What Benefits Are Guaranteed to Federal Employees by the US Government?

FT Contributor
A paperclip holds together documents labeled "employee benefits package," while a red pen sits on top of them.
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A career with the U.S. government presents opportunity aplenty, but employees also enjoy many rewards, notably a handsome benefits package that adds incredible value to a federal job.

Federal employee benefits apply to both current and retired federal employees, as well as their dependents, offering invaluable help to growing families and protecting you and your loved ones as you grow older.

Careers and Outlook

Federal employees may be classified as either civilian or military, with the federal government offering positions across a number of industries, such as engineering, business, technology, and administration.

Public safety positions include law enforcement officials such as police officers and Department of Defense officials. Linguists, counterterrorism officials, and CIA officers are all federal employees, as well as those working in Health and Human Services, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the Department of Veteran Affairs.

All military branches receive federal employee benefits, in addition to other military-specific protections.

Benefits Enrollment

The first open season enrollment for the new decade will be in November 2020. During this time, you can make a series of changes to your benefits, such as enrolling, changing, or canceling your coverage. This relates to a number of protections, including the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Program (FEDVIP), Federal Flexible Spending Account Program (FSAFEDS), and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHB).

When you first become a federal employee, you can sign up for federal benefits within 60 days of hire. Otherwise, all changes to your benefits program are limited to the open season for enrollment; a few exceptions, like marriage, a new baby, or active military duty, apply.


Federal employees enjoy some of the most comprehensive healthcare coverage in the entire country, with lower premiums for their health savings accounts and options that include a Consumer-Driven Health Plan (CDHP) and a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).

The government offers a Fee-for-Service (FFS) health plan option that either includes a Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO) or Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO). While HMO providers require payment upfront with a full or partial reimbursement later, a PPOs offer reduced rates for upfront and out-of-pocket fees.

Plan availability and eligibility depend on where you live and work, so you may not qualify for all plans. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) offers a convenient healthcare comparison tool to help you find the right plan for you.

Other Insurance for Federal Workers

Under the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Benefits Enhancement Act of 2004, federal employees now also enjoy access to dental and vision insurance for themselves and their families, if they so choose. Your premiums are withheld, pre-tax, from your paycheck, and coverage is available through a group policy, so that means no medical screenings or inflated premiums.

Your spouse is eligible for coverage, as well as your unmarried children 21 or under, to include adopted, foster, or stepchildren who are an eligible dependent.


Federal employees have access to the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) program. In place since 1954, it provides coverage to over four million employees and retirees. Basic life insurance is available at two-thirds of the normal cost, with the federal government picking up the rest of the tab.

Long-Term Care

The federal government also offers its employees access to long-term care insurance through the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP). The program provides help for those unable to complete daily activities without assistance, including those with cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s. Eligibility requirements are typically the same as FEHB, but you do not need to be enrolled in FEHB to enroll in FLTCIP.

Federal Employee Retirement Benefits

The Office of Personnel Management is the department that manages federal employee benefits and provides guidance on the particulars of your plan. The retirement packages for veterans and federal employees have long been considered among the very best available for today’s workforce.


The federal government helps you save for retirement through a comprehensive program called the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) which is made up of three parts:

  • A basic benefit plan requires just a small payment per paycheck, and you can receive long-term disability benefits, as well as survivor benefits for your family.
  • The federal thrift savings plan (TSP) offers a way to save for retirement in a tax-deferred setup. You will benefit from matching agency contributions and tax deductions on retirement savings and investments.
  • Social security taxes are assessed the same for federal employees as they are for private employees. If you were hired in 1984 or later, you must pay Social Security taxes. As you pay your taxes each year, you accumulate credit that benefits you when you are retired, unemployed, or disabled.

Workers’ Compensation

Federal employees receive workers’ compensation benefits through the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA). If you ever experience an injury on the job or develop an illness from your time at work, this benefit will cover your medical expenses to ensure that you receive adequate care. It also offers you important legal protections, like ensuring you do not lose your job while you are in recovery.

Your workers’ compensation benefits are regulated by both the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP).

Short-Term Leave and Holidays

Federal employees enjoy a generous holiday leave schedule, with 10 recognized federal holidays and “in lieu of” days off for when those holidays fall on non-workdays. Employees in the metropolitan D.C. area also receive a day off for Presidential Inauguration Day.

Policies are generally flexible for personal leave but leave does need to be approved by management. The number of vacation days available to you usually depends on your length of service; employees with three years or less earn 13 days, employees with three to 15 years earn 20 days, and employees of more than 15 years receive 26 days. A total of 30 vacation days may roll over into the next year.

There are 13 days available for sick time, with no limit for rollover time. Parental leave covers not just maternity leave, but also paternity leave. Time may be used for childbirth or adoption, with different terms for each. The Family and Medical Leave Act and the Federal Employees Family Friendly Leave Act detail additional provisions for employees who need time off for family sickness and other pressing needs.

One of the most important factors to consider in a new job is the employee benefits package that an employer can offer you. No one can afford to go without healthcare, and benefits such as parental leave, paid time off, and tuition assistance can vastly improve not just your work-life balance, but also your overall quality of life.

With a whole host of career opportunities, there is room for professionals of all skill levels and trades to find a place within the federal government and earn access to benefits that not only help protect you today but take care of you tomorrow, too. 

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