on Mar 16th, 2009 in Labor | 15 comments
The federal government has two main retirement systems. Most employees hired since 1983 fall under the Federal Employees’ Retirement System, known as FERS. Unlike their counterparts under the old system called CSRS (Civil Service Retirement System), FERS employees do not receive any service credit for their unused sick leave upon retirement. As a result, there are concerns that some FERS employees may try to use up as much of their sick leave balance as they can prior to retirement — a practice often called the “FERS Flu.” Because FERS employees are expected to comprise almost the entire federal and Postal Service workforce by 2014, a widespread outbreak of the FERS Flu could have serious consequences. This past December, approximately 1,400 readers of FedSmith.com participated in an on-line survey regarding their attitudes about sick leave usage in the Federal Government. One survey response should raise concerns. Readers were asked, “Is it ethical for a federal employee to use sick leave without having an authorized medical reason for using the leave?” Fully one-third of respondents stated that this was fully ethical, while an additional 11 percent were unsure. Another on-line poll of federal employees was even more troubling. Of the more than 1,100 FERS respondents, more than 75 percent said they planned to use as much sick leave as possible during their last year before retirement. A Congressional Research Service analysis of payroll data on nearly 500,000 employees showed that FERS employees eligible to retire used nearly 35 percent more sick leave than comparable CSRS employees.
FERS Flu...Is it catching? woman reclining in a hammock

While the FERS Flu is a problem throughout the federal government, it could be particularly acute for the Postal Service for two reasons. First, much of what the Postal Service does is very time-sensitive. For example, if a letter carrier takes a day of sick leave, someone must perform the work in place of the absent carrier. Often, the Postal Service must replace that work at the higher overtime rate. Second, because Postal Service managers have set aggressive goals to minimize sick leave usage, many FERS Postal Service employees have accumulated very large sick leave balances, and will therefore, have large amounts of sick leave available to use. Legislation that would give service credit to FERS employees for their unused sick leave has been proposed in the current Congress. This legislation passed the House of Representatives during the 110th Congress, but was not taken up by the Senate. What do you think about the risk of FERS Flu for the Postal Service?


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It's hard to blame FERS employees for doing this - that's what the incentives are. Although, the problem is not unique to the federal gov't. In the private sector employees do not get to even carry over the unused sick leave balance from one year to the next. I believe the best solution is not to separate seak leave from vacation days and let the employees decide how they use their days off.

Amazing, Mike Causey must be on the same thought wave. Today, March 16, he ran a similar story for Federal News Radio.


Dear Anonymous: Most private sector employees receive short term disability coverage (off-the-job) as an employer paid benefit. Accrued sick leave IS the federal equivalent of short term off-the-job disability coverage. So, please ensure that short-term coverage is available prior to taking away accrued sick leave.

Get real, employees that take sick leave are rewarded with time off and employees that work are punished by not receiving a reward for not using their sick leave.

Sick leave is a benefit that the postal service brazenly includes when determining an employees annual amount of monetary rewards ie, salary, insurance, thrift plan, vacation, etc. Benefits are to be used, and if someone saves them over the course of their employment, in lieu of calling in sick all the time, they should reap the reward at the end of their employment.

I have over 250 days of sick leave that I am about to loose.

I changed from CSRS to FERS retirement. Not giving FERS employees credit for unused sick leave is catastrophic for the Govt & the USPS in particular. Receiving nothing will make the most conscientious worker think twice about not getting 100% for their SL balance.

Have any studies been done to see if the short term benefit of not paying sick leave outweigh the long term costs of a lifetime increased annuity. In the example you cited with CSRS employees if we assume an employee making $50,000 per year used 40 days of sick leave he would get $7,692 base on a standard 2080 hours per year. If his high three retirement was also $50,000 then increasing his annuity by 2% would cost the government $1,000 per year plus an annual COLA on top of that. Well if the employee lived more than 7 years past retirement the long term costs would outweigh the short term benefits.

Also as a postal employee, if the Postal Service can not afford the retirement benefits it is now obligated to pay how does Congress expect the Postal Service to afford increased benefits.

Sometimes older folks are more susecptable to illness and injury. Not every absence is due to a FERS Flu. The more experience you have, the more age you have, and the more likely your chances of having a severe illness. I KNOW more than one FERS employee who almost had to drag themselves to work because they had cancer or some other condition, but they also had a work ethic that made them want to do all they could for their families and pull their weight on the job. Ethics have no CSRS or FERS classification!

I don't see that Congress has any incentive to give retirement credit for sick leave balances of FERS employees. The Postal Service is the only federal agency which punishes employees for using sick leave--it's just another benefit anywhere else. So we're the only federal agency where large numbers of FERS employees have large sick leave balances. And Congress has clearly shown that it doesn't intend to help the Postal Service at this time.

I already have 2,000 hours of sick leave with 10 years to retire. I have done what USPS said and saved it. USPS have scrutinized employees who dont save their sick leave. For what? To give it all back in the end. No way! Yes, I feel the FERS Flu coming on.

Give us credit when we retire or let us cash some in every year like the Annual Leave Exchange.

It is a real shame that individuals with a strong work ethic are not rewarded for their efforts. If credit was given for the accumulated sick leave hours, many workers would not use it up. There are way too many that "earn it and burn it". If management is not going to control those with a high absentee rate, they should reward those of us that show up for work.

What happened to the FERS Sick Leave Credit. I am going to retire Feb 10 and I have almost 600 hours of sick leave. The question is, do I get sick or are they finally going to come around and give FERS personnel credit or buy back my hours.

One of my family members actually got a case of the FERS flu in order not to lose that sick time. The government could have just payed them like R.C. Macky suggested and not lost productivity.

I don’t see that Congress has any incentive to give retirement credit for sick leave balances of FERS employees. The Postal Service is the only federal agency which punishes employees for using sick leave–it’s just another benefit anywhere else. So we’re the only federal agency where large numbers of FERS employees have large sick leave balances.