The American Rescue Plan signed into law March 11 grants federal employees the opportunity to request specialized leave for COVID-19 related circumstances and the Office of Personnel Management released its guidance April 29 for how employees may request that leave and under what circumstances.

Between March 11 and Sept. 30, executive branch employees in Title 5 positions, U.S. Postal Service employees , Postal Regulatory Commission Employees , the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and the District of Columbia Courts may request emergency paid leave for the following reasons:

  1. A federal, state or local quarantine order
  2. A self-quarantine advisory issued by a health care professional
  3. Caring for an individual subject to the above circumstances
  4. Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and actively seeking treatment
  5. Caring for a child whose normal care has been interrupted by the pandemic
  6. Experiencing any substantially similar condition to the above
  7. Caring for an adult family member who is unable to care for themselves and whose normal care is unavailable
  8. Obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine or recovering from the side-effects of such a vaccine

Employees who wish to use such leave must submit a request through their agency, with documented proof that such an employee is experiencing one of those circumstances and cannot perform their work through telework or some other work flexibility arrangement.

Employees are limited to $2,800 worth of paid emergency leave on a biweekly basis and may take no more than 600 hours of emergency leave overall, which amounts to about 15 weeks of leave under a standard, eight-hour workday.

The leave is paid through a $570 million fund administered by the Office of Personnel Management that reimburses agencies for the cost of having those employees off work. And that means that applying for the leave comes with a certain degree of risk for the employee.

Agencies request reimbursement from OPM after EPL has been used for a particular biweekly pay period.

If the fund is depleted by the time the agency requests reimbursement, that employee will instead be responsible for substituting their emergency leave with some other paid leave available to them or by paying back the government for the cost of that time.

OPM has assured agencies that it will strive to notify them if and when the fund is getting close to depletion.

The emergency leave use could also have an impact on an employee’s retirement, as total creditable service will be reduced by the amount of EPL used by the employee. Those hours will, however, still count toward establishing eligibility for retirement and for computing the high-three average for annuity payments.

Since the eligibility for EPL began at the signing of the American Rescue Plan, employees can apply to have other types of leave they took between then and now be converted to ELP if the funds are available and they took leave for qualifying circumstances.

Employees should also check what other kinds of leave they have available from their specific agencies before requesting EPL. Agencies have been encouraged to offer up to four hours of administrative leave for feds to go get a COVID-19 vaccine, and that leave supersedes the use of EPL.

Transportation Security Agency, Federal Aviation Administration and Veterans Affairs employees covered under different leave policies are under a separate system not administered by OPM.

Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.

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