Give part-timers their due
- By Milt x_Zall
- Mar 12, 2000
Some part-time federal employees most of whom are women are getting
cheated out of retirement benefits they rightly deserve.
Part-time federal employees with some full-time service prior to April
1986 may not be receiving proper credit for their full-time service unless
they return to work full time at the end of their career. As a result, these
employees stand to lose some of the retirement benefits they have earned.
Before 1986, the government computed retirement benefits for part-time
employees based on the average of their highest three salaries (high-3)
and fully counted part-time years toward length of service. But because
part-time employees ended up with more retirement benefits than they were
entitled to, Congress changed the process in 1986.
After 1986, part-time retirement benefits have been determined by using
"deemed" high-3 salaries based on full-time pay. This figure is then adjusted
based on the ratio of actual hours worked to the total number of hours that
could have been worked over an employee's career. The rules create a two-step
benefit calculation. Pre-1986 rules were applied to service before April
6, 1986, and post-1986 rules were applied to service after 1986. In many
instances, the resulting computation produces the right outcome. But not
Employees who have worked a significant number of full-time years before
1986 and who later convert to part time do not fare well under the new calculation
method. Employees who work full time at the end of their careers will receive
the proper benefits. But the employing agency is under no obligation to
allow a part-time worker to return to full-time work and may not even have
a full-time position available. Moreover, the employee by virtue of health,
family or many other reasons may be precluded from this option.
Although there is a simple solution to this problem, neither the Office
of Personnel Management nor Congress has done anything about it.
The Civil Service Retirement System and Federal Employees Retirement
System Handbook should be modified to allow employees to obtain the retirement
benefits to which they are entitled. The cost of such a change would be
insignificant because part-time workers constitute only about 3 percent
of the federal work force. Only a fraction of those would be affected by
changes that would permit an alternate computation.
But cost should not be the issue. The present computation method isn't
fair and should be rectified. OPM must inform employees who switch to part-time
jobs that their retirement annuity could be negatively impacted.
It's time to do the right thing and allow part-time workers to receive the
retirement benefits they've earned. Congress should pass the Part-Time Federal
Employee Retirement Benefit Fairness and Equity Technical Corrections Act
of 1999 (S. 772). The bill would credit any part-time service performed
before April 7, 1986, as being full-time. For more information, go to www.homestead.com/ptretirement/federal.html.
Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus
column for Federal Computer Week.