U.S. Office of Personnel Management
An agency may pay a retention incentive to a current employee if the agency determines that the unusually high or unique qualifications of the employee or a special need of the agency for the employee’s services makes it essential to retain the employee and that the employee would be likely to leave the Federal service in the absence of a retention incentive. A retention incentive may be paid only when the employee’s rating of record under an official performance appraisal or evaluation system is at least “Fully Successful” or equivalent.Covered Positions
A retention incentive may be paid to an eligible individual in a General Schedule (GS), senior-level (SL), scientific or professional (ST), Senior Executive Service (SES), Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration (FBI/DEA) SES, Executive Schedule (EX), law enforcement officer, or prevailing rate position. OPM may approve other categories for coverage upon written request from the head of the employing agency.Excluded Positions
Retention incentives may not be paid to Presidential appointees; noncareer appointees in the Senior Executive Service; those in positions excepted from the competitive service by reason of their confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating natures; agency heads; or those expected to receive an appointment as an agency head.Agency Plan
Before paying a retention incentive, an agency must establish a retention incentive plan. The plan must include the designation of officials with authority to review and approve the payment of retention incentives, the categories of employees who may not receive retention incentives, the required documentation for determining that an employee would be likely to leave the Federal service, requirements for determining the amount of a retention incentive, the payment methods that may be authorized, requirements governing service agreements (including criteria for determining the length of a service period, the conditions for terminating a service agreement, the obligations of the agency and the employee if a service agreement is terminated, and the conditions for terminating retention incentive payments when no service agreement is required), and documentation and recordkeeping requirements. Unless the head of the agency determines otherwise, an agency retention incentive plan must apply uniformly across the agency.Approval Criteria
For each retention incentive authorized, an agency must document in writing the basis for determining that the unusually high or unique qualifications of the employee or a special need of the agency for the employee’s services makes it essential to retain the employee and that the employee would be likely to leave the Federal service in the absence of a retention incentive. An agency may make this determination based on a consideration of the factors listed in 5 CFR 575.306(b). In addition, an agency must document in writing the basis for determining the amount and timing of the incentive payments and the length of the service period.Payment
An agency must establish a single retention incentive rate for the employee, expressed as a percentage of the employee’s rate of basic pay, not to exceed 25 percent. With OPM approval, this cap may be increased to 50 percent (based on a critical agency need). (See 5 CFR 575.309(e).) The incentive may be paid in installments after the completion of specified periods of service within the full period of service required by the service agreement or in a single lump sum after completion of the full period of service required by the service agreement. An agency may not pay a retention incentive as an initial lump-sum payment at the start of a service period or in advance of fulfilling the service period for which the retention incentive is received. A retention incentive installment payment may be computed at the full retention incentive percentage rate or at a reduced rate with the excess deferred for payment at the end of the full service period. Explanations of how to compute retention incentive installment payments may be found at 5 CFR 575.309© and in the guidance on Retention Incentive Payment and Termination Calculations.
An agency may not offer or authorize a retention incentive for an individual prior to employment with the agency. An agency may not begin paying a retention incentive during the service period established by an employee’s recruitment or relocation incentive service agreement. However, a relocation incentive may be paid to an employee who is already receiving a retention incentive.Groups of Employees
An agency may pay a retention incentive of up to 10 percent of basic pay (or up to 50 percent with OPM approval, based on a critical agency need) to an eligible group or category of employees if the agency determines that the unusually high or unique qualifications of the group or a special need of the agency for the employees’ services makes it essential to retain the employees and that there is a high risk that a significant number of employees in the group would leave the Federal service in the absence of a retention incentive. (See the Group Retention Incentives fact sheet for additional information.)Rate of Basic Pay
For the purpose of calculating a retention incentive, the employee’s rate of basic pay includes a special rate under 5 CFR part 530, subpart C, a locality payment under 5 CFR part 531, subpart F, or similar payment under other legal authority, but excludes additional pay of any other kind. A retention incentive is not part of an employee’s rate of basic pay for any purpose.Aggregate Pay Limitation
Payment of a retention incentive is subject to the aggregate limitation on pay under 5 CFR part 530, subpart B.Service Agreement
Before receiving a retention incentive, an employee must sign a written agreement to complete a specified period of service with the agency. The service period must begin on the first day of a pay period and end on the last day of a pay period. The service agreement must specify the retention incentive percentage rate established for the employee, the method and timing of incentive payments, the conditions under which an agreement will be terminated by the agency, any agency obligations if a service agreement is terminated (including the conditions under which the agency must make an additional payment for partially completed service), and any other terms and conditions for receiving and retaining retention incentives. A written service agreement is not required if the agency pays the retention incentive in biweekly installments and sets the biweekly installment payment at the full retention incentive percentage rate established for the employee. (See 5 CFR 575.310(f).)Continuation, Reduction, or Termination of a Retention Incentive Discretionary
An agency may unilaterally terminate a retention incentive service agreement based solely on the management needs of the agency, in which case the employee is entitled to retain any retention incentive payment attributable to completed service and to receive any portion of a retention incentive payment owed by the agency for completed service.Mandatory
An agency must terminate a service agreement if the employee is demoted or separated for cause (i.e., for unacceptable performance or conduct), receives a rating of record below “Fully Successful” or equivalent during the service period, or otherwise fails to fulfill the terms of the service agreement. In such cases, the employee is entitled to retain retention incentive payments previously paid by the agency that are attributable to the completed portion of the service period. If the employee received retention incentive payments that are less than the amount that would be attributable to completed service, the agency is not obligated to pay the employee any outstanding incentive payments attributable to completed service unless such payment was required under the terms of the retention incentive service agreement.When No Service Agreement is Required
For retention incentives that are paid in biweekly installments when no service agreement is required, an agency must review each determination to pay the incentive annually to determine whether payment is still warranted and certify this determination in writing. An agency must reduce or terminate the retention incentive whenever payment at the original level is no longer warranted. In addition, an agency must terminate a retention incentive authorization when no service agreement is required if the employee is demoted or separated for cause, receives a rating of record of less than “Fully Successful” or equivalent, or the agency assigns the employee to a different position. (See 5 CFR 575.311(g).)
An agency must notify an employee in writing when it terminates a retention service agreement or a retention incentive when no service agreement is required. Termination or reduction of a retention incentive is not grievable or appealable.
Return to Special Incentives page.