By Terri Jo Neff |
Since March 2020 it has become easier for federal employees to apply for benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) if they contracted COVID-19 related to their jobs. Now, most federal employees will be able to pursue similar benefits for adverse reactions experienced due to mandatory vaccinations.
According to FECA Bulletin 2022-01, workers’ compensation benefits cover injuries that occur in the performance of duty and generally do not authorize provision of preventive measures such as vaccines and inoculations. But on Sept. 9, President Joe Biden issued an executive order making COVID-19 vaccination a requirement of most federal employment, both new and existing, by Nov. 22.
“As such, employees impacted by this mandate who receive required COVID-19 vaccinations on or after the date of the executive order may be afforded coverage under the FECA for any adverse reactions to the vaccine itself, and for any injuries sustained while obtaining the vaccination,” according to the FECA bulletin dated Oct. 1.
If a FECA claim is received for a COVID-19 vaccination prior to Sept. 9, coverage is afforded “only if the vaccine was administered or sponsored by the employing agency,” the bulletin states.
Biden’s executive order applies to any executive agency that fall under the executive branch of the government (excluding the Government Accountability Office), even if the employee is engaged in telework or works remotely.
Eligibility under FECA benefits will extend to injuries sustained as “the direct result of an employee receiving their mandated vaccination,” such as accidents while commuting to and from a vaccination site, as well as slip and fall injuries occurring at the vaccination site.
Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate allows for limited accommodations for employees who cannot be vaccinated “because of a disability or because of a sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance.” There is currently no FECA coverage for booster vaccinations.
Postal Service employees are not included in the Sept. 9 executive order but are expected to be subject to a vaccination requirement under upcoming temporary orders from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for companies with 100 or more employees. There has been no announcement as to when OSHA’s rules will be announced or go into effect.
COVID-19 vaccinations are not the only pandemic related claims which FECA deals with.
In March 2020, then-President Donald Trump announced that federal employees who contract COVID-19 through their jobs would be entitled to coverage under FECA. Special case handling considerations were put in place for those engaged in high-risk duties such as members of law enforcement, first responders, and front-line medical and public health personnel. But all other employees were required to provide a factual statement and any available evidence concerning exposure in an attempt to obtain benefits.
Then in October 2020, FECA announced new procedures for approving claims of those employees whose positions were not classified as high-risk but their individual employment circumstances “are the same or similar to the circumstances for high-risk determination by position.”
This was followed in March when Section 4016 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 became law. It relaxed the FECA rules once again, making it easier for most federal employees diagnosed with COVID-19 to file a claim for an injury “proximately caused by employment” if their duties required contact with patients, members of the public, or co-workers, or included a risk of exposure to the virus prior to the diagnosis.
In May, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that any COVID-19 related FECA claims denied or withdrawn prior to March 12 would be eligible for review by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) under the new eligibility criteria. The advisory also encouraged anyone who believed they had contracted COVID-19 “as a result of” federal employment to file a FECA claim.