Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Budget Stalemate and Work Comp

The federal government is on hold: services are denied, properties shuttered, and federal workers are either furloughed or working without regular pay.

The current budget fiasco in Washington DC is headline news, though most of us working the daily trenches aren't all that impacted by Congress' impasse. After all, we're in workers' compensation and generally on a state level.

But we forget that there are federal workers' compensation programs too and those most in the line of hazardous duty and thus susceptible to work injuries are in the proverbial rock and hard place.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents Association is calling on Congress and President Obama to end the furlough of federal workers because agents are expected to work through the furlough and get paid when the government reopens.

The issue is that FBI agents injured during the furlough cannot get sick leave and must wait for benefits through the Federal Employees' Compensation Act which they say creates an unnecessary delay and hardship for these workers.

Paul Nathanson, the association's spokesman, said agents who were in the middle of recovery from injuries prior to the shutdown are considered furloughed until the shutdown ends. Agents who are injured during the furlough will not get paid for the days they cannot show up for work.

Joshua Zive, outside counsel to the association, said in an interview with WorkCompCentral Tuesday that the group has been unable to confirm with the federal Office of Workers' Claims whether Continuation-Of-Pay benefits will be paid during the government furlough.

FECA provides COP benefits at a worker's full salary for the first 45 days following an injury.

Most of the FBI's agents have been designated as exempt from the U.S. Antideficiency Act, which prevents the federal government from spending money that has not been appropriated.

The exemption allows agents to work during the government shutdown but delays payment of wages until the government reopens.

FBI Agents Association President Reynaldo Tariche said in the press release that agents injured on the job during the shutdown will be placed on immediate non-paid furlough status and will not be eligible for sick leave if they don't report for duty.

Tariche said agents hurt on the job during the shutdown will be able to collect FECA benefits but face a "long and arduous process."

The Office of Workers' Compensation Programs posted a bulletin early this month advising that injured federal workers should receive COP benefits during the shutdown but warned, that in the event that an agency lacks the funds to pay COP benefits, workers will have to file for regular FECA wage-loss compensation during the period.

The agency said that no COP benefits will be paid to those not scheduled to work because of the furlough.

The FBI employs about 36,000 people. About 14,000 are special agents and the balance are technical support personnel.

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