Sick Leave: Insurance or Entitlement?

When measuring your overall health it is important to consider factors such as family medical history, age, and your eating and exercise habits. Oh, and if you work for the federal government, your retirement plan. Are you FERS or CSRS, and does that make a difference?

Some office managers say that bosses say that, all things being equal, workers who are under the “new” Federal Employees Retirement System are less healthy than their counterparts under the CSRS plan, even though the latter tend to be older. By “less healthy” the bosses say that FERS employees seem to use more sick leave. Especially as they get closer to retirement.

Where is Louis Pasteur, or Dr. Phil for that matter, when you need him?

Some people say that younger folk have a different sense of what sick leave is all about. That they consider it a perk, rather than a insurance.

    “I hear people saying they are going to take a mental health day. What does that mean? They aren’t sick, they admit it. They just need some time off. To me that is not what sick leave is all about,” says Scott, a 30 plus year veteran of the government.

    A younger colleague said that “with all due respect (to Scott), we need to know what we are dealing with here. When he retires, Scott will be able to credit his unused sick leave toward his annuity. He’ll get more money in retirement. When I retire, under the FERS system, what I’ll get is nothing, except maybe the ‘thanks’ of a grateful nation.”

Two out of three federal workers are under the “new” (1980s model) Federal Employees Retirement System. Most of the remaining third are under the old Civil Service Retirement System. FERS and CSRS provide different benefits: CSRS employees get bigger annuities, FERS employees can get a 5 percent matching contribution to their 401(k) plan. They contribute less toward their government retirement benefit, and get full Social Security coverage.

Each system has its pros and cons. Many FERS employees think their long-time colleagues have it made. Many CSRS employees trade off a larger guaranteed pension for that 5 percent government contribution (the equivalent of a 5 percent tax-deferred pay raise) to their Thrift Savings Plan account.

Many feel the biggest gap between CSRS and FERS is in sick leave. CSRS employees can accumulate unlimited amounts. When they are otherwise eligible to retire they can apply their unused sick leave toward their service time. That can boost, sometimes big time, the value of their lifetime annuity.

FERS employees don’t get any sick leave break. They earn and can accumulate the same amounts as CSRS employees. But when they retire from government they get nothing.

Congress working on legislation that would give FERS some kind of compensation for unused sick leave. But it isn’t working very hard. This is an election year. Congress is working short-weeks, but taking lots of breaks. And at one point it appeared that half the Senate was running, full-time, for the presidency.

Unless and until things change, many FERS employees, especially in their last year on the job, may use more sick leave than their CSRS colleagues. Here’s what one Postal Worker told us:

I don’t think those self serving, bought and paid for slobs (could he be referring to Congress?), are going to do anything about it. As a 25 year USPS employee, who missed getting hired under CSRS by 2 weeks, I think the situation stinks. A former coworker of mine, who was only 1 year older than myself, recently retired at age 56 with 3/4 of his salary.

1,800 hours of sick leave were rolled into his retirement formula, resulting in a higher monthly payment. When people in my situation put their 30 years in, we still can’t retire without a big social security penalty. I’ll be working until I’m 65 (35 years of service). We should get some credit for unused sick leave.

At the rate I’m falling apart, I’m sure I will need plenty of medical work, resulting in the legitimate use of a portion of my sick leave balance. It would be nice to know the remaining balance could be sold back. Without some compensation, this inequity in the system only encourages people to use or abuse their sick leave before they retire. I wish I had joined the post office right after I got out of the Air Force instead (of) working in the private sector for a couple of years. Esteban El Cartero (real name withheld for fear of reprisal)

Nearly Useless Factoid

Only one U.S. coin, the zinc-coated steel penny produced during World War II, can be picked up by a magnet. Its counterpart, the 1943 copper-alloy cent, is one of the “most idealized and potentially one of the most sought-after items in American numismatics,” according to the Mint. Why this is nearly useless: Only 40 1943 copper-alloy cents are known to remain in existence.

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