By Mirelle /

OPM Waives Recruitment and Retention Incentive Rules for Coronavirus Outbreak, and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

The Office of Personnel Management this week announced that it would increase the limit on recruitment, relocation and retention incentives to help federal agencies respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

According to a fact sheet posted to OPM’s website on Monday, the payment limits on so-called “3R” incentives will increase from 25% to 50% of basic pay if they are made to address a “critical agency need resulting from the coronavirus disease pandemic health crisis.”

Ordinarily, agencies may offer a 25% premium on a new employee’s basic pay for up to four years to fill a critical need, with OPM approval. Additionally, they can provide a 25% premium to retain an individual employee, and they can offer an extra 10% to retain an eligible group of employees, both without OPM approval.

OPM said that with the COVID-19 outbreak, agencies may request a waiver to those rules, which could increase the 3R premium pay cap up to 50% in some cases. Agencies’ requests may cover multiple positions and grade levels, provided that the “supporting information” covers all of the positions.

In Congress, Senate Democrats are taking a new route in their efforts to provide hazard pay to federal employees working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. A proposed Coronavirus Heroes Fund, unveiled by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer this week, would provide an additional $13 per hour to all “essential” frontline workers, including federal employees, up to a cap of $25,000. The raise would apply retroactively to the beginning of the crisis until the end of 2020.

“Our proposal would ensure all federal government essential frontline employees receive the same $25,000 premium pay benefit provided to other essential workers,” the lawmakers wrote. “Certain federal workers are entitled under current law to a maximum 25% hazard premium pay for exposure to hazardous substances, including virulent biologicals. However, President Trump has failed to activate this policy for the federal workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Schumer said he hopes the proposal will be included in a so-called Phase 4 coronavirus response bill, which could be introduced later this month.

Despite the coronavirus outbreak, OPM last month made significant progress in processing federal employee retirement claims, in part due to a decrease in the number of new requests in March.

According to new statistics released this week, OPM processed 8,931 retirement requests last month, compared to the 6,566 new claims it received. That marks a decrease of nearly 3,000 new claims, coinciding with the end of the annual retirement rush typically seen in January and February.

As a result, the backlog of pending retirement requests fell from 23,629 at the end of February to 21,264 last month. Despite the falling backlog, the monthly average processing time shot up last month, from 54 days in February to 61 days as of March 31.