The federal government provides a separate system of workers’ compensation benefits under the Federal Employees Compensation Act. This law excludes members of the military, as well as railroad workers, black lung coal miners, and certain workers in the maritime industry, each of whom is covered by a distinctive system of benefits. The U.S. Department of Labor administers benefits under FECA, which covers injuries and illnesses that arose from a worker’s employment. As with state workers’ compensation systems, a worker may be eligible for benefits even if they were injured away from their main work location.
Establishing Eligibility Under FECA
This law covers only people who are directly employed by the federal government. It does not cover people working for an entity that has a contract with the government. (Those workers would be covered by their state workers’ compensation system.) Federal government employees are covered as soon as they start working, and all types of jobs are covered. Families of employees who lose their lives from a work-related accident or illness may be eligible for death benefits.
Disputes sometimes arise over whether an injury or illness resulted from the worker’s job duties. Similar to state workers’ compensation benefits, FECA benefits do not apply to someone who is commuting to or from work or engaging in a personal activity when they are injured. They also may not apply if the worker is injured while they are drunk or drugged, or engaging in other misconduct.
Types of Benefits Under FECA
An injured worker should be able to receive coverage for their medical costs. These must be expenses that are necessary and reasonable under the circumstances. Costs may include hospital stays, doctor’s visits, surgical costs, physical therapy, medications, mileage traveling to and from appointments, and more.
FECA also provides wage replacement to injured workers if they are unable to work because of an accident or illness on the job. However, for the first 45 days that they are unable to work, the federal agency that employs them will provide compensation for their lost wages. FECA coverage will take over for disabilities that last more than 45 days. There is an exception for disabilities resulting from illnesses rather than accidents. FECA coverage will start after only three days of a disability in these cases. If you need retraining or rehabilitation after an accident or illness, FECA can cover these costs.
In addition to medical costs and wage replacement, FECA can provide disability benefits based on a permanent and total or permanent and partial disability. A permanent and total disability means that your condition permanently prevents you from working. A permanent and partial disability means that you can continue to perform some types of work, but you have experienced a permanent loss of function that restricts your capacity. (For example, you might have lost the use of a body part or suffered permanent vision or hearing loss.) Your benefits for a permanent and total or permanent and partial disability will be calculated according to the extent of the disability and the degree to which it reduces your earning capacity.