This Section applies only to Federal Wage System (FWS) employees.
The head of an operating unit or a designee shall pay environmental differential to any FWS employee who is exposed to a hazard, physical hardship or unusually severe working condition listed in Appendix A to subpart E of 5 CFR 532. Environmental differential is the only way in which exposure to these conditions may be compensated since they are not considered in the job grading process.
There is no authority within the environmental differential statute to pay for potential exposure. To pay this differential, the bureau/operating unit must find there is credible evidence that an employee was actually exposed.
There are two bases of payment:
- Actual Exposure
- Hours in Pay Status
Categories for which work is payable under actual exposure are: flying, high work, floating targets, dirty work, cold work, hot work, welding preheated materials, micro-soldering or wire welding and assembly, or exposure to hazardous weather or terrain, unshored work, ground work beneath hovering helicopter, hazardous boarding or leaving of surface craft, cargo handling during lightering operations, duty aboard surface craft, work at extreme heights, fibrous glass work, high voltage electrical energy, welding or cutting or burning in confined spaces.
Categories for which work is payable under hours in pay status are: duty aboard submerged vessel, explosives and incendiary material, poisons (toxic chemicals), micro-organisms, pressure chamber and centrifugal stress, work in fuel storage tanks, firefighting, experimental landing/recovery equipment tests, land impact or pad abort of space vehicle, mass explosives and/or incendiary material, duty aboard aircraft carrier, participating in missile liquid propulsion or solid propulsion situations, asbestos, or working at high altitudes.
Schedule of Rates and Computing the Differential
The amount of differential payable shall be determined by multiplying the percentage rate authorized in Appendix A to subpart E of 5 CFR 532 for the category in which the working condition or hazard falls, multiplied by the rate for the WG-10, step 2, taken from the current regular nonsupervisory wage schedule applicable to the area in which the employee has an official duty station. One-half cent or over shall count as a full cent. The resulting cents-an-hour amount shall be paid uniformly to each eligible FWS employee, regardless of the grade level of the employee or the FWS wage schedule on which the employee is paid (Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) § 532.511(b)(1)).
Basis of Payment
Whether environmental differential is paid on the basis of actual exposure or hours in a pay status depends on the hazard, physical hardship or working condition as listed in Appendix A to subpart E of 5 CFR 532.
Payment for Actual Exposure - An employee must be paid a minimum of one hour's differential pay for the exposure. For exposure beyond one hour, the employee will be paid in increments of one-quarter hour for each 15 minutes or portion thereof in excess of 15 minutes. Entitlement begins with the first instance of exposure and ends one hour later, except that when exposure continues beyond the hour, it shall be considered ended at the end of the quarter hour in which exposure actually terminated (5 CFR 532.511(b)(2)).
The number of hours an employee is paid environmental differential, on the basis of actual exposure, shall not exceed the number of hours of duty performed under the exposure by the employee on the day of exposure (5 CFR 532.511(b)(6).
Payment on Basis of Hours in Pay Status – An employee must be paid for all hours in a pay status on a day in which they are exposed to the situation, even if the employee was not exposed during their entire work day (5 CFR 532.511(b)(3)).
Example: An employee working with poisons (a category under the payment on the basis of hours in pay status) may work with or in close proximity to poisons for 4 hours of an 8-hour workday but would be paid the environmental differential for all 8 hours in pay status.
Multiple Environmental Differentials – An employee may not be paid more than one environmental differential for the same period of work. Payment shall be based on the higher differential rate for the period of entitlement. (5 CFR 532.511(b)(4-5)).
Multiple Basis of Payment – Employees may receive environmental differential pay on the basis of hours in pay status and on the basis of actual exposure, during the same workday, only if the basis of actual exposure rate is higher.
Example: An employee is entitled to an eight percent differential based on “hours in pay status,” and is entitled to a fifteen percent differential based on “actual exposure,” the employee would receive the higher differential (15 percent) for the entire workday (hours in pay status), since the “actual exposure” differential is at a higher rate than the “hours of pay status” rate.
Additions to the Schedule of Differentials
The head of each operating unit and those to whom authority has been delegated are responsible for determining whether local situations are covered by one or more categories defined in Appendix A to subpart E of 5 CFR 532.
When the local situation is not covered by any of the defined categories, the Office of Personnel Management may be requested to establish an appropriate category and differential. Any such request must be submitted to the Director for Human Resources Management from the operating unit head, or designee, through the Principal Human Resources Manager with a description of the hazardous duty or physical hardship involved; the number, series, grades, and location of the positions affected; the potential annual cost to the Department if approved; and the justification for the additional schedule(s). A copy of the position description(s) and any supporting documentation must be attached.
Effect of Excused Absence and Leave
An environmental differential is included as part of an employee's basic pay for periods of paid leave under the following circumstances:
- When an employee is exposed to a situation for which an environmental differential is authorized on the basis of hours in a pay status, that differential will be paid during a period of absence on paid leave on the day on which the exposure occurs.
- When an employee is exposed to a situation for which an environmental differential is authorized on an actual exposure basis, that differential will be paid during a period of absence on paid leave only to the extent that the leave is within the minimum payment periods specified below:
- When an employee is entitled to an environmental differential which is paid on an actual exposure basis, they shall be paid a minimum of 1 hour’s differential pay for the exposure. For exposure beyond 1 hour, the employee shall be paid in increments of one-quarter hour for each 15 minutes and portion thereof in excess of 15 minutes.
- An employee will not be paid an environmental differential during a period of absence on paid leave on any day on which they are not exposed to situations for which an environmental differential is authorized. This means that if an employee is on paid leave, they are not entitled to an environmental differential because there was no “exposure.”
- If you are out on leave the entire day, and therefore never exposed, you do not get the differential.
- If you are exposed based on hours in a pay status, but take leave for the rest of the day, you will get the differential for the entire day (for both time worked and for leave).
- If you are exposed based on actual exposure, but take leave for the rest of the day, you will only get the differential for the time exposed (or up to the 1 hour if you did not stay an entire hour to meet the minimum).
Relationship to Other Pay
Regular overtime, holiday, and Sunday pay. According to 5 CFR 532.511(c), environmental differential pay is part of the employee's basic pay and shall be used to compute premium pay for overtime, holiday, or Sunday work.
Benefits and deductions. Environmental differential pay is part of the employee’s basic pay and shall be used to compute the amount from which retirement deductions are made, and the amount on which group life insurance is based.
Lump-sum leave payments, severance pay, adverse action. Because an environmental differential is paid only on a day which an employee is exposed to a situation for which the differential is authorized, it is not part of basic pay for purposes of lump-sum annual leave payments and severance pay nor is its loss an adverse action.
Reviewed by OHRM, August 2020.
References: 5 CFR 532.551; Appendix A to subpart E of 5 CFR 532; Federal Wage System (FWS) Operating Manual, Subchapter 8