Reg Jones Expert's View

A frequently asked question is this: What effect will my taking – or having taken – leave without pay have on my federal benefits? Will it mess up my retirement? My health and life insurance benefits? Or my sick and annual leave accrual? And how about my TSP account?

Fortunately, the answers are straightforward and the treatment of such leave is often quite generous. Let’s go through the effects one by one.

Retirement benefits: A total of six months of LWOP in any calendar year is considered to be creditable service. In other words, for calculating your length of service, it’s treated as if you had never been on leave. Further, your coverage continues at no cost to you. Therefore, you don’t have to make a deposit to get credit for that time.

Health benefits: Your enrollment in an FEHB plan will continue for up to 365 days. The government’s contribution to the premiums will continue during that period. It will also cover your share of the premiums. However, you must either pay that portion directly to your agency on a current basis or let the premium debt accumulate and have the amount withheld from your pay when you return to work.

Life insurance: The treatment of life insurance coverage is even more generous than that for health insurance. The coverage continues for up to 12 consecutive months you are in a nonpay status without cost to you or your agency.

Annual and sick leave: If you are a full-time employee who is on LWOP for 80 hours during a pay period, you will not earn and annual or sick leave during that period. At that point, the clock is reset and you will begin earning both annual and sick leave credit until you again accumulate 80 hours of LWOP, at which point no credit will be given for the preceding pay period. Note: Up to six months of LWOP in a calendar year is considered creditable service for setting annual leave accrual rates, i.e., determining when you are eligible to move from four hours per pay period to six or from six to eight. The treatment of part-timers is proportional to their tour of duty.

Thrift Savings Plan: The government is less generous when it comes to your TSP account. Unless you are on active military duty when on LWOP, neither you nor your agency may make contributions to your TSP account if you are in a nonpay status for one or more pay periods. Nor is their any opportunity to catch up when you return to work.

These are the areas that are of most concern to federal employees. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention a few others where the government treats LWOPers rather well. Here are two very generous ones. First, if you are on military duty or on workers’ compensation, that time is treated as a continuation of federal employment for all purposes when you return to duty. Second, any LWOP is considered to be creditable service for meeting time-in-grade requirements for promotion consideration.

Moving down the scale, nonpay status time is fully creditable for the12-month continuous employment period needed to qualify for severance pay. However, for purposes of computing your actual severance payment, any time on LWOP not creditable for leave accrual purposes is excluded from your creditable service.

Finally, if a reduction-in force (RIF) comes your way, up to six months of a calendar year spent on LWOP will be considered to be creditable service. That will help you to keep your place in line for up to half a year.