Claims for Payment for Unused Sick Leave and Tort Damages

B-201773: Mar 4, 1981

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A former Federal employee requested reconsideration of the denial by the Claims Group of the employee's claim for payment of unused sick leave at the time of her resignation from the Forest Service. In addition, she appealed the Claims Group's denial of her claim for damages for alleged pecuniary losses and emotional strain. The employee contended that she was ill for several months prior to resigning from the Forest Service as well as for many months after she left. Presumably the employee felt she was mistreated in that her supervisors did not provide support and did not retain her in the employment of the Forest Service once she became ill. In addition, the employee cited a Forest Service manual which provides for adjustment of the working environment to fit the capacity of the employee in cases of physical or emotional incapacitation. The employee stated that this was not done and that the Forest Service did not attempt to obtain a professional medical opinion of her physical limitations. An employee who is separated from Federal service is entitled to a lump-sum payment for all accumulated and accrued annual leave, but not sick leave. Sick leave with pay is available for the employee to use while employed if the employee is too ill to come to work. Unused sick leave is applied to an employee's credit at the time of retirement and may be added to the employee's total Federal service for the purpose of computing an annuity. In addition, an employee who is separated from Federal service is entitled to recredit of unused sick leave if reemployed within 3 years from the date of separation. However, there is no statutory authority for lump-sum payments for unused sick leave at the time of an employee's separation. The employee's claim for damages for pecuniary losses and emotional strain would appear to be a tort claim. Torts allegedly committed by employees of the Federal service are considered under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The employee's tort claim, if not barred by the statute of limitations, would be properly brought before the head of the Federal agency concerned, as GAO has no authority to settle that claim. Accordingly, GAO sustained the Claims Group's action denying the claims for payment for unused sick leave and for damages for pecuniary losses and emotional strain.

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