Feds to have less preparation for religious time off

Federal employees will have half as much time to arrange for overtime hours to compensate for time they plan to take off for religious observance, under a new rule issued April 29 by the Office of Personnel Management.

Federal employees who want to take time off for religious purposes may either use one of their earned types of vacation hours, such as paid time off, or opt to perform work hours during what is typically a holiday for them to make up for the time they plan to miss for religious observance.

Employees must come to an agreement with their agencies on when that extra time is scheduled to be performed.

Currently, employees are required to schedule overtime work hours either 26 pay periods in advance or 26 pay periods after they plan to be absent from work due to religious observance or requirements.

But starting May 29, employees will have 13 pay periods before and 13 pay periods after to schedule their replacement time.

“That would allow a total period of 26 pay periods (about 1 year) during which the religious compensatory time off could be earned in connection with a religious observance,” the rule change posted to the Federal Register said.

“An agency may not prescribe a lesser or narrower time frame in which an employee may earn religious compensatory time off before or after using it. This change will allow employees about a year to schedule and earn religious compensatory time off while making it more administratively feasible for agencies to administer.”

If employees fail to earn that time off within the time frame, the agency has the option to deduct from other forms of time off the employee has available to them or place a debt on the employee for time they did not work but were still paid.

One individual commented on the proposed rule change, issued in 2013, that the 26-pay-period window was potentially too narrow for some lengthy religious observances that would require many hours of overtime to make up for, but OPM opted not to lengthen the available time in the final regulation.

The rule change also requires agencies to offer justification any time they deny a request for religious compensatory time off and emphasizes that if employees make their request for time off orally, they should file written documentation of the request as soon as possible.

The rule also allows for employees to substitute accrued time off from previous overtime work or travel time in place of performing overtime work for the religious time they plan to take.

Federal employees that don’t end up using the religious compensatory time they had accrued for a specific holiday may hold it in reserve until the next observance that would require them to miss work.

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