Congress

Federal employee protections included in new COVID relief bill

Federal employees received specific carve-outs in the COVID-19 legislation that Congress sent to the president’s desk Wednesday, including those that protect employees in the case of COVID-related illness or emergency.

The legislation would mandate an automatic presumption of workplace illness for federal employees that currently work on the front lines and fall sick with COVID-19. Such automatic presumptions make it easier for employees or their survivors to receive workers compensation.

Federal employees would also be able to take up to 15 weeks of emergency paid leave through September if they are exposed to COVID-19, need to get the vaccine, have a negative reaction to getting the vaccine or must take time to care for dependent family members as a result of the pandemic. That leave is capped at $2,800 in aggregate for any biweekly pay period.

Such leave could prove significant as more and more federal employees become eligible for the vaccine either through age, preexisting conditions or the criticality of their work.

“Federal employees didn’t receive the 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave that Congress provided to other employees last year, so they have exhausted their sick and annual leave much sooner than other workers,” American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley said in a statement.

“This additional leave will give federal employees more time to safely recover from COVID-19 or respond to related family care issues without being forced to take unpaid leave or return to work before it’s safe to do so.”

The reimbursement authority for federal contractors to provide paid and sick leave to their employees during the pandemic was also extended from Sept. 30 of last year to Sept. 30, 2021.

The bill also carves out additional funding for agencies whose missions are central to COVID-19 response or distributing relief payments to American workers.

The IRS was appropriated $1.8 billion to administer economic relief payments and the Food and Drug Administration was appropriated $500 million for vaccine- and pandemic-related work.

“The IRS is a key player in the American Rescue Plan, delivering a third round of economic impact payments to eligible households, as well as advance payments of their Child Tax Credit and other types of aid,” National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon said in a statement.

“IRS employees are up to the task, even in the middle of a tax filing season, but the extra investment in technology is essential to giving them the tools they need to get the job done as quickly as possible.”

President Joe Biden is expected to sign the relief bill into law Friday.

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