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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.
FECA provides?other types of compensation and benefits, such as:
- If you’re able to return to work but you still need medical treatment during work hours, you may claim compensation for lost wages while getting that treatment, including travel time to and from the treatment
- Like state workers’ comp laws, you may be entitled to temporary total disability benefits
- Schedule awards, which are pre-set benefits based on the loss or loss of use of certain body parts
- The survivors of a federal employee whose death is work-related are entitled to benefits like compensation payments and funeral expenses
As a general rule, to be entitled to compensation and benefits, the notice of injury must be filed within three years after the injury or the date on which you discovered the existence of an occupational disease.
Special Notes on Medical Claims
If you need medical treatment, you’re allowed to choose your own doctor so long as she?fits within FECA’s definition of physician. Practically any health care professional licensed by your state qualifies for reimbursement of the costs of your care. However, chiropractors are entitled to reimbursement in only very limited circumstances.
If there’s a dispute about your medical condition or OWCP needs clarification or more information, OWCP may request that you, or your medical file,?be examined by a:
- Doctor on staff of under contract with the district office where you filed your claim
- Medical specialist. This is often called a second opinion exam, and it’s used if there are medical questions that your doctor and/or the district office doctor can’t answer
- Referee medical specialist. She’s selected by OWCP and is called in when your doctor and OWCP’s doctor have different but equally good opinions. The referee settles the dispute
Under FECA, there’s no limit on the amount of medical expenses or the length of time they’ll be paid, so long as the charges are reasonable and customary for your injury and you can show you still need treatment.
FECA is a complicated law, and the process for getting benefits can be complicated, too. This general overview gives you a starting place if you’ve been injured. The DFEC and OWCP web sites offer many resources to help you understand things more fully. It’s a good idea for any injured federal worker to look at those materials carefully and to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if you have any questions or concerns.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I had a work-related injury when I worked for the federal government. I recently got a new job in the private sector and reinjured the same injury. Do I file a claim under FECA, state law, or both?
- I was injured in car accident while driving a government-owned car on the way to work in the morning. Is my injury covered by FECA? Can I sue the other driver for my medical expenses even though I don’t own the car?
- As part of my will, can I designate who gets my FECA death benefits in case I die in work-related accident or from an occupational disease?