By Kimberly H. Berry, www.retirementlaw.com
Federal law enforcement officers and firefighters are covered by special provisions of the U.S. Code located in Title 5 for purposes of their retirement. Many issues can arise with respect to this type of retirement coverage, but the following is a summary of this type of federal retirement. This type of retirement coverage is available to those federal employees who have been employed as a federal law enforcement officer, firefighter (and a few other types of employees) as defined by statute. While rare, a combination of these types of federal employment (e.g. law enforcement and firefighter) can also provide eligibility. This type of specialized federal retirement coverage is intended to enhance retirement provisions for these types of employees given the nature of their public safety service. Congress has recognized the potential issues in longevity and risks in such professions and provided enhanced retirement provisions.
Background for Special LEO/FF Retirement Provisions
The availability of enhanced retirement benefits for federal law enforcement personnel and federal firefighters and similar groups is linked to an expectation of potentially limited federal service given the nature of their duties. These special benefits have been put in place to compensate these types of federal employees for their unique service to the public. Congress enacted these provisions in Title 5. A summary of these provisions and updates is attached here.
This enhanced retirement coverage generally provides the following retirement benefits, per OPM:
- 1.7% of your high-3 average salary multiplied by your years of service which do not exceed 20, PLUS
- 1% of your high-3 average salary multiplied by your service exceeding 20 years
See OPM Description.
In order to be eligible for the special provisions of law enforcement and firefighter coverage, the federal law enforcement officer or firefighter must be at least age 50 with 20 years of creditable service as a qualifying law enforcement officer or federal firefighter. The federal employee may retire voluntarily (or even involuntarily, unless they are removed for charges on misconduct). It is important for a federal law enforcement officers and federal firefighters to ensure that they have the proper amount of creditable service in their fields in order to qualify for this retirement plan. If an individual does not meet the 20 years of creditable service, they still are eligible for any other retirement option for which they qualify.
For instance, suppose that a federal law enforcement officer retires early, transfers to a federal position without special law enforcement or firefighter coverage or leaves through discontinued service, they will still then be eligible for normal retirement provisions that apply to them. Most of these special public safety positions have been defined by employer, although the test for entitlement is based on individual duties. It is often the case that the decision as to whether or not a federal employee meets the definition for this coverage is left to the individual agencies, subject to appeal.
For federal law enforcement and federal fighters subject to this type of retirement, there is a mandatory retirement age of 57. Federal agencies generally have a minimum entry of service age so that these employees can gain retirement credit prior to the mandatory retirement age. Obviously, the special retirement provisions for federal law enforcement officers and firefighters are more beneficial than traditional retirement benefits.
Potential Issues that Can Arise
In the context of LEO/FF federal retirement coverage, there are some issues that arise with respect to these federal law enforcement and federal firefighter positions include:
- Whether or not a federal law enforcement officer or firefighter qualifies for the special retirement provisions: There are often cases where a federal agency disputes that an individual is performing the duties of a covered federal law enforcement officer (we have represented these types of employees in appeals to the MSPB regarding whether their duties meet the criteria in Title 5 for this special retirement coverage).
- Creditable service: Issues can arise as to whether or not duties that were performed are creditable, or the length of time they were performed.
- Secondary Coverage: Issues can arise as to whether or not a position and duties constitute secondary coverage and justify creditable service for purposes of special retirement provisions.
Any number of other issues can arise at the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) or before individual federal agencies and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) with respect to these special provisions.
It is very important for federal employees covered by the special law enforcement and firefighter retirement provisions to obtain legal advice and counsel to discuss their retirement issues prior to filing an application for disability retirement. Berry & Berry, PLLC represents and advises federal employees nationwide and abroad before their individual federal agencies, OPM and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) in regard to their federal disability retirement applications and requests for reconsideration. In addition, we also advise federal employees, in advance, as to their potential eligibility for federal disability retirement benefits. Please contact us through our webpage or telephone us at (703) 668-0070 to schedule a consultation with one of our disability retirement attorneys to discuss your individual disability retirement issue.