FEMA employees may have to pay back some overtime pay

Posted at 7:14 PM, Dec 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-05 20:14:27-05

After a barrage of hurricanes, flooding and wildfires this year, hundreds of federal employees who responded and put in overtime could receive a bill from the government for hours they actually worked.

The warning came last month from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which highlighted the issue of pay caps to employees in an internal email.

The message cautioned employees that if they're paid above those limits -- for hours they legitimately work -- the government will be forced to claw back the pay.

"Overpayment of salary" would be "collected through the National Finance Center (NFC) administrative billings process," reads the November 2 internal email, obtained by CNN on Tuesday and first reported by Bloomberg.

The Trump administration is currently working with Congress to address the issue, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations.

The agency says its hands are tied by the law. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, already suspended limits on the size of bi-weekly paychecks, which gives employees more headroom before hitting the annual pay limits.

FEMA said the pay caps "could affect as many as several hundred employees" and is a result of "extended work hours involved in supporting disaster recovery and response efforts for multiple storms."

"The agency is communicating with supervisors and employees to ensure those who may be affected are aware of the annual maximum earnings limitation or annual pay cap," FEMA said in a statement.

The cap applies differently to different groups of employees, but the limits generally do not apply until employees are earning at least $150,000. Some employees may see limits on the amount of overtime they can earn. Others will continue to earn overtime, but see limits on compensation for working nights, weekends, and holidays, or limits on bonuses and incentive pay.

Other government agencies where employees work massive amounts of overtime have encountered this situation, too. The Secret Service, whose agents regularly hit the limits in busy periods like election years, said in August that more than 1,000 agents had reached the pay caps with four months left in the year.