Congress

2021 defense policy bill would expand leave benefits for feds

Provisions in the compromise defense bill released Dec. 3 would give more federal employees access to a greater range of leave options.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 corrects last year’s Federal Employee Paid Leave Act so that employees at the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies are no longer “inadvertently” excluded from the ability to take paid leave for the birth or placement of a new child.

Those corrections do not, however, cover calls for such leave to be expanded for use in caring for themselves or a sick relative.

The bill would also enable most federal employees to carry over 25 percent more of their annual leave from 2020 into 2021, as recognition of their work in service of the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Office of Personnel Management policies have already been streamlined to help essential federal employees who cannot take time off to carry over unused leave, but the NDAA provision would also cover those feds that have not been deemed essential.

“As the year winds down, federal employees have been afraid they will lose some of the annual leave they have rightfully earned, so the proposal in the defense policy bill allowing them to carry over more unused leave into 2021 is a welcome development,” said National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon in a statement.

“Federal employees, like everyone else, have canceled vacations because of this pandemic and this proposal will help them save their earned time off for later use. NTEU will urge Congress and the administration to pass this provision into law before the end of the year.”

On top of the leave improvements for civilian feds, the bill includes provisions to improve equal employment protections and protect feds at select agencies.

The 2021 NDAA includes the text of the Elijah E. Cummings Federal Employee Antidiscrimination Act, which was introduced in January 2019 and requires agencies to separate their Equal Employment Opportunity Programs from their HR and General Counsel offices. Agencies would also be required to publish notice of any EEOC appellate findings of discrimination or prohibited personnel practices; require EEOC to refer such findings to the Office of Special Counsel; and prohibit supervising officials from enacting nondisclosure policies that would prohibit exposing legal violations, mismanagement, dangers to public health or any other whistleblower activity.

Meanwhile, the secretary of defense would be prohibited from reducing the size of the civilian workforce at the DoD without a full impact assessment of that reduction.

And employees who developed health problems resulting from their service in Cuba or China would receive benefits under the NDAA.

President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the 2021 NDAA unless Congress includes provisions to repeal liability protections for online content providers and they remove provisions to rename military bases named after Confederate figures.

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