How leave without pay affects retirement, benefits


In my Oct. 3 column, I described how taking leave without pay (LWOP) affects the basic employment rights and creditable service of most employees. In this column, I’ll describe the effects of LWOP on your retirement, life and health insurance benefits, and some special benefit programs.

For purposes of calculating retirement benefits, an aggregate of six months in LWOP status in any calendar year is considered creditable service. There is no cost to you in terms of retirement deductions while you are in a nonpay status. If your unpaid leave is only a portion of a pay period, the amount of retirement deductions from your pay are adjusted accordingly.

Federal Employees Health Benefits Program coverage continues for no more than 365 days in nonpay status, after which it terminates. Nonpay status may be continuous or broken by periods of less than four consecutive months in a pay status. During your leave, the government’s contributions for your FEHBP coverage continue. You have the option of paying your share premiums as they are due or having the premiums accumulate and then withheld from your pay when you return to duty. Note: If your nonpay status is due to a lapse of appropriations that results in a shutdown furlough, you won’t be able to pay your agency directly and, therefore, those premiums will accumulate and you’ll have to pay them when you return to duty.

In contrast to FEHBP, your Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance program coverage continues for 12 consecutive months of LWOP at no cost to you or your agency. That nonpay status can be continuous or it may be broken by a return to duty for periods of less than four consecutive months. After 12 months, coverage terminates. Note: If you are in a nonpay status because you are receiving workers’ compensation, you’ll have to pay the premiums to continue your FEGLI coverage.

If you have a flexible spending account (FSA) for health care expenses, those expenses won’t be reimbursed until you return to a pay status and your allotments are restarted. The remaining allotments are recalculated over the remaining pay periods to match your annual election amount.

On the other hand, eligible dependent care FSA expenses incurred while you are in nonpay status may be reimbursed up to whatever balance is in your account, but only if the expenses incurred allow you — or your spouse, if you are married — to work, look for work or attend school full time. As is true with health care FSAs, once dependent care allotments are restarted, the remaining allotments are recalculated to match your annual election amount.

Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program coverage continues as long as you pay the premiums. However, if Long Term Care Partners receives no premiums for three consecutive pay periods, it will begin billing you directly. If no premiums are paid for one or two pay periods, future deductions — with a cap of an additional $50 — are adjusted until the balance is collected.

If you want to change your premium billing method from payroll deduction to automatic bank withdrawals, you can do that.

Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program coverage continues while you are in nonpay status. However, if you don’t pay your premiums for two consecutive pay periods, you will get a direct bill for past-due premiums. Coverage then continues only if the direct bills are paid in a timely manner.


About Author

Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to

1 Comment

  1. PLease let people know that they add one day to your LWOP, so even if you are on leave for exactly 6 months, you actually are charged for 6 months and one day, which means you lose that time as creditable service. This happened to me and I lost quite a bit of creditable service as a result.

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