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National Council of

Social Security Management Associations

Why You Need Professional Liability Insurance

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Like any insurance, one hopes they never need to use it.  As managers at the Social Security Administration (SSA), you make decisions every day that may place you in a vulnerable position when it comes to complaints and allegations against you.  Decisions you make will not always be popular and employees may take action against you because they disagree with the decision you made.  SSA managers may be accused of discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, or creating a hostile work environment.  Defending yourself against allegations can be stressful, time-consuming, and costly.  Just like automobile, homeowners and medical insurance, professional liability insurance provides you with coverage and peace of mind for actions taken against you in the workplace.  


What is professional liability insurance and what does it cover?


Professional liability insurance (PLI) provides protection to an employee accused of misconduct or wrongdoing in the course of doing his or her job.


The specific details of professional liability coverage vary by plan and insurance company, but it generally will cover legal fees in administrative investigations, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) investigations where you are named as the responsible management official (RMO), and in disciplinary actions until the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) makes a final decision.  


Federal managers are able to purchase PLI to provide legal representation and attorney fees for any job-related administrative investigations, EEO complaint defense where you are the RMO, and disciplinary actions brought against you.  A PLI policy also provides you with legal defense in the event of a job-related civil lawsuit and covers any judgements against you up to your policy limits.


Is the coverage expensive?


All federal agencies, including SSA, are required to reimburse federal managers for up to 50% of the cost of a PLI policy. For a PLI policy of $280 a year, this brings your cost down to $140 annually.  The fact that Congress requires this reimbursement to defray the cost of PLI supports that it is a worthwhile expenditure.


Where does NCSSMA recommend I purchase professional liability insurance?


Several companies offer PLI, but NCSSMA recommends Federal Employee Defense Services (FEDS).  FEDS is endorsed by the leading federal employee associations and provides members with legal representation by top-notch federal employment law firms.  If you have been to our national or regional annual meetings, you have likely heard and seen representatives of FEDS at those conferences.  Additionally, FEDS offers a discount on its premium to members of NCSSMA.  


Real Examples of Situations where PLI was needed:


• An SSA manager attempts to change the authorized reporting time and the process for alternate work schedules for her employees.  Several employees who were upset about the change in their working conditions filed a complaint against the manager with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) alleging whistleblower retaliation for their cooperation with an OIG investigation involving their office.  


• An SSA manager was issued a proposed suspension for allegedly failing to follow instructions contained in an agency-wide memorandum.


• An applicant for benefits complained to the Regional Commissioner that an SSA manager was rude to her and used unprofessional language resulting in an administrative investigation.


• SSA alleged a manager lacked appropriate oversight and controls to hold SSA employees responsible for contractual oversight of a system that a government contractor failed to deliver in a timely manner.  This failure had a significant impact on the agency’s operations. The agency proposed disciplinary actions including removal from federal service.  


• An employee who was not selected for a position filed an EEO complaint for gender discrimination against the SSA manager who was the selecting official for the position in question.  During the EEO investigation of the complaint, the EEO investigator claimed that the manager failed to preserve all the relevant evidence and specifically destroyed evidence after being notified of the EEO investigation.  The manager claimed he simply threw out his personal notes of the application process after the selection was made. The EEO Office then referred the matter to the Employee Relations Department for a misconduct investigation against the manager.  


• An SSA manager was accused of discrimination and identified as the RMO.  In this case, the employee alleged that his non-selection to a certain position was due to his race and therefore discriminatory.


Given the potential risks associated with being a manager at SSA, NCSSMA members should protect themselves with a PLI policy.  Please consider making an investment in your peace of mind.  For additional information and to enroll in PLI, call 866.955.FEDS or visit  Mention “NCSSMA” to receive a discount.


Peggy Murphy

NCSSMA Vice President


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