Federal employees are entitled to an array of benefits as part of their work for the government, including healthcare options, educational assistance and retirement benefits. The Federal Times employee benefits guide walks feds through changes to their pay, insurance options, leave entitlements and retirement benefits. Federal employees will see modest changes to their pay and benefits in 2022, with health insurance costs rising after a record-low increase in 2019 and basic pay getting an average increase under the president’s budget.
Federal Employee Salaries
The federal government operates under several different pay models, depending on the type of job and employing agency, but the General Schedule is the most prevalent. Other pay structures include law enforcement officer schedules, executive and senior-level employee tables, the Federal Wage System, Title 38 medical professionals, Foreign Service employees and Administrative Law Judges.
The Office of Personnel Management is developing guidance to ensure that more federal employees make at least $15 an hour, as part of President Joe Biden’s plan to have the government lead by example on minimum wage.
General Salary Structure
- Grade: predetermined skill level for a federal position falling between 1 and 15.
- Step: 10 pay increases within each grade determined by length of service and performance rating and recommended by managers.
- Locality: pay bumps granted to feds who live in more expensive parts of the country.
Find Your Estimated Pay:
Federal Employee Pay Raise
Each year, the president decides whether to mandate an across-the-board pay increase for federal employees. These increases can apply to both base and locality pay.
Congress can decide to:
- Override the president’s intent by legislating a higher or lower pay increase.
- Freeze pay for the coming year.
- Take no action to allow the president’s recommendation.
President Joe Biden has proposed a 2.7 percent pay increase for feds in 2022, and so far Congress has not included a different number or pay freeze in its ongoing budget legislation negotiations.
Federal Employee Retirement Benefits
The federal government operates two basic retirement systems: the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System.
- Basic Retirement Plan: operates as an annuity or set-aside fund that pays retirees on a monthly basis and is not transferable to private sector.
- Voluntary Savings Account: additional retirement savings employees under the Civil Service Retirement System may contribute to.
- Thrift Savings Plan: a 401(k)-like plan that agencies automatically contribute to and employees may optionally add to.
- Social Security: the same tax paid by private sector employees to receive government benefits.
An employee’s annuity may increase based on cost-of-living adjustments from year to year, and no employee may receive a total yearly annuity that is more than 80 percent of their high three wage average.
Air traffic controllers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, capitol police, Supreme Court police and nuclear materials couriers have special retirement provisions that alter their annuity computations slightly.
- Phased retirement: Employees whose skills are in desperate need at their agencies but who meet the retirement age requirements may end up in a phased retirement and can draw some money from their annuity while working part-time at their agency.
Federal Employee Health Insurance
Federal employees have the option to enroll in a health insurance plan under the Federal Employee Health Benefits program when they are hired or during open season, from November 8 to December 13, 2021.
- Total number of health care plans: 276
- Minimum number of plans available to each employee: 18
Explore the federal government health insurance plans.
Federal Benefits Open Season
Employees who do nothing during open season are automatically reenrolled in their current plan. They can also optionally enroll in several additional benefit plans, including dental, vision and life insurance.
- Dental plans: 23
- Vision plans: 10
- Long-Term Care Insurance Program: helps pay for long-term care needs in the event of a severe illness or age-related problems
- Health care flexible spending account: allows employees to set aside pre-taxed earnings that can be used for some medical, dental and vision expenses
- Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Program: automatically enrolls new employees in the basic plan, unless they actively opt out and the government covers a third of the costs, while employees pay the remaining two-thirds. Also comes with three optional plans that offer different coverage amounts.
Average Insurance Increase in 2022:
Federal Employee Tuition Assistance
Federal employees, and in some cases family members, can access reduced tuition and academic scholarships specific to federal employees through the Federal Academic Alliance, a program designed to provide the federal workforce with in-demand skills and degrees.
For students thinking about federal service, the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program provides up to three years of financial support, covering tuition and some living expenses, in a cybersecurity undergraduate or graduate program in exchange for an equal amount of federal service.
The following 23 academic institutions offer federal employees scholarships and lower tuition:
Do federal employees get student loan forgiveness?
Federal employees can apply for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program if they meet the following criteria:
- They work full time at a federal, state, local or tribal government or not-for-profit organization.
- Their loans were received under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan program or they consolidated their other loans under that program.
- They have made 120 in-full payments on their loan repayment plan while working at a qualifying employer.
The requirement for 120 payments means that feds will not be eligible for forgiveness until they have been working for the federal government or another qualifying employer for at least 10 years. During that time, feds are recommended to submit a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Form every year and when they change employers to certify that they are making qualifying payments toward forgiveness.
Federal Employee Leave
What kinds of leave do federal employees get?
- Annual leave – Federal employees accrue annual leave based on their type of employment and length of service in the federal government. Feds are entitled to use that time, subject to supervisor approval, and will receive a payout for unused leave when they exit federal service. Feds in the U.S. may have a maximum of 30 days of leave that can carry over into a new year, while feds overseas get 45 days and members of the Senior Executive Service, Senior-Level and Scientific and Professional Employees get 90 days. Agencies can advance an employee annual leave up to the amount they would accrue in a year at agency discretion. OPM.gov breaks down the annual leave policy.
- Sick Leave – Feds can use paid sick leave for personal medical needs, family care and bereavement, care for family with serious health conditions and adoption related purposes. Full time feds accrue a half day of sick leave each pay period and part-time feds accrue one hour for every 20 hours in pay status. There is no limit to how much sick leave an employee can accrue.
- Parental Leave – Full-time feds and part-time feds covered under Title 5 of U.S. Code are entitled to 12 weeks of paid parental leave each year for either the birth or placement of a new child in their family within the last 12 months. This leave is based in the unpaid leave bank established under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, meaning that if an employee takes some unpaid leave under FMLA, the availability of paid parental leave decreases by that amount.
- FMLA – The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles most feds to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a seriously ill family member, care for their own serious health condition or under certain circumstances when an employee’s family member is on or called to active duty in the military.
- Leave transfer programs – Feds are entitled to a voluntary leave transfer program and OPM may authorize an emergency leave transfer program for employees to donate their unused leave to another employee in need who has exhausted their own paid leave options.
- Credit hours and compensatory time off – Feds who volunteer for or are asked to work time beyond their normal work hours may receive paid time off in lieu of overtime pay that they can use at a later date.
- Uniformed service – A federal employee is entitled to leave without pay while their federal job is interrupted by service in the uniformed service. Disabled veterans are also entitled to leave without pay for necessary medical treatment.
- Court Leave – Feds summoned to jury duty or to serve as a witness in a case are entitled to paid time off, but must reimburse the government for any compensation they are provided during that time that is not issued for expenses like food or transportation.
- Administrative Leave – Issuance of administrative leave, which excuses an employee from work without loss of pay or charge to other leave banks, is at the sole discretion of the agency. This leave is commonly used when employees must be dismissed from duty due to an emergency, time used to vote, due to the death of a president or when an employee is undergoing a misconduct or adverse action process where the agency believes the employee should not be allowed in the workspace.
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