Sick Leave: The Math & The Morality?

Uncle Sam has a two-tiered system of sick leave. Employees get 13 days a year of sick leave. And they can accumulate indefinite amounts of sick leave.

Workers under the older Civil Service Retirement System can, when they reach retirement eligibility apply their unused sick leave to their service time. This boosts their annuity, in some cases substantially. They start out with a higher pension that is indexed to inflation. The miracle of compounding does the rest. An employee with roughly 2,080 hours of unused sick leave, which many have saved up, is considered to have worked an extra year.

But the majority of working feds today are under the “new” Federal Employees Retirement System. They have a much better 401(k) plan than their CSRS counterparts. And they earn Social Security credit. But their civil service annuity-determining formula is not as generous as CSRS. They also get smaller cost of living adjustments, which don’t kick in until age 62.

Sick leave, for FERS employees, is more like the private sector: use it or lose it. Many private firms limit the amount of leave an employee can accumulate (I once lost 1,000 hours overnight). I don’t know of any that credit it toward retirement. Neither does FERS. Because of the use-it-or-lose it nature of sick leave under FERS, many chose to use it rather than lose it. Sick leave usage for FERS employees increases in their last year of retirement.

So the question is, is this okay? Is sick leave only for when you are sick? Or do you “earn” it and, if so, what’s wrong with using it even if you aren’t running a fever or are a prisoner in your own bathroom.

We’ve had lots of response on the sick leave issue. Here’s an e-mail that came in yesterday. He asks you to check both the math and the morality of sick leave. Here goes:

Please do not use my name. However, please address the following.

Assume a GS-12 salary at 80,000/yr. As a CSRS employee, assume a 2% increase in my retirement, or 1,600/yr, assuming a year of accumulated sick leave.

Assume that I stick around for the extra year and use that year of sick leave. It has a value of 80k for that year. Assuming 1,600/ yr, it would take 50 years for me to recoup what I could have gotten by taking the year of sick leave. This does not factor in interest.

I submit that it is better for CSRS employees to extend their working time so that they too can take the earned sick leave.

My question: What is wrong with this thinking? (Other than the obvious moral questions.) Just Plain Bill

Federal/Military Pay Raises

The President’s budget calls for a 2.9 per cent pay raise for white collar civilian federal workers and a 3.4 percent raise for uniformed military personnel. Federal unions are demanding pay raise parity – the same percentage for both. The AFGE is pressing for a 4.5 percent raise.

Congress has won nearly every pay raise fight with the president (both Clinton and Bush), resulting in a higher raise for feds. This year the raise was set by Congress at 3.5 percent, but after locality pay adjustments, feds in many places got much more. The highest increase went to the Washington-Baltimore area where workers got 4.49 percent. For a look at the raise in other areas, click here.

Nearly Useless Factoid

According to, Olympic athletes of the ancient games that arrived late to compete were fined, with the only acceptable excuses being shipwreck, weather or pirates.

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