Within Grade Increases

For Feds, a within-grade increase (WIGI) boosts their income, but what can be done if a WIGI is denied?

The Federal Government pays its permanent employees according to the General Scale (GS), which is comprised of 15 grades - with each grade having 10 “steps” within. When the requirements are met, an individual federal worker receives a boost in their salary. Moving up a step within Grade 10, for example, adds $1692 to a fed’s annual salary (in 2021). These pay raises are different than the “across-the-board” increase that gets determined by Congress or the President each year- this is why the dollar amount of a WIGI is dependent on the year it is earned in. Not taking into account locality pay and other possible factors, the highest paid position on the GS scale is Grade 15, Step 10 with their annual basic pay being $143,598. The Senior Executive Service (SES) does not experience any WIGI - but their pay scale has higher maximums. At the highest level, a “Level 1” SES employee with a Ph.D. could make over $200k per year.

Waiting Periods

If 52 weeks (1 year) of “creditable service” is clocked by the employee within steps 1-3, they reach the next step (3 years of service, total). For steps 4-6, the time doubles to 104 weeks for each step (6 additional years of service). After 156 weeks (per step) in steps 7-9, you can climb the ladder until getting to step 10 (9 more years). After that, no matter how much additional service you rack up, there is no automatic increase in individual pay. So, for employees who start at step 1 within their grade and remain in the position, after 18 years of credible service, they could have reached the top of their position’s grade. (For simplicity’s sake, we won’t go into “quality step increases,” although that could shorten the 18 years.)

Creditable service” means not temporary work. The position also can’t have a “time limitation” of one year or less. A new waiting period starts when there is a break in service of over 52 weeks or an “excess” of leave without pay. However, all of this depends on whether or not the other two requirements are met.

Promotions, Performance, etc.

  • Promotions, etc. If within one waiting period, a federal worker’s salary experiences an “equivalent raise in pay,” then the waiting period starts over. A common way such an increase would occur is if the fed got a promotion. Of course, the biggest qualifier for a WIGI is the quality of a fed’s performance.
  • Performance Rating. An employee must have received a “Level 3” rating on their most recent performance review. (Level 3 means “fully successful.”)

Appealing a WIGI Denial

Based on the stipulations outlined above, an agency might deny a worker their WIGI. If the employee disagrees, they must submit a grievance with their employing agency. The only condition that is required across agencies is that a copy of the WIGI denial, in writing, from the first deciding individual, must be submitted to the appropriate party in the agency. If this appeal fails, the next step is to file a complaint with OPM. A copy of the written decision confirming the denial from the agency must be included when you file the paperwork. Also, the basis for the claim and dollar amount sought as a remedy must be in writing, along with the contact information of both the claimant and the individual at the agency who made the final decision regarding the denial of the WIGI. OPM has had the authority to settle such claims since 1996, and any complaint regarding a decision that denies a federal employee’s WIGI must be filed with OPM within six years since the occurring incident.

Check the CBA

There are two prominent reasons that a lot of these matters may not make it to OPM’s court for a final ruling. The first involves collective bargaining units. If a fed falls under the following three conditions, they have to take a different route to resolve their WIGI issue.

Condition 1: They’re a member of a collective bargaining unit.

Condition 2: The collective bargaining unit is covered by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Condition 3: The CBA doesn’t explicitly exclude “compensation and leave matters” from the CBA’s Negotiated Grievance Procedure (NGP).

If all three of these factors are true, then protesting a WIGI denial has to be conducted in accordance with the NGP of the CBA. If any of the conditions aren’t true in a given case, then the process may lead to OPM for final consideration. However, as laid out in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a personal attorney is allowed to discuss these matters on a fed’s behalf with the employing agency, and these discussions can often end in some sort of a settlement. Although, whether the resulting lawyer fees are worth it is another matter entirely


Until Next Time,

Benefits Ben, STWS

**Written by Benjamin Derge, Financial Planner. The information has been obtained from sources considered reliable but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Benjamin Derge and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize, or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors.

Within Grade Increases

Within Grade Increases