Sick leave is one of the most valuable benefits provided to federal employees. Here’s why:

Earning leave

Sick leave is earned at a constant rate — 4 hours per each biweekly pay period for all full-time employees — no matter how long you work for federal government. (Part-time employees earn 1 hour for each 20 hours in a pay status.)

Accumulating leave

Unlike annual leave, there are no limits on the amount of sick leave you may accumulate. Accumulating it early in a career is especially important because the federal government has no short-term disability program.

Using sick leave

Sick leave may be used for a wide variety of purposes. First, for your own medical needs, including being incapacitated for the performance of your duties because of physical or mental illness, injury, pregnancy or childbirth.

Second, it may be used for family care or bereavement purposes. It may also be used to make arrangements required by the death of a family member or to attend the funeral of a family member.

Third, it may be used to care for a family member with a serious health condition..

Finally, your agency may advance you up to 30 days of sick leave for adoption-related purposes.

Advanced sick leave

If you have a medical emergency or are engaged in the adoption of a child and don’t have enough sick leave to cover the situation, your agency — in its discretion — may advance you a maximum of 30 days. A maximum of five days may be advanced for family care or bereavement purposes.

Donated leave

If you have exhausted all of your sick and annual leave, employees can donate annual leave directly to you without limit However, any unused donated annual leave must be returned to the leave donor(s) when the medical emergency ends.

Sick leave and retirement

When you retire, your unused sick leave will be added to your years of service. This can be a significant benefit. Roughly speaking, 174 hours of unused sick leave would increase your length of service by one month, 2,087 hours by one year.

Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance planning at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to fedexperts@federaltimes.com.