Federal employees that have been unable to use their annual leave during the pandemic would be allowed to go over the usual caps on year-to-year leave carryover under new legislation introduced Oct. 1 in the House and Senate.

“Thousands of dedicated federal workers have been tirelessly responding to the coronavirus pandemic, including U.S. Postal Service employees, Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration workers, and National Institutes of Health researchers,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, a cosponsor of the bill.

“Our nation has leaned on them as they deliver medicines and Social Security checks, assist Americans with filing their taxes, develop a vaccine and provide other vital services. This bill makes sure that no federal worker loses their leave because of this or any future pandemic.”

Most federal employees working in the U.S. may not carry over more than 30 days of unused annual leave from one year to the next, and any earned leave over that cap is lost completely at the end of the calendar year.

The Federal Worker Leave Fairness Act would mandate that any leave lost during a pandemic that has been declared a public health emergency, due to that leave exceeding the maximum accrual caps, shall be restored to the employee.

“Federal workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard have been working tirelessly throughout this pandemic to maintain the Navy’s readiness to respond to national security threats and have avoided unnecessary travel to minimize health risks that could threaten this important work,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., a cosponsor of the House bill.

“They shouldn’t have to sacrifice the paid leave benefits they’ve earned because they chose to prioritize national service. That’s why I’m joining Senator Hirono to introduce this bill to ensure that federal workers here at the shipyard, and across federal agencies, are able to keep the unused paid time off that they have earned while also maintaining continuity of operations. Federal workers shouldn’t have to choose between working to support our nation or using their earned benefits before the end of the year.”

The Office of Personnel Management already has a practice in place for essential federal employees — those who have been prevented from taking time off because their work is too important for pandemic response — to have their annual leave restored, but that policy does not extend to feds who are allowed to take time off but choose not to do so in the middle of a pandemic.

“With COVID-19 travel restrictions still in place across the country, taking time off to spend with family or visit loved ones is not an option for many federal employees across Virginia right now,” said Rep. Wexton, D-Va., in a news release.

“Pandemics don’t line up with benefit years. That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation that would allow all of our federal workers to rollover their ‘use it or lose it’ time off at the end of this unprecedented year. They deserve to have their hard-earned benefits protected, particularly as many continue to serve on the frontlines of our government’s response to this crisis.”

The bills would cover employees in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government and apply across the various titles that such employees are hired under.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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