Essential feds could see annual leave restored after pandemic

Overall policies for the use of annual leave and other types of paid time off remain the same during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to guidance issued by the Office of Personnel Management June 18, but employees that lost accumulated leave due to work requirements may have the chance to get some of that leave back.

“Agencies must work with their employees to ensure that they continue to take any annual leave or other paid time off before it expires. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management does not have the authority to change statutory limitations,” acting OPM Director Michael Rigas wrote in the guidance.

“However, please know that OPM plans to issue regulations in the near future that will streamline the leave restoration process for agencies that have employees with ‘use or lose’ annual leave who are unable to use this leave because of work-related requirements related to the COVID-19 national emergency.”

Use or lose leave requires employees to take that leave by a certain time or before a certain number of hours are accrued or else lose the opportunity to take that leave at all. But for those employees working in functions that are essential to pandemic mitigation and cannot take time off, OPM plans to classify the COVID-19 pandemic as “an exigency of the public business,” so that they can access the leave at a later date.

“The regulations will provide that employees who would forfeit annual leave in excess of the maximum annual leave allowable carryover because of their essential work during the national emergency will have their excess annual leave deemed to have been scheduled in advance and subject to leave restoration,” Rigas wrote.

“Agency heads will be required to identify any employees covered under this annual leave restoration authority and inform them in writing of this designation. This means that agencies and their employees will not be faced with the administrative burden of scheduling, canceling and restoring such leave for these employees at a time when all available attention and energy should be focused on the national emergency.”

Restored leave is placed in a separate account than an employee’s regular annual leave bank.

“An agency may restore annual leave that was forfeited due to an exigency of the public business or sickness of the employee only if the annual leave was scheduled in writing before the start of the third biweekly pay period prior to the end of the leave year,” Rigas wrote.

The leave year ends the day before the first full biweekly pay period of the next calendar year.

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