Federal employees who are injured at work do not receive benefits through workers' comp insurance or their state's workers' comp program. Instead, federal employees receive workers' compensation benefits through the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA), except for railroad workers, longshoremen, black lung coal miners, and harbor workers (who are covered under their own federal laws for workers' compensation). Members of the United States armed forces are also not considered federal employees for purposes of FECA.
FECA provides benefits and injury compensation for federal employees who are injured at work, or even offsite if their injury happened because of their employment and while they were performing their job duties. FECA covers both work-related injuries and occupational diseases that arise over time due to dangerous work conditions. The United States Department of Labor, through the Office of Worker Compensation Programs, administers the federal workers' comp benefits provided by the Federal Employees Compensation Act.
How Can Federal Employees Get Workers' Comp for COVID-19?
The Division of Federal Employees' Compensation (DFEC), part of the U.S. Department of Labor, created special procedures for handling workers' comp claims by federal employees who say they contracted COVID-19 while performing their job duties. Acknowledging the difficulty of pinpointing exactly how people get this disease, DFEC explained that certain federal workers—such as law enforcement, first responders, frontline medical and public health personnel, and others who must frequently interact with the public in person and in close proximity—will be considered at higher risk of infection.
If you file a claim for COVID-19 and work in a high-risk job, DFEC will accept that your employment was the cause of your exposure to the virus. You may still file a COVID-19 claim if your job isn't considered high risk, but you will have to provide evidence of your exposure to the coronavirus at work, as well as medical evidence showing that work-related activities directly caused or aggravated your diagnosed case of the disease. Learn more about the required evidence and claim procedures in the DFEC COVID-19 guidelines.
In addition to FECA, another federal program (the Public Safety Officers' Benefit Program) provides benefits to certain federal workers who are permanently and totally disabled as a direct result of an injury sustained in the line of duty, as well as death benefits to their survivors when they die as a result of such an injury. These "public safety officers" include firefighters and law enforcement officers who work for a public agency, as well as members of authorized ambulance crews who provide emergency medical services. A new federal law enacted in August 2020, the "Safeguarding America's First Responders Act" (P.L. 116-157), makes it easier for these first responders to get permanent total disability benefits when they contract COVID-19—and for their survivors to get death benefits when the employees die of the disease. If the employee was diagnosed with the disease during the 45-day period after the worker's last day of duty during 2020 and 2021, the program will presume that COVID-19 was an injury sustained in the line of duty.
Coverage under FECA is provided to all federal government employees regardless of the number of years of service, nature of the position, or type of work you perform.
To be covered by FECA, you must be employed by the federal government, not a private government contractor. If you are working for a private company, the workers' compensation laws in the state where you were injured will cover you.
For your injury or illness to qualify under FECA, you must be injured while performing duties of your job or you must develop a disease due to the working conditions and hazards inherent in your job. This can include injuries occurring while traveling or working offsite.
FECA does not cover injuries and diseases that arise as a result of activities outside the "course and scope of your employment." Activities outside the course and scope of employment include commuting to and from work, recreational outings, and activities for personal reasons. Injuries sustained while intoxicated or under the influence of non-prescription drugs will likely not be covered.
FECA also provides benefits to surviving family members for workers that die on the job while doing work-related activities.
If your FECA workers' compensation claim is allowed, you will begin to receive workers' compensation benefits to compensate you for your injury or illness and assist you in recovery. First, FECA will cover all necessary and proper claim-related medical treatment. This includes rehabilitation, surgery, and prescriptions.
FECA also provides compensation for lost wages if an employee is temporarily disabled and unable to work due to the industrial injury or occupational disease. Your federal agency will compensate you directly for your lost wages up to the first 45 days off work. Should your inability to work last beyond 45 days, FECA will being to pay your lost wages.
Alternatively, if your workers' compensation claim is based on an occupational disease, you are eligible for compensation for lost wages from FECA after only an initial three-day waiting period.
If your work-related injury or illness results in permanent partial disability or permanent total disability, FECA will provide additional benefits to you. The amount of the compensation is based on the severity of your permanent disability and the impact it has on your future earning capacity. And if you have dependents, you will likely receive increased permanent disability compensation to account for your need to provide for those dependents.
FECA also provides compensation for vocational retraining if you require job retraining to return to the workforce after your injury or illness.
Dependents of a federal employee who died on the job are eligible to receive "survivor's benefits."
If your FECA workers' compensation claim is denied, your claim is complex, or your injury was serious, you should strongly consider talking to an attorney in your area experienced in FECA workers' compensation law. Although an attorney is not necessary to obtain workers' compensation benefits, an attorney can be helpful in guiding you through the process and ensuring you receive all of the benefits you are eligible to receive.