What You Need to Know About Federal Workers’ Compensation Benefits

The Federal Employees Compensation Act was created to provide workers’ compensation insurance for injured federal workers. Presently there are twelve federal workers’ comp regional offices throughout the country. They are responsible for investigating and processing claims. Federal workers’ comp is managed by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Federal workers’ comp benefits are available for all federal workers except railroad workers, longshoremen, black lung coal workers, harbor workers, and members of the Armed Forces. These federal workers have coverage through separate insurance policies unique to the type of work they do.

The federal government and its agencies enjoy immunity from public employer liability and require workers to pursue all injury claims through the federal workers’ comp system.

Filing a Federal Workers’ Compensation Injury Claim

If you’re a federal worker who’s been injured on the job, there are several steps you must take to ensure you receive full benefits. (A complete federal workers’ compensation guide (C-11) and all forms are available on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.)

  1. Notify your supervisor or go directly to your onsite health office. If your injuries are life-threatening, call 911.
  2. Complete a “Federal Employee’s Notice of Traumatic Injury and Claim for Continuation of Pay/Compensation” form (CA-1). For a work-induced disease, you need to complete a “Notice of Occupational Disease and Claim for Compensation” form (CA-2). You have only 30 days from the date of injury to file your form.
  3. Submit your CA-1 or CA-2 form and keep a copy for your records. When your department head completes his portion of the form, he will send it to the appropriate federal workers’ comp district office.
  4. One or more representatives from the regional office will investigate your claim. They will inform you by letter if the office believes there’s enough evidence to proceed with your claim. If necessary, they may ask you to submit additional information. If they deny your claim, you have the right to file an appeal.
  5. Choose a physician and get treatment. You may go to the private physician of your choice (this is unlike most state administered workers’ compensation plans, which require an injured worker to choose a company-approved physician). When deciding on a physician, be sure to select one who is familiar with federal workers’ comp procedures and forms, and who is willing to assist you during the process.

Federal Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Injured federal workers are entitled to payment of all medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses (medications, bandages, etc.), and vocational rehabilitation. If your injury prevents you from working, you’ll continue to receive full wages directly from the agency you work for up to 45 days from the date were injured.

After 45 days, federal workers’ comp begins paying your lost wages at a reduced rate. You receive two-thirds of your of your pre-injury wages if you have no dependents, and three-fourths of your pre-injury wages if you have one or more dependents. Federal workers’ comp benefits do not include any amount for your pain and suffering.

If your on-the-job injury or occupational disease results in a disability, you’ll receive a cash settlement in addition to lost wage benefits. Workers’ comp administrators calculate your settlement based on loss of earning capacity, type of disability (partial, temporary or permanent), and the loss or damage to specific body parts, organs and functions.

Survivor’s benefits are paid to the legal dependents of a worker who is killed while on the job. Sovereign immunity limits public employer liability in federal wrongful death suits.

Sovereign Immunity from Injury Lawsuits

The federal government and its agencies are immune from public employer liability, including personal injury claims by federal workers alleging government negligence. This immunity includes cases where one employee is injured by another while on the job. Under federal statutes, the government and its agencies are almost always immune from liability.

In the private sector, there are some instances where an injured worker may apply for workers’ compensation benefits and also pursue a separate third-party claim against the employer. Under federal law, negligence of any type or severity does not circumvent federal workers’ compensation restrictions. Sovereign immunity also prohibits federal employer liability in wrongful death suits.

Third-party Claims against Non-governmental Agencies

As a federal worker, you are prohibited from suing the federal government for an on-the-job injury. But there are some circumstances where you may be entitled to pursue a private third-party claim against a non-governmental entity. While federal employer liability is restricted by immunity, non-governmental entities have no such immunity.

A federal employee injured on the job must file an injury claim with the federal workers’ comp administration. If your on-the-job injury was caused by the negligence of a third party, who was not acting under the auspices of the federal government, then you may be able to also seek damages from that party in a separate lawsuit.

Example: Hit by drunk driver

Norma was a federal postal employee. She drove a U.S. postal truck, but spent the majority of her time walking her assigned route, delivering mail to private residences. One day, as she walked down a sidewalk, a car swerved off the road and ran her over. Norma sustained major injuries, including a broken femur, and face and head injuries.

When the police arrived, they administered a field sobriety test to the driver. He failed the test and the police arrested him for driving while intoxicated.

Norma correctly filed a federal workers’ compensation claim. She decided to consult with a personal injury attorney who said that federal law allowed her to file a third-party lawsuit against the driver. Norma hired the attorney to represent her.

Her attorney filed a lawsuit contending that the driver’s actions at the time he struck Norma were wholly negligent. The lawsuit claimed damages for her injuries and expenses. These included her medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses (medications, crutches, wheelchair, etc.), all her lost wages, and a substantial amount for her present and future pain and suffering.

The jury awarded Norma all the damages demanded in her lawsuit. The award exceeded the driver’s insurance policy limits, so Norma’s attorney pursued the driver’s personal assets to recover the difference between his policy limits and the jury verdict.

Reimbursing Federal Workers’ Compensation

Third-party lawsuits can take years before they finally settle or go to trial. In the meantime, federal workers’ compensation will pay for your medical bills and other expenses. If you are successful in a third-party lawsuit however, federal law states that you must reimburse the federal workers’ comp system for its payments.

The good news is, a third-party award is generally higher than the total amount paid by worker’s comp. You get to keep the difference between the amount workers’ comp paid, and the amount of your court award. This should include compensation for all your lost wages and your pain and suffering, which is not covered by workers’ comp.

Do You Need an Attorney?

If your injuries are minor (strains and sprains, minor cuts, abrasions and bruises), you probably don’t need an attorney for your federal workers’ comp claim. If your injuries are more serious (broken bones, internal injuries, scarring, serious burns, head and neck trauma), or your injury results in disability, you should immediately seek the counsel of an attorney with experience in federal workers’ compensation claims.

Most injury attorneys don’t charge a fee for an initial office consultation. If an attorney accepts your case, you won’t have to pay any legal fees in advance. You pay a percentage of your award, if and when your attorney settles or wins your case at trial.

When it comes to serious injuries or disability, especially in federal workers’ comp claims, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney.

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