| Read Time: 4 minutes | Whistleblower Claims

Whistleblower Protection Laws for Federal Employees 

If you have a position with the federal government, you have been entrusted with a high level of responsibility for all of us in this country. Unfortunately, not every government employee or leader honors their obligation to respect the laws and the public with their service.  When a colleague or supervisor falls short of their legal obligations, you have the option (and sometimes the duty) to report their misconduct. And if you are afraid your report will cause severe personal and professional harm, remember that federal whistleblower protection laws can shield you from the fallout of exposing bad behavior. At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, we are dedicated to protecting and championing the rights of federal employees. You deserve a strong advocate when you do the right thing, and we are here to shield your efforts to uncover misconduct in your workplace.  What Is Whistleblowing?  You are a whistleblower if you disclose information to an authority about any of the following activities occurring at work:  Reporting these activities is protected, and even required, if a federal employer is being wasteful, fraudulent, abusive, or corrupt. The law also protects federal employees from retaliation if they initiate a whistleblower complaint, refuse an employer’s request to break the law, or assist with a whistleblower complaint or investigation.  Whistleblower Protection Many employees are understandably fearful of reporting their employer’s violations of the law to legal authorities because there’s a potential that their employer will punish them for their actions. But the law provides federal employee whistleblower protection and avenues for federal employees to initiate legal action if they are unfairly penalized.   The Laws The Legislature passed the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA) and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (WPEA) to protect federal employees from professional harm motivated by their disclosure of misconduct. The law recognizes the public benefit in preventing unfair punishment of government whistleblowers.  An employee has the right to formally complain if an employer takes any of the following actions against you because of your whistleblowing:  The whistleblower laws also protect and provide legal options for applicants for federal employment.  If you signed a non-disclosure agreement before or during your employment with a federal agency, have an experienced attorney review the terms. While your federal employer can require you to sign and comply with non-disclosure agreements, the WPEA prohibits agreements that conflict with whistleblower protection laws.   Where to Report Employer Wrongdoing Once you are aware that your employer has committed a violation, you can report the wrongdoing to your supervisor/management, the Inspector General (IG) for your agency, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), or Congress. If your report of misconduct includes classified national security information or legally protected information, you must use confidential means, such as reporting to your IG, OSC, or Congress.  Privacy Protections for Whistleblowing Employees In addition to protection from professional punishment, the law protects whistleblower privacy. If you divulge legal violations to an IG or the OSC, both authorities are generally prohibited from revealing your identity. The IG may disclose your identity only if the disclosure is unavoidable or required by a court order. And the OSC may reveal your identity only if it concludes that disclosure is necessary because of imminent danger to the public or an imminent violation of criminal law.  Filing a Whistleblower Retaliation Complaint   If you are a whistleblowing employee who is unlawfully punished at work, the law allows you to seek legal redress from the OSC and the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). If the OSC or MSPB determines that your employer violated one of the whistleblowing laws, you can win: To win, you must prove that your employer took employment action against you because of your whistleblowing. And after you initiate legal action, your employer can defend itself by proving by clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the same action against you regardless of your whistleblowing.  When you file a whistleblower retaliation complaint, you must meet multiple deadlines and complete significant amounts of paperwork. You should speak to an experienced federal employment attorney immediately after suffering unlawfully motivated punishment at work. An experienced attorney can quickly and timely file the necessary complaint paperwork and guide you through the process and your legal options. Our Attorneys Help Federal Employees At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing, our attorneys are uniquely skilled at protecting the rights of federal employees. We have helped hundreds of federal employees reverse adverse employment decisions, receive work accommodations, and win damages. We are experienced in handling virtually every type of federal employment legal dispute. You work hard to protect the interests of this country, and we work hard to protect you. Please call us at 866-298-1681 or contact us online. 

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| Read Time: 5 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Security Clearance and Suitability Determinations

Whether you are a current or prospective federal employee, you will probably have to obtain and hold a security clearance. The federal suitability determination process for employees can seem like a black box. So federal employees naturally have many questions about the process, especially if they receive an unfavorable suitability determination.  Read on to learn more about the security clearance process and suitability determinations made by the government. We will also cover what happens when you get an unfavorable suitability determination letter. If you have any other questions, consult a qualified federal employment attorney.  How Does the Security Clearance Process Work? The federal government offers a meaningful career for many people. But for obvious reasons, the government needs to ensure that its own employees are stable, reliable, and loyal citizens. Without this mechanism, grave damage to national security and the functioning of the country could result.  The government’s security clearance process has evolved over the decades to properly evaluate potential and current government employees. There are three national security clearance levels. Those three clearance levels are, from least to most secure: Each of these levels involves different levels of testing. The higher the security clearance, the more frequent and more thorough the testing for suitability determination. What Factors Affect a Suitability Determination? There are 13 factors that influence how the government evaluates a federal employee. Those factors are: Each one of these categories has specific conditions that, if true, may result in an adverse suitability determination. But there are actions you can take to help mitigate these negative conditions. Let’s explore some of these suitability factors in more detail so you can understand how the government makes suitability determinations.  Allegiance to the United States Every suitability determination’s starting point is checking whether you have “unquestioned allegiance to the United States.”  Disqualifying conditions related to this factor include: Obviously, all of these conditions are serious and seem clear-cut. Yet sometimes, well-meaning people can participate in an organization that has more malicious intentions. If you find yourself in a situation where you have an association with one of these organizations, you can mitigate the risk by showing you were not aware of the unlawful aims of the group and subsequently severed ties. You can also mitigate these concerns by showing that your involvement, even if intentional and knowing, was not recent.  Emotional, Mental, and Personality Disorders For this category, government investigators will attempt to assess whether you have any emotional, mental, or personality disorders that make you unreliable or unstable.  Some of the specific conditions that may disqualify you include: If your profile raises one or more of these concerns, you can mitigate those concerns by showing that you are currently healthy and that your emotional or mental instability was only temporary. Providing a recent opinion from a mental health professional stating your condition is cured or under control also helps. Personal Conduct  “Personal conduct” is a vague phrase, so it’s a category worthy of further exploration. The government defines “personal conduct” as any behavior demonstrating “questionable judgment, untrustworthiness, unreliability, lack of candor, dishonesty, or unwillingness to comply with rules” that could indicate a person might not protect classified information. Here are a few examples of personal conduct that would concern government investigators: If one of these conditions describes your past, you can take action to mitigate them. Specifically, focus on demonstrating that: Having an attorney by your side in this process is one of the best ways to maximize your chances of a positive outcome. A federal employment attorney will have extensive experience regarding these issues and can give you helpful pointers and tricks to round out your application. An attorney can also help you answer specific questions about how to respond to certain questions.  How Can I Maximize My Chances of Obtaining a Favorable Suitability Letter? You can take a wide variety of actions to help your chances of passing a security clearance. For one, you can avoid any criminal activity and any group that may want to overthrow the government. Also, avoid using drugs that are illegal at the federal level. This includes marijuana. Although many states have legalized marijuana, the federal government still prohibits it inside and outside the federal workplace. Limit your alcohol usage as well. Legal incidents involving alcohol use and alcoholism are both grounds for disqualification. Additionally, you should be prepared to explain any involvement you have with foreign nationals. If you are a dual citizen, you cannot obtain a security clearance without giving up your other citizenship. When Do Suitability Determinations Occur? All prospective employees need to undergo a suitability determination before their first day of work. After that, recurring suitability checks continue every few years. If you have a top-secret clearance, you’ll undergo a periodic reinvestigation every five years. If you have a secret or confidential clearance, you’ll undergo a periodic reinvestigation once every decade. The government can also conduct suitability checks on federal employees randomly and without notice.  What If the Government Issued a Suitability Denial Letter to Me? If the government has denied you a security clearance, you have the right to appeal. If you are a current federal employee, you can also appeal your agency’s decision to take away your security clearance. The best way to start your appeal is by assessing the government’s reasons for its actions. Then, hire an attorney to plead your case before the relevant authorities and collect evidence in your favor.  How Long Does It Take to Obtain a Security Clearance? According to a 2015 Annual Report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, it takes federal employees about six months to obtain a security clearance. Top secret clearances can require a year to obtain, while confidential clearances generally require about four months.  Does Every Agency Have the Same Suitability Requirements? Not necessarily. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) suitability requirements differ from those of the Central Intelligence Agency. However, most security clearances are respected by other agencies.  Have More Questions About Security...

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| Read Time: 5 minutes | Federal EEOC

How to File an EEO Complaint

Filing an EEO complaint is something few employees ever imagine doing. Most of us hope to have colleagues and supervisors who are at least professional, if not friendly and supportive. Unfortunately, many federal employees experience illegal discrimination in the workplace. This includes discrimination based on characteristics such as race, color, national origin, and sexual orientation. If you feel you are the target of discrimination, you must take action by filing an EEO complaint. Read on to learn more about the EEO complaint process from an experienced federal employment attorney. When you are ready, contact us today to take your first steps toward justice. When Should I File an EEO Complaint? You should consider filing an EEO complaint whenever you are the victim of illegal discrimination or harassment. Discrimination refers to any different treatment you receive in your employment. Harassment is any aggressive or unwelcome behavior that produces a change in your work conditions or creates a hostile work environment.  The law prohibits discrimination and harassment based on the following characteristics: In addition, it is illegal for your employer to discriminate against you because of your involvement in any hearing or investigation under any federal anti-discrimination law. The law protects every aspect of your federal employment from discrimination. Maybe your boss passed you over for a promotion because of your race. Or perhaps your supervisor removed you from a key project because of your disability. Even an act as simple as denying you an office parking spot can qualify as discrimination if done for an illegal reason. Sometimes discrimination is overt and obvious. Other times, it can be almost impossible to detect. The truth is that you should contact an attorney even if you are not sure whether you’re the target of discrimination. An experienced employment attorney, with their knowledge and familiarity, can quickly spot red flags. How the Process of Filing an EEO Complaint Works Here we outline the steps involved in filing and resolving an EEO complaint. But before any of this happens, our best advice is to contact an experienced federal employment attorney. Give us a call as soon as you realize you are a victim of discrimination. We will guide you through the process to ensure you get the compensation and justice you deserve. Step 1 – Contacting an Agency EEO Counselor The first step in launching your EEO complaint is to contact an agency EEO counselor. All federal agencies have an EEO office to receive and process agency EEO complaints. Within each one of these offices are EEO counselors, who serve as unbiased agents. Counselors who collect information about your version of the facts, walk you through the EEO process, and advise you of your rights under the law. They will also inform you of alternative dispute resolution methods so that you and the agency have the chance to resolve your complaint at the lowest level.  Whether you have an attorney to represent you or not, the law requires you to contact an EEO counselor. You also need to act quickly. You have only 45 days from the date of the discriminatory or harassing act to contact a counselor. If you wait until after that time to contact a counselor, the agency will dismiss your claim. However, you can ask the agency to extend the timeline if you: Agencies have to act within certain timelines as well. Once you have contacted their EEO office, they must conduct your initial counseling within 30 days. After the counseling, your agency EEO office will give you a form called a Notice of Final Interview. This Notice informs you of your right to file a formal discrimination or harassment complaint.  Step 2 – Filing a Formal Complaint You have only 15 days to file a formal complaint after you receive the Notice of Final Interview. To file a formal complaint, you (or your attorney) need only submit a complaint with your signature, contact information, and your general claims. If new details emerge after you submit your initial complaint, you can amend your complaint. Once you send your complaint to the agency, it will send you a letter acknowledging your complaint. Shortly afterward, you will receive a letter from the agency accepting your claims for investigation. It is vital you pay attention to how the agency describes your allegations. It is common for agencies to mischaracterize your claims, leading to a poor investigation and a faulty final agency decision.  Step 3 – The Agency Investigation The Agency typically has 180 days to conduct an investigation. In most cases, an investigator from an outside agency (or from a different part of the agency) spends several months interviewing witnesses, collecting relevant evidence, and compiling their report. The investigator’s goal is to develop a factual record that is unbiased and impartial to all parties.  When the investigation is complete, you and the agency’s legal department will receive a copy of the investigator’s Report of Investigation (ROI). At this point, you can choose to request either a hearing before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a final decision from the agency regarding your claims. Settlement is another option you and your attorney may consider during this process. Depending on the facts that the investigator uncovers, your agency may be eager to resolve the case and give you appropriate compensation. Step 4 – EEOC Hearing If you decide to file for a hearing, your case will transfer under the jurisdiction of the EEOC, an agency that focuses primarily on resolving claims of discrimination and harassment. A special administrative judge (AJ) oversees each EEOC hearing. Before the hearing, the parties will meet for an initial conference and engage in settlement negotiations. They will also receive the opportunity to conduct discovery, which allows them to collect evidence from the opposing party. In some cases, your attorney may be able to draft a special motion which can lead to you prevailing without even going to a hearing.  Once at the hearing, your attorney will present evidence and make...

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | FERS Disability

How Many Years Does It Take to Be Vested in FERS?

When it comes to questions about retirement benefits under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS), the answers are usually complex. But the answer to the question, “How long do I need to work to be vested in FERS” is quite simple: five years. But these five years must be creditable service in the federal civilian service. Active duty or reserve duty in the armed forces does not count. Neither does any kind of private-sector employment. Once your contributions vest in FERS, your options for retirement change. The vesting requirement also affects your options if you leave the federal government before retirement age. Because understanding vesting requirements is essential for receiving retirement benefits, we’ll discuss the basics of FERS vesting requirements in this article. For answers to specific situations or unique problems, contact one of our knowledgeable federal retirement attorneys.   Understanding the FERS System Congress created FERS in 1986 to replace the aging Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Anyone who has joined the federal service after 1987 automatically falls under FERS. Under FERS, employees receive three main retirement benefits: a Basic Benefit Plan, Social Security, and the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). With this three-tiered scheme, every employee has to give a portion of their pay to the Basic Benefit and Social Security parts of FERS. Each employee’s agency contributes as well. Then, after retirement, those accumulated funds return to the employee as monthly retirement annuity payments. Employees can also choose to contribute to the TSP, which essentially functions like a 401k.  Why Is Vesting Important? Vesting plays a critical role in determining your options for receiving your FERS contributions.  How it affects your options changes based on your situation. If you are already eligible for retirement but leave before you attain five years of service, you will not receive any retirement payments.  For those who leave the government before becoming eligible for retirement, vesting allows you to opt for a deferred retirement annuity. This means that the government will send you your monthly retirement annuity pay after you reach your retirement age. If you did not meet the vesting time requirement, your only option would be to request that the government return your retirement contributions to you in a lump sum. This means you would never receive the government’s contributed money. However, some people may prefer to have a little money today rather than more money down the road.  At What Age Can I Retire? The answer to this question depends on your length of service. If you have at least five years of government service, you can retire at age 62. With at least 10 years of government service, you can retire at your minimum retirement age (MRA). The MRA varies on your birth year, but it is between 55 and 57. However, if you have fewer than 30 years of service, your annuity will suffer a significant penalty if you retire before 62. Understanding Vesting Requirements for FERS Disability Retirement FERS also includes a disability retirement scheme for employees who need to stop working because of a debilitating and long-term illness or injury. The vesting requirement for receiving disability retirement is only 18 months.  Is There a Vesting Requirement for the Thrift Savings Plan? Unlike the Basic Benefit and Social Security portions of FERS, employees can choose whether to contribute to the TSP. Any contributions by the employee vest immediately. However, the government’s contributions do not vest until you have achieved three years of civilian federal service. Once you hit 59 1/2 years of age, you can begin withdrawing money from your TSP. If you try to withdraw TSP funds before that time, you will incur a 10% early withdrawal tax. Have More Questions About Vesting Requirements or FERS?  Although you now know the answer to “How long does it take to be vested in FERS?” you probably have other questions about retiring. As we mentioned before, the FERS retirement system is complicated. Even seemingly straightforward topics can become confusing quickly. And the stakes are high since you are making decisions that significantly affect your life as a retiree. Don’t lose sleep thinking about how to navigate the tangled world of retirement benefits.  Instead, call one of our attorneys at the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC. Our passion is to help federal employees with every aspect of their careers, including retirement options. Let us help you build a secure and worry-free financial future. Call us today at 1-866-612-5956 or reach out online. 

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

What Federal Employees Should Know About Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental health in the federal workplace is a dynamic issue due to our society’s rapidly changing views about mental health. Not long ago, even mild mental health conditions could lead to office suspicion, hostility, retaliation, and removal from the service. Fortunately, things have improved significantly during the past few decades. There is more awareness regarding the treatment of mental health in the federal workplace and more understanding of the nature of mental illness itself.  Despite those advances, many federal employees who struggle with mental illness are still in the dark when it comes to their rights and entitlements. Read on to learn more about your rights as a federal employee regarding mental health in the workplace. Contact a qualified federal employment attorney today if you have more questions or think you may be suffering from discrimination.  Your Rights as a Federal Employee with a Mental Health Condition The most important thing to remember is that you are protected against discrimination and harassment based on your mental health conditions. Various laws also guarantee the right to keep your condition private, seek reasonable accommodation, and request unpaid leave to treat the condition.  Protection Against Harassment and Discrimination Based on Mental Health Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals with mental health conditions receive significant civil rights protections. The ADA, which protects those with both physical and mental disabilities, prohibits discrimination and harassment against a person based on mental impairment. It also protects individuals who have had a history of mental illness or who are generally regarded as having a mental impairment. What do the ADA’s discrimination and harassment protections entail? For one, they prohibit your employer from treating you differently simply because of your mental illness. Discrimination can incorporate all kinds of different behaviors, including: The ADA also prohibits harassment against any federal employees because of their mental health conditions. Legally speaking, harassment is any offensive or unwelcome conduct that becomes so severe or pervasive that it makes your working environment hostile. Countless kinds of behaviors can contribute to a hostile work environment. A few examples include: None of these behaviors are acceptable or legal. If you are suffering from either discrimination or harassment, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and receive significant monetary compensation.  The Opportunity to Request and Receive Reasonable Accommodations The ADA further requires the government to make reasonable accommodations for individuals who have difficulties performing the essential functions of their job because of their mental health conditions. Under the ADA, an impairment or disability is any condition that affects a major life activity. And major life activities include all kinds of things, including eating, thinking, moving, and taking care of yourself. Consequently, virtually every mental health illness can qualify for some kind of reasonable accommodation.  Reasonable accommodations can relate to virtually every aspect of your federal job. You can ask for a reasonable accommodation to your work environment or to a hiring process. In addition, you can seek to effect changes in the way you do your job. Provided your requested accommodation does not create an undue hardship on your employer or change the fundamental duties of your position, it will generally be considered reasonable under the ADA.  The Right to Medical Confidentiality Although federal employees with mental health conditions may have to disclose those conditions under certain circumstances, they are entitled to medical confidentiality. Title 1 of the ADA requires employers to place mental health information on separate forms and medical files. In addition, those documents must be treated as confidential medical records. There are only three exceptions to this confidentiality requirement. First, your supervisor or director may obtain information regarding the ways in which your condition affects your work. Second, your employer may disclose your condition to first aid or agency safety personnel if you need emergency treatment. Finally, your employer may provide your information to adhere to a government compliance investigation.  Want to Learn More About How to Prove Disability Discrimination in the Federal Workplace? At the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, we dedicate ourselves to advancing the rights and welfare of federal employees with mental health conditions. The thought of any federal employee suffering from disability discrimination or harassment is simply unacceptable to us. As soon as you reach out to us, we’ll do everything possible to protect your rights. And if you have been harmed through disability discrimination or harassment, we will do our best to get you the compensation you deserve. Give us a call at (833) 833-3529 or contact us online. 

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | FERS Disability

Applying for OPM Disability Retirement

There are currently two retirement systems in the federal government. The first one is the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). The other, more common system is the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).  Regardless of which system you fall under, you can receive disability benefits. To do so, you first need to submit a detailed retirement application to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Applying for OPM disability retirement is a complex and arduous process. If you are a federal employee with a serious injury or disability, it is essential that you understand OPM’s disability retirement. If you don’t follow the process correctly, OPM may reject your application, placing your financial future in jeopardy. We’ll discuss the basics of the OPM disability retirement process here.   Prerequisites for FERS Disability Retirement  Given that FERS is the retirement system for the overwhelming majority of the federal workforce, it is worth discussing first. Eligibility for FERS disability benefits requires that you: In addition, you must show that your debilitating condition is expected to last at least one year. Short-term illnesses and injuries do not suffice. To meet the third requirement, your federal employer must first attempt to give you an accommodation that allows you to perform the essential functions of your job with your disability. Potential accommodations include things like telework, altered office arrangements, and a change in work schedule. If attempts to accommodate your condition with your position are unsuccessful, your employer must also search for a similar position that could meet your needs.  People typically have several misconceptions about what they need to show when they submit their application for OPM disability retirement. For one, they believe they need to show that their disability prevents them from doing all work. This is patently false. The employee needs to show only that their disability prevents them from executing the core duties of their position of record. In other words, if you are a welder, you do not need to show that your disability prevents you from sitting at a computer. People also commonly believe that their disability must stem from their federal work. This is also incorrect. You can apply for disability retirement regardless of the cause of your disability. Differences in CSRS Disability Retirement Application Applying for CSRS disability retirement is quite similar to applying for FERS disability retirement. The key difference is that you must complete at least five years of Federal civilian service before applying for CSRS disability retirement. FERS, on the other hand, requires only 18 months of federal civilian service.  Preparing Your OPM Disability Retirement Application You need to complete two forms to begin your FERS disability retirement application: If you are not yet 62 years old, you will also have to submit your application for social security disability benefits. Because there are only two or three items to submit, you may think that applying for disability retirement is straightforward. The unfortunate truth is that the process is quite complicated. To complete your application, you will need to collect a wide variety of medical information. Consequently, It is essential to act quickly when applying for disability retirement. In fact, the best time to begin working on your disability retirement application is before you receive your separation of service from the government. If you apply before or immediately after your separation from service, you can probably count on additional support from your employer. As more time passes, it will be more difficult to collect the evidence you need.  In any event, you have exactly one year to apply for OPM disability retirement. Waiting more than one year to apply for OPM disability retirement will cause you to forever lose out on disability benefits. Therefore, we cannot stress enough how important it is to take action and contact an employment attorney when you receive your separation for service. Would You Like Assistance Preparing Your OPM Disability Retirement Application?  Now you know the basics of applying for disability retirement. However, the process is complex, and many applicants experience needless delays or denial of benefits because of avoidable errors. Don’t make that mistake. Instead, contact one of our qualified attorneys at the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC. We strive to protect the futures of federal employees, especially those who have a disability. We know how difficult and overwhelming it can be to fill out paperwork and navigate the retirement application process, and we want to help you. Let us take care of your retirement application so you can focus on putting your life back together. Even if you aren’t sure you need an attorney for your application, let us review your case. Don’t wait. Call us today at (866) 612-5956, or reach out to us online.

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Retirement

Early Retirement for Federal Employees

Did you know there are actually three types of early retirement for federal employees? Contrary to popular belief, federal employees have a decent amount of flexibility when it comes to early retirement. However, early retirement usually comes at a cost. Depending on your age and situation, the cost of early retirement may be relatively low or high.  Read on to discover the three basic kinds of early retirement and who is eligible for each one. If you have other questions about early retirement or are looking for specific legal advice, don’t hesitate to contact us today. What Options Do Federal Employees Have for Early Retirement? Generally, federal employees have to be 62 to retire from federal service. Federal employees who are younger than 62 have the following retirement options: Let’s look more closely at what these retirement options entail.  Disability Retirement To qualify for disability retirement, you need to have at least 18 months of federal service and have a disabling condition that is expected to last more than a year. You also need to be able to show that you cannot perform your essential duties because of your disability. Finally, your agency needs to certify that it cannot effectively accommodate your disabling medical condition in your current position of record. Assuming you’ve met these qualifications, you have to provide several detailed forms. To learn more about how to pursue disability retirement, contact one of our federal employment attorneys today.  Deferred Retirement Employees who voluntarily leave federal service before their minimum retirement age can pursue deferred retirement. For this option, you need to have at least five years of federal service. In addition, you need to leave your retirement contributions in the federal system when you depart. In return, you can apply for retirement benefits when you hit the minimum retirement age (MRA). While this option guarantees you will receive retirement benefits eventually, you may have to wait decades before you actually begin receiving payments. Involuntary Early Retirement When agencies are undergoing a significant reorganization or laying off a large portion of their workforce, they can offer their employees a special kind of early retirement. This same type of early retirement is possible for employees who are involuntarily separated for certain reasons. Assuming you are in one of these two situations, you can retire at age 50 if you have 20 years of service. Alternatively, if you have more than 25 years of service, you can retire and receive full benefits at any age.  What Is the Minimum Retirement Age in the Federal Government? Your MRA depends on a couple of factors. The first factor is your years of service in the federal government. If you began working with the federal government before 1987, you are probably under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Under the CSRS, employees with 30 years of service have an MRA of 55. Employees with more than 20 years of service have an MRA of 60, and employees with at least five years of service have an MRA of 62.  Anyone who began their federal career after 1987 will be under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS). The MRA for FERS employees depends on your year of birth. Employees born before 1948 have an MRA of 55. Employees born after 1970 have an MRA of 57, and employees born between 1948 and 1970 will have an MRA between 55 and 2 months to 56 and 10 months. Even after you hit your MRA, you may not receive all your retirement benefits. If you retire at your MRA with fewer than 30 years of federal service, your retirement benefits will be cut by 5% for every year that you are under 62. That means if you retire at 60, you will receive only 90% of your retirement benefits. And if you retire at 50, you will only receive 40% of your retirement benefits.  If You’re a Federal Employee Pursuing Early Retirement, We Can Help. Whether you’re pursuing disability retirement or deferred retirement, it can be difficult to obtain the early retirement benefits you deserve. For the best outcome, you should seek the assistance of qualified legal counsel. An experienced federal employment attorney can help you understand your retirement options and prepare your retirement application.  Here at the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, we’re passionate about serving dedicated civil servants. We strive to help all our clients reach their retirement goals, regardless of their age or years of service. Over the years, we’ve helped many federal employees obtain early retirement and disability retirement. In addition, we have helped hold federal agencies accountable when they fail to meet their legal duties.  Worried about the cost of hiring an attorney? Don’t be. The last thing we want is money concerns to come between you and the retirement you deserve. Schedule your consultation today by calling us at 1-866-612-5956 or getting in touch with us online. 

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

How Long Does FERS Disability Retirement Last?

If you are currently on the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) disability retirement, you probably have a mix of relief and concern. You might be relieved because of the assistance that payments provide for your life. But you might be concerned because you are unsure how long your retirement will last. In general, many employees on FERS disability retirement can expect their retirement to last until age 62. However, there is no simple answer to the question of how long it will last. It depends on your age, health, situation, and disciplinary history. We’ll cover some of the basics here so that you have a general idea of what to expect. But if you have more questions about how the law applies to your specific case, contact an outstanding federal employment attorney today.  How Long Will My FERS Disability Retirement Last? Most federal employees are eligible to remain on FERS disability retirement from the date they receive approval until the day they turn 62. At that point, your retirement will convert automatically from disability to typical federal retirement. That said, you are subject to occasional “check-ups” while on FERS disability. What Factors Can Affect Whether I Continue to Receive FERS Disability Retirement? Age is the biggest factor when it comes to your benefits. As we mentioned before, when you turn 62, you will no longer receive disability retirement. Another factor that comes into play is your health. While many federal employees have disabling conditions that are also permanent, other employees can recover over time. If you recover sufficiently from your condition, you may lose out on your benefits after undoing a periodic review. A third variable that affects your retirement is your current earnings. According to federal law, you can receive retirement benefits only if you have a physical or mental condition that prevents you from achieving your “earning capacity.” However, if you subsequently receive wages (either from another employer or from self-employment) that equates to more than 80% of the pay you received as a federal employee, you will be deemed as having achieved your earning capacity. That means your benefits will stop.  Finally, your participation in other benefit programs can affect your benefits. For instance, if you decide to receive benefits from the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), then you can no longer continue to collect retirement payments.  Understanding Periodic Reviews by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) After you begin your FERS disability retirement, you can expect to receive periodic reviews from OPM. For some, these reviews will come once or twice a year. Other employees on benefits may receive reviews more or less often. In any event, these reviews are critical for your continued benefits.  During these reviews, OPM will send the retiree a short form to fill out. The form will inquire about the former employee’s current work activities. It will also request updated medical records for OPM to review. Having the right attorney on your side during this process can make all the difference for your disability retirement.  For many retirees with permanent conditions, their updated medical records will support a finding that will allow them to remain on benefits. But depending on your medical status and the answers to the OPM review form, the agency may decide that you are healthy enough to work and terminate future payments. This kind of sudden monetary change can turn your life upside down. The Consequences of Losing FERS Disability Retirement Losing your FERS benefits has many consequences. As any FERS retiree can tell you, one of the major benefits of FERS disability retirement is the free health and life insurance coverage that comes with it. You may also lose your health and life insurance if you lose your retirement benefits.  Other Benefits of Remaining on FERS Disability Retirement It’s also worth mentioning that while you are on FERS disability retirement, you will still accrue creditable service years. This will benefit you when your federal retirement kicks in at age 62. The calculation for your federal retirement is one percent of your highest salary over a three-year period multiplied by your years of creditable service. For instance, if your highest average salary over a three-year period was $100,000 and you have only 10 years of service, your retirement will be $10,000. But if you served 18 years in the government, your annual retirement benefit would equal $18,000. This means that it should be your top priority to maintain your disability retirement as long as you have a disabling medical condition.  What Should I Do If I Lose My Disability Retirement? Not all is lost if OPM has decided that you have recovered from your condition and withdrawn your benefits. If your disability recurs and you do not earn more than 80% of your former salary, you may be able to have your benefits reinstated. Want to Learn More About Protecting Your FERS Disability Retirement? Losing your benefits can be absolutely devastating. Therefore, if you are worried that OPM may decide to terminate your disability retirement, you need to consult a federal employment attorney right away. The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing is dedicated to helping you exercise your legal rights. Contact us today by calling 833-833-3529. You can also reach out to us online. 

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Title 38 and Hybrid Title 38 Employee Overview

Title 5 of the United States Code covers virtually all federal government employees. However, a few employees fall under Title 38 of the U.S. Code. Title 38 and hybrid Title 38 employees receive unique rights in the federal government. Both categories of employees work in the Veterans Administration and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and have different working conditions and pay scales. Title 38 employees work in various medical professions, while hybrid title 38 employees occupy medical and scientific roles.  Here, we’ll review the rights and working conditions of Title 38 employees and hybrid Title 38 employees. We will also touch on the process for appealing disciplinary action. For more specific questions relating to Title 38 and hybrid Title 38 employees, call a title 38 lawyer today.  Title 38 Employees: Characteristics and Examples  Title 5 defines all the main characteristics of federal employees. It controls things like working hours, overtime provisions, and pay scales. Because Title 38 employees obviously aren’t covered by Title 5, their working conditions are significantly different. Whereas Title 5 employees work during regular business hours, many Title 38 employees regularly work weekends or are on call 24/7. Title 5 employees receive pay under either the General Schedule (GS) or Executive Schedule (ES) pay systems, while Title 38 employees have several different pay scales that allow for significantly higher salaries. For instance, GS employees have a pay cap equal to the Executive Schedule level IV, which was $176,300 in 2022. In contrast, Title 38 physicians can make up to $385,000. However, Title 38 employees do not receive the same benefits as Title 5 employees when it comes to disciplinary matters. While Title 38 employees can file Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints, they cannot appeal disciplinary actions to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). This means that employers like the VA have significantly greater discretion when it comes to disciplining their employees. Finally, Title 38 employees must serve a two-year probationary period. Title 5 employees need only serve a one-year probationary period.  How Do I Know If I Am a Title 38 Employee? Not all VA and NIH employees fall under Title 38. The best way to determine if you are a Title 38 employee is by assessing your profession. The following professions are covered by Title 38: This is not an exhaustive list. If you have specific questions about whether your profession falls under Title 38, contact a competent Title 38 attorney today. How is a Hybrid Title 38 Employee Different from a Title 38 Employee? Some professions within the VA and NIH have employees that do not fall under one title of the U.S. Code. Instead, these professions split their employees between Title 5 and Title 38. These professions are called “mixed” or hybrid Title 38 employee professions. Hybrid Title 38 professions include: Again, this is not an exhaustive list. That said, if you work for the VA or NIH in one of these fields, you might be a Title 38 or Title 5 employee. The best way to know which title governs your position is by consulting your agency’s human resources department or by contacting a federal employment attorney.  What Rights Do Title 38 Employees Have? Regardless of whether they are in “pure” Title 38 professions or “hybrid” Title 38 professions, employees under Title 38 enjoy the same rights. While Title 38 employees cannot appeal disciplinary actions to the MSPB, they receive protections from the following laws:   Title 38 employees may also dispute disciplinary actions in Administrative Investigation Boards (AIBs). During these hearings, they may be represented.  Want to Learn More About Title 38 and Hybrid Title 38 Employees?  Do you have more questions about your rights as a Title 38 employee? Are you looking for quality legal representation to help you defend your career in AIB? Whatever your situation, we can help. The lawyers at the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, have many years of experience with both Title 5 and Title 38 employees. We have helped countless civil servants protect their careers, hold bad actors accountable, and obtain the benefits they deserve. Also, we’ve practiced in every kind of federal forum, including AIBs, the MSPB, the EEOC, and federal district court. We are passionate about defending your rights and hope to provide you with outstanding customer service.  Still unsure about whether you need to hire an attorney? Don’t worry. You can contact us at 1-866-612-5956 or reach out online to get started. 

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| Read Time: 3 minutes | Federal Employment Law

Are Federal Employees At-Will Employees?

Are federal employees at-will employees? The simple answer to this question is “no.” Every federal employee receives due process rights and may be fired only for cause. However, there are periodic efforts within Congress to make all federal employees at-will employees, so it’s worth discussing the concept of at-will employment. We’ll also review the basics of federal employment and the rights that virtually all federal employees have.  If you are a federal employee or are applying for a federal position, contact us to learn more about federal employment. We can help answer any questions about your rights as a federal employee.  What Are At-Will Employees? According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at-will employment “means that an employer can terminate an employee ‌for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability.” Employers cannot fire at-will employees for discriminatory reasons, like the employee’s race, sex, or religion. However, the employer can use just about any other reason to fire the employee. Technically, the employer need not have any reason at all for firing an at-will employee.  Understanding the Basic Rights of Federal Employment Fortunately, federal employees have extensive protections against arbitrary terminations. The vast majority of federal workers have a right to due process. Specifically, federal employees have to receive the following rights when they face discipline: Employees receive more rights if their employer proposes a suspension greater than 14 days, a demotion, or a removal. In those situations, federal employees need to have at least 30 days advance notice and the right to appeal the decision. Employees may appeal major disciplinary actions to the Merit Systems Protection Board, a federal agency designed to “promote an effective Federal workforce.” An MSPB appeal guarantees the employee the opportunity to argue their case before a federal administrative judge. Employees may also present favorable evidence, call supporting witnesses, and cross-examine agency witnesses. Why Are Federal Employees Not At-Will? The answer to this lies in the history of our country. The founding fathers understood it was vital to have an independent federal workforce. Otherwise, federal employees could be hired and fired for purely political reasons. There were several times in American history when civil servants were hired and fired for their political views. In the late 1800s, ordinary citizens frequently expected to get federal jobs by working for a presidential candidate.  The problems of this “spoils system” soon became obvious. In 1881, President Garfield was killed by a disgruntled supporter named Charles Guiteau. Guiteau had demanded a job at the American embassy in Paris for making a speech for President Garfield during his campaign for president. When he failed to receive a position, he decided to take matters into his own hands. The shocking assassination prompted Garfield’s successor to sign the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1883. The CSRA helped create an independent civil service by requiring federal agencies to fire employees only for cause.  How Can Federal Employees Be Fired?  Unlike at-will employees, a federal agency may fire a federal employee only for certain reasons. Common reasons for termination include: These are only a few examples. However, agencies can fire federal employees for only specific kinds of misconduct or poor performance. Arbitrary reasons, even if they are not discriminatory, do not suffice.  We Can Help Answer Your Federal Employment Questions Now that you understand the basics of federal employment, you might have other questions about working for the federal government. Whatever your question or concern, we are happy to answer it. In addition, we can represent you if your rights as a federal employee are under attack by your agency. Today, it is easier than ever to find a federal employment attorney. However, it’s critical to pick the right attorney. To protect your federal employment rights, you need a federal employment attorney with many years of experience and a track record of success.  Here at the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, our federal employment attorneys have several decades of collective experience representing federal employees. We’ve helped our clients with every aspect of federal employment, including MSPB hearings, disability retirement, and whistleblower retaliation. Whatever federal employment legal needs you have, we can help you solve them. To move forward, simply contact us today at 1-866-612-5956. You can also contact us online.

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