect to take an immediate retirement or defer it. FERS reduces immediate retirement benefits by 5% per year for each year the employee is under age 62. Disability and early retirement may have slightly different timelines depending on the employee’s age and years of service. If you have questions about your federal retirement benefits, a federal employment lawyer can provide advice on your eligibility and the benefits available to you. Do Federal Employees Lose Their Retirement If They’re Fired? The short answer is no. Unfortunately, the misconception that you can lose your federal retirement if fired persists even among federal employees. Many employees incorrectly believe that they will lose their federal retirement benefits if the agency fires them. However, the truth is that federal employees whose retirement benefits have vested are all but guaranteed to receive those benefits, subject to a few exceptions. Employees unaware of this may be tempted or pressured to resign if they know they are about to be fired. These employees are often under the wrong impression that by resigning, they can save the benefits they would otherwise lose. This was exactly the situation in Morrison v. Department of the Navy. In that case, the Department of the Navy alerted an employee that an adverse employment action was pending against him. The Department urged him to resign to avoid losing his retirement benefits. Ruling on the case, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) noted that retirement benefits earned over the course of a federal career “are generally available upon separation from federal service, even when the separation is agency initiated.” To be clear, this means that when an agency fires a federal employee—whether for cause, poor performance, reduction in force, or otherwise—that employee remains entitled to any vested retirement benefits. There are very limited exceptions to this rule (discussed below), but for the vast majority of federal employees, they will never be an issue. How Federal Employees Can Lose Their Retirement Benefits As mentioned above, there are only a few narrow circumstances in which federal employee will lose their retirement benefits. Under 5 U.S.C. § 8312, federal employees forfeit their retirement benefits only if they are convicted of one or more specific federal crimes. There are more than 20 in total, each covering an act against the national security of the United States, including: Related statutory sections cover additional crimes that would render a federal employee ineligible for benefits. These include: Federal employees who do not commit any of those crimes don’t have to worry about losing their benefits. Can Federal Employees with Voluntary Early Retirement Lose Their Retirement Benefits If Fired? The Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) allows government agencies to temporarily reduce the minimum age and service requirements for retirement benefits. Agencies usually use VERA to offer employees an incentive to retire voluntarily, often during a restructuring, downsizing, or reorganization. Rather than involuntarily reducing the number of employees at the agency, it may make VERA offers or Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIP) to willing employees. Unlike with FERS or CSRS, federal employees fired for poor performance or misconduct cannot take advantage of discontinued service annuities under VERA. However, they may still be eligible for a deferred benefit. Federal employment lawyers familiar with government retirement plans can help you assess your options. If you accepted a voluntary early retirement offer from a government agency, a federal employment lawyer can also advise you of your rights moving forward. Hire a Federal Employment Attorney The Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing has been helping federal employees with their retirement and disability benefits for many years. During that time, we’ve helped hundreds of clients reclaim their jobs, stop discrimination, and resolve other issues in the workplace.  If you resigned based on false information about the status of your retirement benefits, we can help. Contact us today or call us at (833) 833-3529.

Continue Reading

| Read Time: 4 minutes | FERS Disability

Reasons Your FERS Application May Be Denied and Can You Reapply?

If the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) denies your Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) disability retirement application, you can reapply if there has been a material change in your circumstances. But getting a denial isn’t always the end of the road. You may have options to ask for reconsideration, or you can appeal a refusal of benefits. And the help of a good attorney can protect your rights during the application and appeal process. If you are looking for a good FERS disability attorney, you are on the right page. The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC exclusively handles employment law cases. We provide award-winning advocacy. Please contact us for help with your federal employment needs.  Why Was My Disability Retirement Application Denied? The FERS disability retirement application process is detailed and complex. There are also several rules regarding who can and cannot receive disability retirement benefits. The OPM might have denied your retirement disability benefits because it believed you were not eligible or because you did not submit an adequate application. 1. Denial Because of Ineligibility Can you be denied retirement benefits? The answer is yes. The OPM can deny your FERS disability retirement benefits if one of the following circumstances applies to you: The OPM might also deny or dismiss your application if you don’t adequately explain how you meet each eligibility requirement. Our skilled and knowledgeable federal employment lawyers can ensure that your application clearly reflects your right to receive benefits. 2. Denial Because Your Application Was Late Your disability application must be timely. You must file your application while you are still federally employed or within one year of separating from your federal job. The application process requires a lot of documentation and statements from several individuals. As soon as you notice that your medical condition is affecting your ability to work, you should contact one of our experienced attorneys. We can help make sure you gather all the necessary information and meet the deadline for requesting benefits. 3. Denial Because of an Inadequate Application Your disability retirement application requires detailed information from you, your employer, and healthcare professionals who have treated you or have information about your condition. And all statements in your application should corroborate each other. If there is a lack of detail or there are discrepancies, the OPM may refuse to give you benefits. You can prevent discrepancies and a lack of detail by:  We can help you with all of this. Along with your disability retirement application, you must also apply for Social Security Disability (SSD)  benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). To prove that you applied for SSD benefits, you must give OPM a copy of your application receipt and a copy of the SSA’s notice of approval or disapproval of your SSD application. If you do not take these steps or provide proof of your application status, the OPM may dismiss your FERS disability retirement application.  What You Can Do After a Denial You have a handful of options to obtain a better result if the OPM denies your request for benefits. These options include the following. Reapplication Generally, you have only one chance to apply for disability retirement based on the same circumstances. However, you can reapply for disability retirement if there is a material change in your circumstances, such as a deterioration of your condition.   Requesting Reconsideration In many cases, the OPM gives applicants a written initial decision regarding their right to benefits. After the OPM makes the initial decision to deny your retirement application, you have 30 days to ask the OPM to reconsider its decision. After reconsidering your case, the OPM issues a written final reconsideration decision that includes its findings and conclusions and information about your right to appeal. Appealing the Denial You can appeal your denial to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) if the OPM does not grant you disability retirement benefits after a reconsideration. And if the initial decision you receive is an initial final decision, you must appeal directly to the MSPB. In general, you have only 30 days to file your appeal, and it must be in writing. Any attempt to seek benefits for retirement disability must include detailed documentation, a clear explanation of your circumstances, and timely filings. We can handle these tasks for you and maximize your chances of receiving your well-deserved benefits. Speak to Attorneys Who Can Turn a No Into a Yes Whether you are on the first, second, or third bite at the apple in your request for retirement benefits, the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC can champion your rights. We handle only federal employment cases, so our knowledge and experience are extensive. An award-winning attorney leads our firm, and we are passionate about protecting federal employees. You can contact us for help today by calling or reaching out on our website.  

Continue Reading

| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

What Is Locality Pay for Federal Employees?

If you have a job with a federal employer, you already know that you have access to great benefits, including good pay, loan forgiveness programs, and supportive leave policies. But even with great benefits for federal work, there is room for improvement, and the government recognizes this. To keep government wages and salaries competitive with the private sector, federal law demands locality pay for many federal employees. These payments can help you keep up with the cost of living in your area, and they can help the federal government retain a talented workforce that includes you. What is locality pay? It is a pay increase for federal employees to keep their wages comparable to private sector employees working the same type of job in the same geographic area. If you have questions about whether you should receive locality pay and how much it should be, you can ask the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC. We represent clients experiencing federal employment issues, and we do it successfully. We are highly experienced, top-rated practitioners who can get the best out of your federal employment case. A Review of Locality Pay Under the United States Code Title 5, Section 5304, federal employers must reduce pay disparities between federal and private employees by giving locality payments to federal employees who make at least 5% less than their private sector counterparts. The locality pay rate is paid in addition to a federal employee’s base pay on the general schedule.  There are more than 50 localities with locality pay rates, and location pay rates can range from a little under 17% to more than 45%, depending on where you work. In addition to locality pay, many federal employees must receive a 4.7% increase to their general schedule pay in 2024. With all the tables and compensation levels, ensuring that you receive the proper base pay, pay increase, and locality pay can be challenging. But you can lean on us when these challenges arise. We are well-equipped to ensure that you recover every cent the government owes you for your labor.     Is Every Federal Employee Entitled to Locality Pay? No. Only federal employees who can perform their work within a listed locality are eligible for location payments. And only federal employees who receive scheduled rates for their base pay can receive locality pay.  What Can I Do If My Employer Has Not Paid All I Am Owed? You have many ways to address unpaid wages as a federal employee. Depending on the nature of your employment, you can: If you are a member of a bargaining unit with a collective bargaining agreement that does not exclude matters, you must engage in an NGP. Under those circumstances, you cannot file an agency or OPM claim. Any federal employee who files a suit in court has two years to file for non-willful violations and three years to file for willful violations. How an Attorney Can Help There are many ways an attorney can increase your chances of recovering unpaid wages, including: At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC, we can do all of the above and support you during every step of your wage claim. Contact Us Today Located in Houston, Texas, the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC passionately champions the rights of federal employees. We are headed by award-winning attorney Aaron Wersing, and we have experience working with many federal agencies to recover relief for government employees. Whether you are facing matters regarding government pay, labor violations, discrimination, disability needs, or retirement, we can help you get the results you need and deserve. With a call to our office or a click on our website, you can schedule a consultation today.

Continue Reading

| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Anticipated Pay Raise for Federal Workers in 2024

As the end of 2023 rapidly approaches, millions of government workers wonder what the federal pay raise will be for 2024. The federal pay raise in 2024 will likely be 5.2% for most government workers. However, certain contingencies may make it higher or lower. Read on to learn about the federal pay raise in 2024, including its effective date and the effect of the continuing resolution.  Understanding How Federal Pay Raises Work To explain the upcoming pay raise, we need to explore the history of the federal pay raise process. According to various sources, federal employee pay has lagged behind the private sector for decades. In 1990, Congress passed the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (FEPCA). This law aimed to close the pay gap between federal employees and their private-sector counterparts. It employed several mechanisms to achieve this balance. For one, it established locality pay so employees in higher-cost areas could receive additional pay. FEPCA also mandated an annual survey of private-sector pay to compare with federal salaries so that federal income continued to match the market.  Critically, FEPCA states that federal pay will automatically increase to match private-sector pay unless the President proposes a different pay raise amount because of an “economic emergency.” Congress can either alter the President’s proposed raise or remain silent, allowing the President’s proposal to take effect. Ever since FEPCA took effect in 1994, every president has annually used a minor provision within the law to prevent federal pay from fully catching up to private-sector pay. Specifically, the President claims that an “economic emergency” affecting the general welfare dictates implementing a different pay increase. Congress generally defers to this claim. Why the Federal Pay Raise in 2024 Will Likely Be 5.2% With inflation raging in 2023, several members of Congress introduced the FAIR Act, which would have raised federal worker pay by 8.7%. However, Congress has failed to act on the bill and seems unlikely to do so in the near future. President Biden announced a 5.2% average pay raise for federal employees in August. This pay raise consists of a 4.7% increase for all federal employees and an approximately 0.5% increase in locality pay. A few employees may get slightly more than this amount because the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is creating several new locality areas.  The effective date for the federal pay raise in 2024 is January 14th. This pay raise year’s scheduled salary rate is applicable, excluding the locality-based comparability payment. What’s the Relationship Between the Federal Pay Raise in 2024 and the Current Continuing Resolution? Given the recent dysfunction in Congress regarding the continuing resolution, many government employees wonder how the budget situation will affect their pay raise. The good news is that the continuing resolution will not affect the government employee pay raise. This is because the continuing resolution is effective until late January 2024. Furthermore, the resolution does not discuss the federal pay raise, so President Biden’s proposed raise will probably occur.  However, the situation after the new year is still unclear. The continuing resolution funds part of the government until January 20, 2024, and another part until February 3, 2024. What occurs after that time is anyone’s guess. If a shutdown occurs, most government employees will likely see a temporary loss of pay. Is There a Federal Pay Raise 2024 Calculator? Several online calculators help you predict your pay rate in 2024. That said, you can easily calculate your 2024 pay by multiplying your current pay by 1.052. You can multiply it by 1.087 to understand how your pay under the proposed FAIR Act would compare. Am I in a Locality Pay Area? As of 2024, the country will have 54 locality pay areas. These include the following areas: Most major cities have their own locality pay area. The highest locality pay is currently the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA area.  Questions About Your Federal Pay or Benefits? We Can Help.  Federal pay is a surprisingly tricky topic to understand. Yet, it pales compared to other federal employment issues like disability, retirement, employment discrimination protections, and Title 38 rights. At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, we love helping our clients make sense of their rights and responsibilities. We practice exclusively on federal employment issues, so we have ample experience deciphering even the most complex topics. Give us a call today, or get in touch with us to set up an initial consultation. 

Continue Reading

| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Top Reasons Security Clearances Get Denied or Revoked

Obtaining and maintaining a security clearance is necessary for most federal positions. If you are a current federal employee, losing your security clearance is the easiest way to lose your federal career entirely. And for those who are applying to the federal service, having several public trust clearance disqualifiers on your record can torpedo even the most promising CV. As the old saying goes, “a penny of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Taking a few moments now to understand how security clearances can be threatened may provide you with vital information later on. We’ll explore the four most common reasons security clearances get denied or revoked so you can succeed where others have failed. For those who have already made some of these mistakes, we will also touch on how you can mitigate their effects. If your employer is threatening to take away or revoke your security clearance, do not wait. Contact a federal employment lawyer immediately. Reason #1: Drug Use Drug use has consistently been the most common reason for security clearance revocation or denial. Since the 1980s, the federal government has applied a “zero tolerance” drug use policy in the workplace despite the legalization of some drugs in several states. In the past few years, many federal employees have lost their security clearances for using marijuana even though doing so was perfectly legal in the state they were working in.  Several specific drug-related conditions that can cost you your security clearance include: There are a few ways you can mitigate drug involvement issues: You can also help mitigate a drug involvement issue by collecting positive character references from friends, former coworkers, and others who know you well. A qualified employment attorney can also help you manage drug-related security clearance issues.  Reason #2: Personal Conduct The government’s definition of “personal conduct” is any general conduct involving “questionable judgment, untrustworthiness, unreliability, lack of candor, dishonesty, or unwillingness to comply with rules” that could indicate a person might not protect classified information. This is a broad definition that encompasses many different types of conduct and behavior. Some examples of concerning personal conduct include: You can mitigate these concerns by showing that: Of course, cooperating fully with security clearance personnel from the beginning is the best way to avoid running afoul of the personal conduct rule. If you are concerned about how to answer certain questions on a security clearance form, you should consider consulting with an attorney before submitting your responses.  Reason #3: Financial Issues For this category, the government is concerned about people who have made questionable financial decisions, obtained money from unknown sources, or who are desperate for money. More specific conditions that may endanger your security clearance include: It’s also important to disclose all of your sources of income, especially if you have a nice car and house. Otherwise, the government may suspect you derive some of your income from unethical or criminal enterprises.  Reason #4: Foreign Influence A major concern for the government is ensuring that all federal employees are only loyal to the United States. Dual citizenship or other factors which suggest allegiance to another country are problematic for obtaining a security clearance. You may have your security clearance revoked if you: To mitigate these issues, you can: Finally, make sure that any connections you have with citizens of other countries are casual and infrequent. Secure Your Future: Expert Legal Aid for Protecting Your Security Clearance At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing PLLC, we are passionate about defending your rights as a federal employee, and we are committed to maximizing your chances of having a successful and productive federal career. We can represent you at every stage of the security clearance process and will go to great lengths to collect evidence that shows you are worthy of a security clearance.  Over the years, we’ve represented countless federal employees in security clearance cases. Thanks to our services, many people have been able to save their security clearance. We have also helped people with checkered pasts meet the requirements for a secret security clearance. Although many people worry about the costs of hiring a lawyer, we do not want to let money prevent you from protecting your future. Reach out to us today by calling 866-298-1488 or online for help with your federal employment security clearance issues.

Continue Reading