Employees who work for the US government and its agencies who are injured in work-related accidents are covered by the Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA). FECA is similar to state workers' compensation laws - which cover workers for private companies - but it's also very different in some respects. And, like many things where the federal government is concerned, there a number forms and steps you need to go though to get benefits.
Like state workers' comp laws, FECA is the exclusive remedy for injured federal workers. That means an injured worker can't sue the US government over his injury.
Also like state laws, FECA only covers work-related injuries. To get benefits, an injured federal worker has to prove he was injured during the performance of his duty - under state laws, the key phase is in course of his employment.
FECA claims are handed by the Division of Federal Employees' Compensation (DFEC), which is part of the US Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP). There are 12 district offices that handle FECA claims across the US.
FECA covers practically every civilian (non-military) employee who somehow works for the federal government. This is includes full-time employees working for federal agencies, like the IRS and FBI, as well as probationary, temporary or seasonal workers. Sometimes contract employees, volunteers and employees who aren't US citizens are covered. If there's a question about it, the OWCP determines if you're a federal employee.
Like state workers' comp laws, FECA covers injuries like broken bones and strained backs. These are called traumatic injuries - injuries that happen during a specific time or specific work shift (as opposed to over a period of time). FECA also covers occupational diseases - medical conditions caused by work conditions that develop over time or several work shifts.
FECA has different requirements for the two types injuries. For instance, different forms are used for each type of injury. Nonetheless, many of the same rules and steps apply to both types of injuries.
For a traumatic injury, you need to complete a notice of injury form and give it your supervisor within 30 days after the injury. If you need medical treatment, your supervisor will give you needed forms allowing you to get the treatment and have it paid for by government.
If you've developed an occupational disease, complete the notice of occupational disease and give it your supervisor as soon as possible after you learn of your injury. Again, your supervisor will help you get the forms you need to get medical treatment.
Payments & Benefits
This is where things get much different than most, if not all, state workers' comp laws. For instance, just because you filed a notice of injury doesn't necessarily mean you'll get paid any money or compensation for lost wages. You're entitled to have your medical expenses paid, and that happens almost automatically when you file the notice. But compensation is another matter.
FECA gives you some options most state laws don't. For example, after your injury, you may:
- Request continuation of pay (COP). Here you're paid your regular wages and salary for up to 45 days. COP is your regular wages, so it's fully taxable. Also, COP is not available if you've suffered an occupational disease
- Use your paid vacation or sick time and continue to collect your regular checks
- Take leave without pay
If it looks like your traumatic injury may last more 45 days and COP will run out, or if you've suffered an occupational disease, and you'll miss work because of the injury, you may file a claim for compensation for lost wages. These payments are akin to state workers' compensation payments and they're not taxable.