Workers Compensation

Workers' Compensation for Federal Government Employees

By Sachi Barreiro, Attorney, University of San Francisco School of Law
Employees who work for the U.S. government are covered by a separate, federal workers' compensation system.

Employees who work for the United States government and are injured in work-related accidents are covered by the Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA). The federal workers’ comp system is separate from the state workers’ compensation systems. The state systems cover employees who work for private employers (and in some states, employees of the state or local government), while the federal system covers U.S. government employees across the nation. This article describes the basics of filing a claim and receiving benefits under FECA.

Basics of FECA

FECA is the exclusive remedy for federal workers who are injured on the job. This means that injured workers must go through the federal workers’ comp system to recover for their injuries, rather than sue the federal government in court.

FECA claims are handled by the Division of Federal Employees' Compensation (DFEC), which is an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP). The division has 12 district offices that handle FECA claims across the country.

Who Is Covered Under FECA?

FECA covers employees of most federal agencies, such as the IRS, FBI, or U.S. Postal Service. In addition to full-time and part-time employees, probationary, temporary, and seasonal workers are also eligible for benefits. FECA does not cover employees who work for most private companies that contract to provide services to the federal government. In those cases, the employees are generally covered through the state workers’ compensation systems. (For more information on the state systems, see Overview of the Workers' Compensation Process.)

FECA also does not cover a small subset of federal workers, including military personnel, railroad workers, maritime workers, longshoremen, and harbor workers. The federal government has other systems that compensate these workers for their injuries.

What Injuries and Illnesses Are Covered Under FECA?

FECA covers most injuries sustained on the job, including traumatic injuries and occupational diseases. A “traumatic injury” is one that is caused by an isolated event or a series of events that take place in a single workday or work shift. For example, a worker who breaks an arm during a slip and fall or sustains a back injury while picking up a box at work has suffered a traumatic injury.

Occupational diseases, on the other hand, develop slowly over a period of time. An “occupational disease” as an injury or illness that is caused by a series of events that take place over more than a single workday or work shift. Occupational diseases are typically caused by repetitive movements or exposure to harmful substances at the workplace. For example, a worker may develop carpal tunnel after typing for several years or may develop mesothelioma (a form of cancer) from exposure to asbestos.

Filing a Claim

The OWCP has separate claim forms for traumatic injuries and occupational diseases. If you have a traumatic injury, you must complete the Federal Notice of Traumatic Injury and Claim for Continuation of Pay/Compensation (Form CA-1). You should fill out this form and give it to your supervisor as soon as possible, but no later than 30 days after the incident that caused your injuries.

If you’ve developed an occupational disease, you should complete the Notice of Occupational Disease and Claim for Compensation (Form CA-2). Give the completed form to your supervisor as soon as possible, but no later than 30 days after you realized that your disease was caused by your employment.

If you need medical treatment, your supervisor should fill out the necessary paperwork to authorize medical treatment. Workers’ comp will pay for all necessary medical treatment if your claim is approved.

Payments and Benefits

The federal workers’ comp system also provides benefits for lost wages and permanent disabilities caused by work-related injuries. Workers with traumatic injuries can receive their full wages for up to 45 days after suffering a traumatic injury. These benefits, called “continuation of pay” are not available to workers with occupational diseases.

Workers can also receive compensation payments while they are recovering from their injuries and unable to work. If you’re single with no dependents, you will receive two-thirds of your regular wages. If you’re married or have one or more dependents, you will receive three-fourths of your regular wages. For workers with occupational diseases, these benefits are available immediately. For workers with traumatic injuries, these benefits are available once continuation of pay has run out.

When your condition has plateaued and is not expected to improve further, your doctor will evaluate you and determine whether you have any permanent impairment as a result of your injuries. If you do, your doctor will assign you a disability rating, and you’ll be eligible for a permanent disability award.

Getting Help

If you have questions about your FECA claim, you can contact your DFEC district office. Or, if your claim has been denied or you’re having trouble getting the benefits you’re entitled to, you should consult with a workers’ compensation lawyer in your area right away.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How long will it take for my FECA claim to be accepted or denied?
  • How much can I receive as a permanent disability award?
  • Will my loved ones be able to collect benefits if I die in a work-related accident or from an occupational disease?
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