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Federal Employees Benefits Q &A

Do you have questions about your federal employee CSRS or FERS pension/annuity or federal employee retirement planning? Concerns about your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account or what about federal employee pay and leave issues?

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The Q&A forum is moderated by Ed Zurndorfer -- an expert on federal employee benefits -- and a Certified Financial Planner, chartered life underwriter and chartered financial consultant in Maryland.

Zurndorfer is also the author of several federal employee benefits guides published by Federal Employees News Digest.

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UsedtoSail  
#1 Posted : Thursday, January 04, 2018 7:52:05 AM(UTC)
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I have already received a written reprimand (for misconduct, I sent an unprofessional email - no bad language but not respectful and sarcastic), and the writing is on the wall that management is going to proceed with suspension and then termination. I've been with the agency for 11.5 years. I am old enough to qualify to retire; should I go ahead and do that now, so I don't lose my health insurance? There is no option of keeping it if I am fired, is that correct?

I know I shouldn't have sent the email, but I did, and two false allegations have been leveled against me since the reprimand, so I know this is going to go from bad to worse. I apologized profusely for the email, but that was not helpful; hired an attorney to grieve the reprimand. Agency's response was to deny the grievance and include new allegations, never before seen, in their denial. So, as said, handwriting is on the wall. I would prefer to stay in the job as long as it takes to find another, but I can't afford to lose my health insurance, so I have to choose the option that allows me to take that with me. Both my husband and I rely on it.

Thank you and please don't lecture me about the sarcastic email; I am already so depressed am suicidal. Thank you for any advice you can share; I can't find a clean answer online.
Ed Zurndorfer  
#2 Posted : Thursday, January 04, 2018 8:31:24 AM(UTC)

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Sounds like retiring is the best thing for you to do under the circumstances. But you need to check with your retirement specialist in your Personnel Office or Human Resources Office to make sure that you can retire given your circumstances.
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UsedtoSail on 1/5/2018(UTC)
UsedtoSail  
#3 Posted : Thursday, January 04, 2018 8:35:59 AM(UTC)
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Yes, I am still entitled to retire, since the reprimand is the only action taken so far. Is it correct that a person who is fired loses her health insurance? I just can't find guidance online. Thank you for your response and advice, which I will certainly consider. I just had hoped to be employed as long as possible while looking for another job. Thank you again.
Ed Zurndorfer  
#4 Posted : Thursday, January 04, 2018 8:39:35 AM(UTC)

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Yes, an employee who is fired loses his or her FEHB health insurance.
Go saints  
#5 Posted : Thursday, January 04, 2018 9:03:07 AM(UTC)
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Originally Posted by: Ed Zurndorfer Go to Quoted Post
Yes, an employee who is fired loses his or her FEHB health insurance.


By "fired" and losing FEHB, is that limited to firing for cause? Or can one also lose FEHB due to firing for substandard duty performance (despite best efforts, professional conduct and demeanor, and unsuccessful remediation)?
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UsedtoSail on 1/4/2018(UTC)
Ed Zurndorfer  
#6 Posted : Thursday, January 04, 2018 9:34:59 AM(UTC)

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In order to answer this question, you need to talk to your Personnel or Human Resources Office.
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UsedtoSail on 1/4/2018(UTC)
UsedtoSail  
#7 Posted : Thursday, January 04, 2018 12:46:36 PM(UTC)
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It's awkward because of HR's involvement in the reprimand. (We are a very small office.) I know if I ask HR that my doing so will be immediately relayed to management who issued the reprimand. I was trying to avoid alerting everyone and also possibly being accused of being disruptive, which asking the question might be perceived to be. Being disruptive could be considered grounds for suspension. I wondered if anyone knew based on OPM policy, but I haven't been able to find anything myself. Thank you so much for responding and for your advice. I am sure you are right that I should retire while I can, since we really need the health insurance.
Ed Zurndorfer  
#8 Posted : Thursday, January 04, 2018 12:49:11 PM(UTC)

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You are welcome. Good luck to you.
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UsedtoSail on 1/4/2018(UTC)
Gup@#_01  
#9 Posted : Thursday, January 04, 2018 1:30:19 PM(UTC)
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The best way to keep your FEHB is to continue to pursue your rights. For example, you could pursue arbitration with your union, file an EEO case, or file an MSPB case. Everyone who appeals any disciplinary action through the first level of appeal with the Agency, almost always loses, no matter the level of egregiousness of what was done to you. This is due to the fact that Agency Management almost always supports their own Managers, especially at the lower levels. By continuing to pursue your rights in one of these ways, you will be able to continue with your FEHB. Moreover, your Agency will be much less likely to fire you during any of these legal processes, unless they know they have sufficient proof to fire you for cause. You can continue to work while you pursue your rights, although they may try to force you out by making your work conditions so intolerable you have no choice to leave.

In the event your Agency still fires you while you pursue your rights, or in the event you choose not to pursue your rights and allow them to fire you, you can still keep your FEHB for one year under COBRA. You will be responsible for paying your monthly premiums, which, with FEHB, are quite low compared to anything else available.

The other thing you can do in the event you choose to pursue your rights further, which is what I recommend because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain at this point, is to contact the head of your HR department as soon as you stop working, whether they fire you, or force you out. Tell the HR Head you wish to sign a NOR, or Notice of Intent Agreement, which allows you to continue your FEHB through whatever legal process you chose to go through, i.e., EEO, Union, MSPB. This NOR Agreement gives you options concerning your FEHB. For example, there is a box you can check which requires your Agency to fully pay for your FEHB until the legal process you are going through is over, which with EEO, May take years. You will only be liable for the FEHB payments in the end if your Reprimand, firing, etc., is found to have been done in accordance with the law. From what you said, I do not believe this is necessarily the case. If the Agency is found to have acted inappropriately, they will likely be required to pay all your FEHB cost until the legal process is over. Another option the NOR Agreement allows is to check the box which requires the Agency to pay their portion of your FEHB while you pay your portion each month until the legal process is over.

The NOR is a short 1-2 page form document where you merely check which box you wish to move forward with concerning your FEHB, and sign and date it. It’s that simple. Congress tried to limit the amount of time an Agency can continue to pay FEHB for an employee who pursues their legal rights to 1-year, but they failed, largely due to public comments from people like me. Thus, in the event you are either fired or forced out, request a NORfrom your HR Head immediately. If you do not know who that is, request the NOR from your immediate Supervisor. The best thing for you to do is check the box which requires the Agency to completely pay for your FEHB while you pursue your rights through the legal process. There is no limit to how long they are required to do this, and all the legal processes you have to choose from move slowly.

The worst thing you can do is to choose to NOT pursue your legal rights. I recently went through this entire process and it worked smoothly. So, stay in your job as long as you can, and pursue your rights in the event something happens. If you do NOT pursue your legal rights, then you can carry your FEHB for 1-year under COBRA. You will have to pay both the Agency portion and your portion of the premium each month.

In order to continue to pursue your rights, you must make a decision about which legal process you want to go through, EEO, Union, etc., and file your Complaint/Appeal within a certain period of time. In your case this will run for 45 days from the date of the last denial decision you received. Also, talk with the Attorney who first handled your Reprimand. Good luck!


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UsedtoSail on 1/5/2018(UTC)
Ed Zurndorfer  
#10 Posted : Thursday, January 04, 2018 4:40:07 PM(UTC)

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Thank you for input into this forum.
Gup@#_01  
#11 Posted : Thursday, January 04, 2018 10:55:26 PM(UTC)
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CORRECTION TO MY PREVIOUS POST:

NOR should read NOI, which stands for NOTICE OF INTENT AGREEMENT.

For some reason, my auto correct wanted to write NOR instead of NOI.
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UsedtoSail on 1/5/2018(UTC)
Ed Zurndorfer  
#12 Posted : Friday, January 05, 2018 2:48:18 AM(UTC)

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seabeedeb  
#13 Posted : Friday, January 05, 2018 10:05:52 PM(UTC)

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I would not retire now if you need to keep your job and your health insurance. If the agency decides to remove you for misconduct sometime in the future, you can retire then and keep your health insurance with no lapse in coverage. Removal for misconduct does not disqualify you for retirement if you are eligible. But once you start receiving retirement annuity payments, you cannot be rehired as a federal employee, you can only be hired as a re-employed annuitant, so you should not retire now if you want to find another federal position.

You say the handwriting is on the wall for your eventual removal, but I would try to ride it out and just lay low, do your job, and make sure you don't give them any reason to complain about you. This means follow any specified terms in your letter of reprimand, don't be late, don't leave early, don't take long breaks or lunches, make sure your time is entered accurately with the times you actually arrive and leave, etc, etc. You can apply for other jobs while you're waiting to see what the agency will do, and you may be able to get out of there before an adverse action is taken against you, if that even happens.

So please don't worry, you will not lose your health insurance if you are eligible for an immediate retirement annuity, and you will not lose your retirement benefits if you are removed for misconduct. If the agency does remove you before you find another job, then you can apply for retirement at that time and your annuity will start the next month. Based on what you said, you have reached your MRA or you are 62+ years old in order to qualify for an immediate annuity with 11+ years of service under FERS.

And for the other questions, federal employees lose their health insurance if they separate from service before they are eligible for immediate retirement, and it doesn't matter if the separation is voluntary or involuntary. There is an automatic 31-day extension at no cost after separation, and federal employees have Temporary Continuation of Coverage (TCC), not COBRA, and it's good for 18 months. You aren't eligible for TCC if you are removed for GROSS misconduct, which is usually considered a felony-level offense, so it doesn't apply to all misconduct cases. And any employee who is involuntary separated for performance reasons will usually qualify for unemployment benefits if there are other types of work they can do.

I found this information by searching at www.opm.gov, except for the unemployment benefits - I was told that by OPM and I have seen it happen multiple times. You may also want to review the Table of Penalties for your agency to see the range of corrective or disciplinary actions that are recommended for the allegations against you. It could be that removal is not a recommended action for a first offense in your case, and you don't need to worry about that after all.

Good luck!
Ed Zurndorfer  
#14 Posted : Tuesday, January 16, 2018 2:45:57 PM(UTC)

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