Workers' Compensation Benefits for Federal Employees

Federal workers have their own workers’ comp system. Here's what you need to know about it.

By , Attorney · UCLA School of Law

Unlike employees of private businesses, federal employees who are injured on the job are not covered by their state workers' comp system, but by the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA).

Under FECA, if you're a federal worker who sustains a work-related injury or suffers from an occupational illness, you might be entitled to benefits such as medical expenses, compensation for lost wages, vocational rehabilitation, and more.

Eligibility for Federal Workers' Compensation

Who Is Covered by Federal Workers' Comp?

FECA covers civilian federal employees, including postal workers (who make up the majority of FECA claimants), TSA agents, Border Patrol agents, and almost all other civil officers or employees in any branch of the U.S. government.

The only federal employees who are not covered by FECA are railroad employees, maritime workers, black lung coal miners, and members of the U.S. military, all of whom are covered by separate laws for compensating injured employees.

What Injuries Are Covered by Federal Workers' Comp?

Federal workers' comp covers all types of work-related injuries and diseases, including traumatic injuries caused by accidents, illnesses sustained over time—such as repetitive stress injury or repeated exposure to toxins—and death.

You are entitled to benefits under FECA only if your injury occurs while you are performing your job duties, although your injury doesn't necessarily need to have occurred at the job-site in order to be covered by workers' comp.

You are not entitled to benefits if you purposefully cause your own injury, your injury is the result of willful misconduct, or you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs when your injury occurs.

Benefits Available Under Federal Workers' Comp

FECA is administered by the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) of the U.S. Department of Labor. If the OWCP approves your workers' comp claim, you may be entitled to the following benefits:

  • Medical expenses. Federal workers' comp will pay for your medical bills, including doctors, hospitals, medications, and transportation.
  • Lost wages. Injured workers are compensated for wage loss at 2/3 their regular wages if they don't have dependents, and 3/4 their wages if they do have dependents.
  • Vocational rehabilitation. If you're partially disabled and can't return to your usual work, vocational rehabilitation counselors under contract to OWCP provide services such as counseling and guidance, vocational testing, training programs, and placement help.
  • Survivor's benefits. Dependents of a federal employee who died on the job are entitled to death benefits.

How to Apply for Benefits Under FECA

To make a claim for workers' comp benefits under FECA, you first need to file a form with your federal employer. Which form you file, and when you need to file it, will depend on what type of injury you suffered. You must file a claim within three years of your injury, but if you fail to do so you can still recover benefits if you notified your employer of your injury within 30 days.

Accordingly, if you sustained a traumatic injury, you should file the appropriate form with your employer within 30 days of your injury; if you suffered from an occupational disease or illness over a period of time, you should file within 30 days of the date you realized the disease or illness was caused or made worse by your employment. Your employer should then submit the completed form to OWCP within ten working days.

Next, OWCP will investigate your claim. If your claim is approved, you will begin receiving benefits. If OWCP makes an unfavorable decision on your claim, there are various methods to appeal the decision.

Appealing a Denial of Benefits

You can appeal a denial of benefits to the federal Employees' Compensation Appeals Board. You must file your appeal within 180 days of your denial. A panel of judges will hear your arguments and issue a written decision. A workers' comp lawyer can help you present the most persuasive arguments possible to the appeals board.

Hiring a Federal Workers' Compensation Lawyer

You don't need to hire a lawyer to obtain workers' comp benefits under FECA, particularly if your claim is straightforward. However, if your claim is complex, your injury is serious, or OWCP denies your claim and you want to appeal, you should consider talking to an attorney who is experienced in federal workers' compensation law.

An attorney can help guide you through the process and ensure that you receive all of the benefits to which you're entitled.

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