Biliovschi Smith v. Blinken: EFM Alleges Discrimination Under Title VII #superiorqualificationsrate

 

Via Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-03065 (CJN)
For over two years, Mihaela Biliovschi Smith worked for the State Department as a Media Outreach Assistant out of the American embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1. A series of disputes among Ms. Smith, a coworker, and embassy management resulted in Ms. Smith filing this lawsuit, which alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Compl. ¶¶ 55–60. The State Department has moved to dismiss, or alternatively, for summary judgment. See generally Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss & for Summ. J. (“Mot.”), ECF No. 28. The Court denies the motion for reasons that follow.1
1 In addition to denying the State Department’s motion for summary judgment, this Court also denies the State Department’s alternative motion to dismiss. Tyson v. Brennan, 306 F. Supp. 3d 365, 369 (D.D.C. 2017); Brooks v. Kerry, 37 F. Supp. 3d 187, 199 (D.D.C. 2014). For clarity’s sake, this memorandum opinion will refer to the State Department’s motion as a motion for summary judgment.
4 If a job candidate qualifies for higher pay based on a “superior qualifications determination,” Joint Statement ¶ 16, then the person could receive a superior qualification rate of pay, which compensates the individual because the employer based on the individual’s experience “may reasonably expect a higher level of performance beyond the requirements of the job,” id. ¶ 35.
5 This Court concludes that embassy management’s comments about Ms. Smith’s Romanian ethnicity do not constitute direct evidence of discrimination, but rather may “be probative of discrimination” under the burden-shifting framework in place for claims reliant on indirect evidence of discrimination. Isse v. Am. Univ., 540 F. Supp. 2d 9, 30 (D.D.C. 2008); Brady v. Livingood, 456 F. Supp. 2d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2006) (noting that “direct evidence does not include stray remarks in the workplace”). In addition, Ms. Smith’s contention that she received lower pay based in part on her national origin satisfies the requirement that a Title VII discrimination plaintiff show that she suffered an adverse employment action. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (making it unlawful to discriminate with respect to “compensation”); Russell v. Principi, 257 F.3d 815, 819 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

I. Background
An American citizen of Romanian national origin, Mihaela Biliovschi Smith accompanied her husband Derrin Ray Smith to Yaoundé, Cameroon in August 2014.2 See Joint Chronological.

Statement of Material Facts (“Joint Statement”), ECF No. 38 at ¶¶ 1–3. Mr. Smith ventured to Africa to work as a foreign service officer with the U.S. embassy. Id. ¶ 3. During their first year in Cameroon together, Mr. and Ms. Smith attended an embassy-hosted dinner where the deputy chief of the embassy, Greg Thome, allegedly told Ms. Smith at the dinner table that her “country right now is the United States of America” and that “at the State Department, we don’t work for the interests of the Romanians.” Id. ¶ 5. Thome, Ms. Smith also claims, later inquired into whether she “spoke Russian.” Id. ¶ 13. Ms. Smith perceived Thome’s comments related to her Romanian ethnicity as odd, discomforting, and concerning. Derrin Ray Smith Decl. (“Smith Decl.”), ECF No. 31-8 at 2. Yet neither Ms. Smith nor her husband apparently took action in response.

Early in 2015, Ms. Smith applied for a position with the embassy as a “Media Outreach Assistant.” See Joint Statement ¶¶ 6, 10.3 She got the job. Id. ¶ 14. The job offer stated that Ms. Smith would begin her employment with the embassy at an entry-level pay rate. Id. ¶ 15. Upon receipt of the offer, Ms. Smith requested that the State Department conduct a superior qualifications rate review to determine whether she qualified for higher pay. Id. ¶¶ 16, 20. 4 The assistant in the human resources department in charge of preparing Ms. Smith’s hiring documents thought that Ms. Smith might qualify for a higher rate based on her “expansive knowledge” and experiential background. Id. ¶ 38.

Yet a higher-level manager in the human resources department, Charles Morrill, made the decision not to submit Ms. Smith’s paperwork for a superior qualifications review, id. ¶ 44, and when he informed her of that decision, he referenced her Romanian perspective and Balkanized mindset. Id. ¶ 51. When asked in his deposition to clarify these comments, Morrill stated that he knew the “mindset” of Romanians based on his experience working with “Eastern Europeans.” Charles Morrill Dep. (“Morrill’s Dep.”), ECF No. 28-9 at 4–5. He added that people from that part of the world hold a world view that “people are out to get you.” Id. at 5. The decision not to submit the paperwork generated conflict between Ms. Smith and embassy management. Ms. Smith nonetheless accepted the offer of employment.
[…]
In December 2018, Ms. Smith filed this lawsuit against her employer for discrimination and for creating a retaliatory and a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Compl. ¶¶ 55–60. The State Department has moved to for summary judgment on all of Ms. Smith’s claims.
[…]
Because a reasonable juror could find, based on the present record, that Ms. Smith suffered discrimination on the basis of national origin and that she was subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of her sex and her engagement in protected activity, it would be inappropriate to grant the pending Motion for Summary Judgment. The State Department’s Motion for Summary Judgment is therefore Denied. An Order will be entered contemporaneously with this Memorandum Opinion.

The Memorandum of Opinion signed by Judge Carl J. Nichols of the District Court of the District of Columbia is available via public records here.

 

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Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks Act of 2021 Awaits Passage in the House, You Can Help

The HAVANA Act of 2021 or the Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks Act of 2021 passed/agreed to in Senate without amendment by Unanimous Consent on 6/7/21.

Summary: This bill specifically authorizes the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of State, and other agencies to provide payments to agency personnel who incur brain injuries from hostilities while on assignment.

Specifically, the bill allows agency personnel and their families to receive payments for brain injuries that are incurred (1) during a period of assignment to a foreign or domestic duty station; (2) in connection with war, insurgency, hostile acts, terrorist activity, or other agency-designated incidents; and (3) not as the result of willful misconduct.

The bill’s authority applies to injuries incurred before, on, or after the date of the bill’s enactment. Agencies must submit classified reports on the bill’s implementation, including the number of payments made and the amount of each payment.

Since 2016, some intelligence, diplomatic, and other governmental personnel have reported experiencing unusual cognitive and neurological impairments while on assignment (particularly abroad), the source of which is currently under investigation. Symptoms were first reported by personnel stationed in Cuba and have since been collectively referred to as Havana Syndrome.

S.1828 Havana Act of 2021 was introduced by Sen. Collins, Susan M. [R-ME] on 05/25/2021. It has 19 senators as co-sponsors.
Section 3 of S.1828 provides the authority to pay personnel of the Department of State for certain injuries of the brain.
The Act requires mandatory classified reporting for a budget/spend plan for the use of the authority detailing total amount expended, number of covered employees, dependents and individuals to whom payments were made, and amount provided. It also requires an assessment of “whether additional authorities are required to ensure that covered dependents, covered employees and covered individuals can receive payments for qualifying injuries, such as a qualifying injury to the back or heart.”
A companion bill H.R.3356 – HAVANA Act of 2021 was introduced in the House by Rep. Schiff, Adam B. [D-CA-28] on 5/19/21. It has 22 co-sponsors as of this writing.
Similarly, Section 3 of H.R.3356 provides the authority to pay State Department personnel for certain injuries.
The House version also provides the following:

“(A) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary or other agency head described in paragraph (1) that provides payment under such paragraph shall prescribe regulations to carry out this subsection.

“(B) ELEMENTS.—The regulations prescribed under subparagraph (A) shall include regulations detailing fair and equitable criteria for payment under paragraph (1).

“(4) NO EFFECT ON OTHER BENEFITS.—Payments made under paragraph (1) are supplemental to any other benefit furnished by the United States Government for which a covered dependent, dependent of a former employee, covered employee, former employee, or covered individual is entitled, and the receipt of such payments may not affect the eligibility of such a person to any other benefit furnished by the United States Government.”.

GovTrack currently has a 38% chance for this bill to get enacted. It needs to pass the Committee, the House, then the Senate (bill needs to be in identical form) and then signed by the President to become law.
You can help by contacting your Congressional Representatives and urging them to pass H.R. 3356.

 

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A Cautionary Tale: Divorce, Death and Survivor Benefits

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Via Beckstead v. Office of Personnel Management, 2020-1884 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 7, 2021) (MSPB Docket No. DE-0831-20-0119-I-1):
The court affirmed the administrative judge’s affirmance of OPM’s final decision denying the petitioner former spouse survivor annuity benefits. The court found that the survivor annuity election made during the petitioner’s marriage with the decedent terminated upon their post-retirement divorce and, despite the decedent’s receiving notice as required by statute of the election rights and obligations, no valid election was made or valid court order was issued granting the petitioner a former spouse survivor annuity.
#
Background: Mrs. Beckstead was married to Lynn Beckstead (“Mr. Beckstead”) on February 4, 1965.
In 1971, Mr. Beckstead became a federal employee covered under the Civil Service Retirement System.
In 2007, he applied for retirement and elected a survivor annuity for his spouse, Mrs. Beckstead. Each year after Mr. Beckstead’s retirement, the Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”) sent him an Annual Notice of Survivor Annuity Election Rights (“Annual Notice”).
On December 3, 2009, Mr. and Mrs. Beckstead divorced. A state court in New Mexico issued a Default Decree of Dissolution of Marriage (“Divorce Decree”), which stated in relevant part that Mrs. Beckstead was entitled to:
Exactly one half (1/2) of any and all retirement benefits, 401(k) or other retirement account of [Lynn]. Such account(s) to be divided by Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). 
SAppx. 10. The Divorce Decree did not specifically provide for a survivor annuity, and no QDRO was issued while Mr. Beckstead was alive. Following the divorce, Mr. Beckstead did not notify OPM of the divorce and he never made a new election of a survivor annuity for Mrs. Beckstead.
Mr. Beckstead died on July 9, 2018, and Mrs. Beckstead applied for survivor annuity benefits thereafter. OPM informed Mrs. Beckstead that her application could not be processed because her Divorce Decree did not include the referenced QDRO.
On January 18, 2019, more than seven months after Mr. Beckstead’s death, the New Mexico state court issued a QDRO. SAppx. 24–26.
On March 19, 2019, OPM informed Mrs. Beckstead that she was not entitled to survivor annuity benefits because the QDRO was issued after Mr. Beckstead’s death. OPM then reconsidered and reversed its decision on the basis that the agency had failed to properly notify Mr. Beckstead of his rights to preserve the survivor annuity benefit after a divorce. SAppx. 32. Upon further review, however, OPM concluded that Mr. Beckstead had received notices informing him of his rights, but he did not elect a survivor annuity for Mrs. Beckstead after their divorce. Thus, on December 6, 2019, OPM confirmed its initial finding that Mrs. Beckstead was not entitled to former spouse survivor annuity benefits. SAppx. 35–36.
Read in full here (pdf).

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Do you know the statutory definition of “widow” for benefit purposes?

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Gibson v. Office of Personnel Management, No. 2020-1651 (Fed. Cir. September 9, 2020) (MSPB Docket No. PH-0831-20-0011-I-1): The appellant sought survivor annuity benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System, contending that she is a “widow” of a retired Federal employee. OPM denied the appellant’s application for benefits, finding that she did not meet the statutory definition of “widow” for benefit purposes under 5 U.S.C. § 8341(a)(1)(A), because the marriage to her husband lasted from May 21, 2018, until his death on February 15, 2019 (270 days). This was short of the “at least 9 months” requirement. On appeal, the Board affirmed OPM’s determination. Before the Federal Circuit, the appellant contested the application of the term “months” and argued that each month should be counted as having 30 days, meaning her 270-day marriage was 9 months in duration. The court rejected this argument and affirmed the Board’s final decision. Citing Supreme Court precedent as support, the court concluded that the phrase “9 months” has an “ordinary public meaning” that counts time as calendar months. The court further explained that Congress often uses, including in the statute at issue, “days” as a unit of measurement and could have done so in 5U.S.C. § 8341(a)(1)(A) if that were its intention. The appellant presented no grounds for “erasing the clear distinction between familiar counting methods.”

http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/20-1651.OPINION.9-9-2020_1649543.pdf

 


 

 

Snapshot: Qualifying Injury Under 3 FAM 3660 – Compensation For Certain Injuries

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A section in the Foreign Affairs Manual was added on May 28, 2020 (see 3 FAM 3660 Compensation for Certain Injuries). It is based on Public Law 116-94, Division J, Title IX, section 901, where:
“Congress allows the Secretary of State to pay benefits to certain Department of State personnel under chief of mission authority who incurred a qualifying injury and are receiving benefits under section 8105 or 8106 of Title 5, United States Code.  It further authorizes the Secretary of State to pay for the costs of diagnosing and treating a qualifying injury of a covered employee, as defined in 3 FAM 3662, that are not otherwise covered by chapter 81 of Title 5, United States Code (the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA)) or other provision of Federal law; and to pay the costs of diagnosing and treating a qualifying injury of a covered individual or covered dependent, as defined in 3 FAM 3662, that are not otherwise covered by Federal law.”
3 FAM 3660 also includes definitions on who are covered employees, or covered individuals, what’s a “qualifying injury”, and the description of recognized and eligible qualifying injuries as of June 26, 2018.

3 FAM 3662  DEFINITIONS
(CT:PER-994;   05-28-2020)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

Qualifying injury:  The term “qualifying injury” means the following:

(1)  With respect to a covered dependent, an injury listed in (3) below incurred

(a)  during a period in which a covered dependent is accompanying an employee to an assigned duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666;

(b)  in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State; and

(c)  that was not the result of the willful misconduct of the covered dependent.

(2)  With respect to a covered employee or a covered individual, an injury listed in (3) below incurred

(a)  during a period of assignment to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666;

(b)  in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State; and

(c)  that was not the result of the willful misconduct of the covered employee or covered individual.

(3)  Recognized and eligible qualifying injuries, as of 26 June 2018, based on the University of Pennsylvania-identified criteria, include the following:

        • sharp localized ear pain;
        • dull unilateral headache;
        • tinnitus in one ear;
        • vertigo,
        • visual focusing issues;
        • disorientation;
        • nausea;
        • extreme fatigue;
        • cognitive problems, including difficulty with concentration, working memory, and attention;
        • recurrent headache;
        • high-frequency unilateral hearing loss;
        • sleep disturbance;
        • and imbalance walking.

3 FAM 3666  SECRETARY OF STATE COUNTRY DESIGNATION
(CT:PER-994;   05-28-2020)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

a. Under Public Law 116-94, Division J, Title IX, section 901, the Secretary of State may designate another foreign country for the purposes of this section, provided that the Secretary reports such designation to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, and includes in such report a rationale for each such designation.

b. The Secretary of State may not designate an added foreign country or duty station for the purposes of providing additional monetary benefit pursuant to 3 FAM 3663 or 3 FAM 3664 for a qualifying injury to covered employees, covered dependents, or covered individuals under this section unless the Secretary of State

(1)  provides to the Committees on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives 30 days’ notice of the designation of a particular additional country or duty station and the rationale for such an addition; and

(2)  provides no such additional monetary benefit pursuant to 3 FAM 3663 or 3 FAM 3664  to covered employees, covered dependents, or covered individuals for a qualifying injury until the 30-day notice period expires, unless there is written agreement by both the Chair and Ranking Members of both the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives that there is no objection to proceeding with provision of such monetary benefit compensation in less than 30 days.


 

 

Federal Employees’ Compensation Act Due to COVID-19

Via DOL/Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs:

DOL has created new procedures to specifically address COVID-19 claims. Employees filing a claim for workers’ compensation coverage as a result of COVID-19 should file Form CA-1, Notice of Traumatic Injury through your employer using the Employees’ Compensation Operations & Management Portal. The new procedures will also call the adjudicator’s attention to the type of employment held by the employee, rather than burdening the employee with identifying the exact day or time they contracted the novel coronavirus.

    • If a COVID-19 claim is filed by a person in high-risk employment, the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) DFEC will accept that the exposure to COVID-19 was proximately caused by the nature of the employment. If the employer supports the claim and that the exposure occurred, and the CA-1 is filed within 30 days, the employee is eligible to receive Continuation of Pay for up to 45 days.
    • If a COVID-19 claim is filed by a person whose position is not considered high-risk, OWCP DFEC will require the claimant to provide a factual statement and any available evidence concerning exposure. The employing agency will also be expected to provide OWCP DFEC with any information they have regarding the alleged exposure, and to indicate whether they are supporting or controverting the claim. If the employer supports the claim and that the exposure occurred, and the CA-1 is filed within 30 days, the employee is eligible to receive Continuation of Pay for up to 45 days.

The key evidence needed for a COVID-19 FECA CLAIM as required by the law are the following:

Exposure – Federal employees who are required to interact with the public or front-line medical and public health personnel are considered to be in high-risk employment, thus triggering the application of Chapter 2-0805-6 of the FECA Procedure Manual. In such cases, there is an implicit recognition of a higher likelihood of infection; OWCP will confirm the nature of your employment based on your position title and after confirming with your employer that your position is indeed considered high risk. If your position has not been identified as a high-risk position, you will be asked to provide any evidence of the duration and length of your occupational exposure. This evidence may include information such as a description of job duties, which federal agency you worked for, and the location of the work. OWCP will ask your employing agency to provide information about occupational exposure including relevant agency records.

Medical – You will need to provide medical evidence establishing a diagnosis of COVID-19. You will also need to provide medical evidence establishing that the diagnosed COVID-19 was aggravated, accelerated, precipitated, or directly caused by your work-related activities. Please submit the results of any COVID-19 testing, if available. If you have encountered difficulty in obtaining such testing, OWCP will authorize such testing if you are working in high-risk employment or otherwise have a confirmed COVID-19 employment exposure.

Establishing causal relationship generally requires a qualified physician’s opinion, based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the diagnosed condition is causally related to your employment conditions. This opinion must be based on a complete factual and medical background.

For your health and safety as well as the health of those around you, consider an appointment with your physician by videoconference or teleconference. A medical report generated as the result of such an appointment is compensable as long as it is signed by a physician.

OWCP will also assist by asking your employing agency for any pertinent medical information in their records.

Source:
DOL: Division of Federal Employees’ Compensation (DFEC)

 

@StateDept Updates Regulations to Include New Compensation For Certain Injuries #MysteryIllness #TheThing

 

On May 28, 2020, the State Department updated the Foreign Affairs Manual to include Compensation for Certain Injuries for State, USAID, USAGM, Commerce, Foreign Service Corps-USDA Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees who becomes injured “by reason of a qualifying injury and was assigned to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country as designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666.”

3 FAM 3660 COMPENSATION FOR CERTAIN INJURIES
(CT:PER-994;   05-28-2020)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

a. Pursuant to Public Law 116-94, Division J, Title IX, section 901, Congress allows the Secretary of State to pay benefits to certain Department of State personnel under chief of mission authority who incurred a qualifying injury and are receiving benefits under section 8105 or 8106 of Title 5, United States Code.  It further authorizes the Secretary of State to pay for the costs of diagnosing and treating a qualifying injury of a covered employee, as defined in 3 FAM 3662, that are not otherwise covered by chapter 81 of Title 5, United States Code (the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA)) or other provision of Federal law; and to pay the costs of diagnosing and treating a qualifying injury of a covered individual or covered dependent, as defined in 3 FAM 3662, that are not otherwise covered by Federal law.

b. The Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM) administers this program.

c.  Under this program, covered employees, as defined in 3 FAM 3662, may qualify for a monthly monetary benefit if they are receiving benefits under section 8105 or 8106 of Title 5, United States Code.

d. Under this program, a covered employee, covered individual, or covered dependent, as defined below, may qualify for reimbursement for the costs of diagnosing and treating a qualifying injury which are not otherwise covered.

e. Payments made under this provision are not considered workers’ compensation payments.

[…]

Covered employee:  An employee of the Department of State who, on or after January 1, 2016, becomes injured by reason of a qualifying injury and was assigned to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country as designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666.

(1)  For purposes of 3 FAM 3663, the following career-type employees are considered “employees of the Department of State” to whom this benefit may apply:  Department of State Foreign Service Officers, Department of State Foreign Service Specialists, and career Department of State Civil Service employees working overseas on detail or a Limited Non-Career Appointment (LNA).

Note that per FAM: The following are NOT considered “employees of the Department of State” for purposes of 3 FAM 3663:  retired employees and employees of other agencies; employees on limited appointments including LNAs (except as discussed above), Family Member Appointments (FMA), Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC), Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP), and Consular Affairs – Appointment Eligible Family Member (CA-AEFM) Adjudicator positions. Employees hired on a Personal Services Agreement (PSA) or Personal Services Contract (PSC) are also not employees under this section.     

 (2)  For purposes of 3 FAM 3664, the following employees are considered “employees of the Department of State” to whom this benefit may apply: Department of State Foreign Service Officers; Department of State Foreign Service Specialists; Department of State Civil Service employees; employees on Limited Non-Career Appointments (LNA), Family Member Appointments (FMA), Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC), Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP), and Consular Affairs – Appointment Eligible Family Member (CA-AEFM) Adjudicator positions.

Note that the following are not considered “employees of the Department of State” for purposes of 3 FAM 3664:  employees hired on a Personal Services Agreement (PSA) or Personal Services Contract (PSC); retired employees, and employees of other agencies.

Covered individual:  An individual who, on or after January 1, 2016, becomes injured by reason of a qualifying injury and is

(1)  detailed to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666; or

(2)  affiliated with the Department of State, as determined by the Secretary of State.

(3)  Per Memorandum signed 24 April 2020, the Under Secretary for Management has determined that other agency employees under chief of mission authority are “affiliated with the Department of State.”

Covered dependent:  A family member of a Federal employee who, on or after January 1, 2016,

(1)  accompanies the employee to an assigned duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666; and

(2)  becomes injured by reason of a qualifying injury.

Family member:  An individual who is an “Eligible Family Member” as defined in 14 FAM 511.3.

Continue reading

Spending Bill Includes Benefits For USG Employees & Dependents Injured While Serving in China and Cuba

 

On December 16, 2019, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) announced that she has secured long-term, emergency care for U.S. Government employees & dependents who were injured while serving in China & Cuba: 

Long-term Emergency Care for U.S. Government Employees & Dependents Injured while Serving in China and Cuba

Shaheen successfully secured language to provide long-term, emergency care benefits for injured U.S. Government employees—and their dependents—who served overseas. Currently, a group of over 40 employees have been designated by the U.S. Government as suffering injuries as a result of a hostile action or health incident while serving in China and Cuba. This provision would provide for their prescribed care, as well as the care of their injured dependents, if their insurance or worker’s compensation benefits fall short.

In March, CBS 60 Minutes reported on the first-hand accounts of the diplomats serving in China who have experienced these alarming health conditions and the disturbing lack of care and support from the U.S. government, despite the fact that their symptoms appear to match those of U.S. diplomats who were working in Havana, Cuba. The 60 Minutes report featured a letter from Senator Shaheen to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the State Department “re-examine the cases from China … and provide all injured personnel with equal access to treatment, leave and benefits.”

Senator Shaheen’s provision would authorize the State Department to provide the following:

    • Long-term, emergency care benefits to federal employees that were injured as a part of their duties in China and Cuba;
    • Allow dependents of these employees to receive benefits if their primary insurance denies their claims; and
    • Would also allow USG employees to receive compensation if their injuries preclude them from working a full work schedule.
Per Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020
Under TITLE IX—OTHER MATTERS | SEC. 901. SPECIAL RULES FOR CERTAIN MONTHLY WORKERS’ COMPENSATION PAYMENTS AND OTHER PAYMENTS FOR DEPARTMENT OF STATE PERSONNEL UNDER CHIEF OF MISSION AUTHORITY:
Under ADJUSTMENT OF COMPENSATION FOR CERTAIN 21 INJURIES.— 

The Secretary of State may pay an additional monthly monetary benefit, provided that the covered employee is receiving benefits under section 8105 or 8106 of title 5, United States Code, and may determine the amount of each monthly monetary benefit amount by taking into account— (A) the severity of the qualifying injury; (B) the circumstances by which the covered employee became injured; and (C) the seniority of the covered employee, particularly for purposes of compensating for lost career growth.

Under COSTS FOR TREATING QUALIFYING INJURIES.—

The Secretary of State may pay the costs of or reimburse for diagnosing and treating— (1) a qualifying injury of a covered employee for such costs, that are not otherwise covered by chapter 81 of title 5, United States Code, or other provision of Federal law; or (2) a covered individual, or a covered dependent, for such costs that are not otherwise covered by Federal law.

Under QUALIFYING INJURY.—

The term ‘‘qualifying injury’’ means the following: (A) With respect to a covered dependent, an injury incurred—  (i) during a period in which the covered dependent is accompanying an employee to an assigned duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (f); (ii) in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State …

(B) With respect to a covered employee or a covered individual, an injury incurred—  (i) during a period of assignment to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another country designated by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (f);  (ii) in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State; and…

Under APPLICATION.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—This section shall apply with respect to— (A) payments made to covered employees (as defined in such section) under section 8105 or 8106 of title 5, United States Code, beginning on or after January 1, 2016; and (B) diagnosis or treatment described in subsection (b) occurring on or after January 1, 23 2016.

Under REGULATIONS.—

Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall— (1) prescribe regulations ensuring the fair and equitable implementation of this section; and (2) submit to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives such regulations.

Under this bill, the Secretary of State may also designate another foreign country for the purposes of this section, provided that the Secretary reports such designation to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, and includes in such report a rationale for each such designation.

 

 

Decision Window For Federal Long Term Care Insurance With Shocking Premium Hike Closes 9/30/16

Posted: 3:01 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Excerpted from CRS Insight (PDF), September 2016 via Secrecy News:

On July 16, 2016, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced a premium rate increase for long-term care insurance policies purchased through the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP). The new rates were established following an open competitive bidding process. That process awarded a new seven-year contract to the prior insurer and sole bidder, John Hancock Life & Health Insurance Company, to continue providing coverage. According to OPM, the higher premiums are based on an analysis that used updated assumptions of industry trends and claims experience. The analysis determined that current FLTCIP premiums were not sufficient to meet projected costs and benefits. Most federal workers enrolled in FLTCIP are affected by the premium increase (an estimated 264,000 of the 274,000 enrollees).

During OPM’s 2016 Enrollee Decision Period, enrollees affected by the rate increase have until September 30, 2016, to decide whether to:

(1) keep their current coverage and pay the increase;
(2) reduce coverage in order to maintain their current premium; or
(3) allow their policies to lapse (i.e., drop coverage in the program).

Rate increases are scheduled to take effect November 1, 2016.
[…]
According to news sources, premiums are expected to increase by 83%, on average. Some Members of Congress have expressed their concerns to OPM leadership and John Hancock about such dramatic increases, calling for more time for enrollees to assess options as well as for congressional hearings on the issue.

Rate Stability and Long-Term Care Insurance

Federal workers are not the only policyholders to face LTCI premium increases. Over the past two decades, annual LTCI premiums have increased significantly overall for both current and new policyholders. Higher average premiums reflect increased demand for more comprehensive benefit packages (including inflation protection) and higher daily benefit amounts. Premium increases have also been driven by inadequate medical underwriting, premiums that were initially set too low, and insufficient growth in reserves to cover future claims. Thus, premium or rate stability depends largely on the ability of insurers to adequately predict future claims. Most policies issued before the mid-2000s have incorrectly predicted claims, necessitating changes to key pricing assumptions. For example, rising claims, lower mortality rates, lower-than-predicted voluntary termination (lapse) rates, and lower-than-predicted rates of return on investments have been cited as key reasons for LTCI premium increases. Nevertheless, large rate increases, such as those proposed by the FLTCIP, are likely to have a continued effect on consumer confidence in these products, possibly leading to further reductions in consumer demand.

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@StateDept Updates Policy Guidance on Special Rest and Recuperation (SR&R) Travel

Posted: 12:12 am ET
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On August 10, 2016, the State Department updated its policy guidance on Special Rest and Recuperation (SR&R) for the Foreign Service at State, USAID, Commerce, Agriculture and BBG.  SR&R is discretionary R&R travel authorized by the Under Secretary for Management.  These are additional R&R trips for posts already designated for R&R trips as specified in 3 FAM 3725.2, or for a post that does not normally qualify for an R&R but experiences extraordinary circumstances that warrant a one-time R&R.  Note that due to their immediate proximity to the United States, Mexico border posts are not eligible for SR&R (or R&R) according to the Foreign Affairs Manual.

3 FAM 3727.1 Special Rest and Recuperation (SR&R)
(CT:PER-828; 08-10-2016)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Agriculture/BBG)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees only)

a. In extraordinary circumstances, the Under Secretary for Management (M), acting on behalf of the Secretary, may authorize additional R&R trips for posts already designated for R&R trips as specified in 3 FAM 3725.2, or for a post that does not normally qualify for an R&R but experiences extraordinary circumstances that warrant a one-time R&R. This discretionary R&R travel authorized by M is known as Special R&R travel (SR&R).

(1) With the exception of Mexico border posts, any post that is in unaccompanied status or has a combined Post Differential and Danger Pay rate of 35 percent will automatically qualify for one SR&R.

(2) If a post does not automatically qualify for one SR&R or the post automatically qualifies for one SR&R but would like to request additional SR&Rs, that post must seek authorization by having the appropriate regional bureau executive director send a memorandum to the Director of the Office of Allowances (A/OPR/ALS). The memorandum must include a clear justification (in 250 words or less) for any requested SR&R including specific extraordinary conditions of hardship which exist at post. The Director of A/OPR/ALS will convene a nine-member committeewhich shall include one representative from each regional bureau, HR, M/PRI, and Allowancesto review all SR&R requests and send recommendations to M for final approval. In order to recommend an SR&R to M, seven of the nine committee members must vote in favor of the SR&R. A/OPR/ALS will notify all requesting offices of Ms determination and update Special R&R information in the annual bidding tool. One-year Priority Staffing Posts (PSP) and posts with Service Recognition Packages (SRP) fall outside the purview of this process.

(3) Authorization for Special R&R expires annually. Requests for new, multiple, or continuation of Special R&R travel must be resubmitted to regional bureaus by memorandum no later than May 15 each year.

(4) The SR&R qualification process was changed in August 2016. For posts that will lose one or more SR&Rs under the new process, personnel who were serving at or paneled to those posts during the 2016-2017 winter cycle will be grandfathered in under the old system for the length of their tour. This means that those individuals will be awarded the SR&Rs that they would have been given under the system immediately prior to the change in August 2016.

c. The Under Secretary for Management may designate in writing a post for a SR&R where the tour of duty is not traditional. A Special R&R may be warranted because of extreme danger, unaccompanied post status, severely substandard living conditions, extreme isolation, or other unusual conditions. Because of their immediate proximity to the United States, Mexico border posts are not eligible for SR&R (or R&R).

d. Clearances for initiating and terminating a SR&R must be obtained by the requesting regional bureau from other foreign affairs agencies when such agencies have personnel at post. (For USAID, contact the regional bureau AMS staff.)

e. When approval for a SR&R is requested from M, the regional bureau executive director shall recommend whether all employees currently at post or employees arriving at post will be eligible for it. For example, employees on TDY; employees whose departure from post is imminent; or new employees who will not experience the same degree of hardship that current employees have experienced, might be excluded. If M approves the SR&R, the post shall be notified of any such limitations by the regional bureau.

3 FAM 3727.2 Eligibility and Tour of Duty
(CT:PER-828; 08-10-2016)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Agriculture/BBG)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees only)

a. The Departments policy for time spent at post for Special R&Rs differs from that of regular R&Rs discussed in 3 FAM 3722, paragraph a. For example, SR&Rs may be authorized for posts with a tour of duty of less than 2 years. In addition, the employee is not required to complete the requirements for the regular R&R in order to be eligible for the Special R&R. For:

Tour of duty of less than 2 years: An employee must be able to complete a minimum of 12 months at post to be eligible for the Special R&R. Generally, a post with a tour of duty of less than 2 years will not be authorized more than one Special R&R.

Tour of duty of 2 years: Employees at posts with 2-year tours of duty (including a split 4-year tour of duty) must be able to complete a minimum of 12 months at post to be eligible for a Special R&R. Generally, no more than two R&R trips (Special and/or regular) will be authorized for posts with a tour of duty of 2 years.

Tour of duty of 3 years: Employees, whose assignments are extended to 3 years at posts that have been granted both Special and regular R&Rs, may receive an additional R&R trip for the extra year of service. Generally, no more than three R&R (Special and regular) trips will be authorized for posts with a tour of duty of 3 years.

b. The Department policy for time spent at post for Special R&Rs differs further in the case of employees serving at certain posts specifically designated by the Director General for home leave after completion of 12 months of continuous service abroad. Employees in such a category should consult applicable service recognition packages and post policies to determine eligibility for R&R travel.

c. The Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Employee Relations, Employee Programs Division, is available for policy guidance.

Read in full:  3 FAM 3720 REST AND RECUPERATION (R&R) TRAVEL (changes are in magenta).

 

Related items:

3 FAH-1 H-3720  | REST AND RECUPERATION (R&R) TRAVEL

3 FAH-1 Exhibit H-3722(1)  Posts and Designated Relief Areas For R&R Travel

 

 

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