BY ANGIE BRYAN
If it hasn’t happened to you already, it might at some point—the dreaded letter announcing you’ve been overpaid and the department wants its money back.
Not a big deal when it’s a small amount, but if it reaches thousands of dollars, it can impose a financial burden (and stress).
The good news? With careful attention, you can reduce the chance of being hit with such a hefty surprise.
The most common cause of overpayment is when an employee who is receiving allowances and/or differentials departs post for a period of time that, in turn, changes the basis for payment of the allowance or differential.
If the employee does not notify the human resources or financial management offices (HRO/FMO), or if post delays reporting the departure to the Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services in Charleston, the employee continues to receive the higher rate of pay instead of the reduced one.
For example, an employee in a 25-percent hardship and 25-percent danger-pay post travels to the United States for three weeks of leave. The employee’s supervisor knows of the employee’s absence, but the HRO/FMO does not. Consequently, the employee continues to receive an extra 50 percent in pay over what is permitted for the three weeks.
Arrival or departure of family members can also change post allowance (cost-of-living or COLA) payments, so be sure to inform the HRO/FMO of any such changes.
Employees can mitigate overpayments by taking an active role in their pay.
Employees can mitigate overpayments by taking an active role in their pay:
• Notify your HRO/FMO each time you or your family members arrive at or depart post and make sure the HRO/FMO notifies CGFS promptly. A minor delay may occasionally occur, but proactive steps should prevent large-scale overpayments.
• Use Employee Express (www.employeeexpress.gov) to review your earnings and leave statement’s “earnings” section, which itemizes allowances and differentials, to ensure your pay is accurate.
• If you believe you have been over- or underpaid, contact Payroll Customer Support at PayHelp@state.gov or 1 (877) 865-0760 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday, except for American holidays.
Mistakes or delays resulting from administrative errors by the department are not grounds to waive repayment. The department allows employees to repay overpayments interest-free by lump-sum payment within 30 days of notification or by installment salary deductions.
With the caveat that the Department of State Standardized Regulations are the authoritative source, you may find useful the following details regarding the starting and stopping of post allowance, post differential and danger pay.
Post Allowance (COLA): Starts the date you arrive at post; the date your family arrives at post, if your arrival is delayed; or the effective date of transfer, when you are already at the post to which you are transferred. Stops when you leave post on transfer orders, when you go on Home Leave, and on the 31st day of any other absence from post.
If you are away from post for more than 30 days, your family size will be reduced by one member. An example of the latter would be if you go to an unaccompanied post, and your family remains behind. (DSSR 220)
Post Differential (Hardship): Starts when you get to post (if assigned); after 42 days (if on temporary duty assignment or TDY), except for Iraq and Afghanistan, where it kicks in on the 43rd day, but is backdated to your first day at post. Stops when you leave post on transfer, on an emergency evacuation or on travel to the United States for training.
It can continue for 42 days if you go to the United States on detail or medevac and an eligible family member remains at post; it also continues until you reach the United States if you take R&R in a foreign country en route to the United States; it continues if you are on family visitation travel from a hostile area; and it continues if you are absent from Iraq or Afghanistan for up to 30 days. (DSSR 500)
Danger Pay: Starts on arrival at post (must have been at post for four cumulative hours in one day). Danger pay is paid only for hours for which basic compensation is paid, so if an employee arrives at a post on TDY on a Friday evening, danger pay will not start until Monday morning. Stops on departure from post for any reason. (DSSR 654)