Federal employees that have more annual leave stored up than they’re allowed to carry over into 2022 have until Nov. 20 to schedule use of that leave, according to guidance issued Thursday by Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja.

That leave must also be taken before the end of the 2021 leave year.

For most employees, that annual leave ceiling will be 35, 60 or 90 days, depending on the type of position they hold and how many years they have been in the federal government.

According to U.S. Code and the calendar of biannual pay periods, the “leave year” for 2021 ends Jan. 1, 2022, and any excess leave “must be scheduled in writing before the start of the third biweekly pay period prior to the end of the leave year.”

Limited cases of administrative error or prolonged employee sickness may enable an employee to have their surplus leave restored.

Employees may have even more leave in their banks this year than normal, due to OPM regulations that temporarily expanded the leave carryover limit for 2021 from 240 hours to 300, and from 360 hours to 450, depending on the employee’s typical limits. That excess leave must too be used by the end of this year or be forfeited.

However, due to the pandemic, some employees have been restricted in their use of annual leave, because their jobs are deemed essential for COVID-19 response.

On Aug. 27, OPM declared the COVID-19 pandemic an emergency for the sake of leave restoration purposes and streamlined the process for affected feds to get their lost annual leave restored.

“I am notifying agencies that I am reaffirming the OPM Director determination under 5 CFR 630.310 that the COVID national emergency is a qualifying exigency of the public business for the purpose of restoring forfeited annual leave,” Ahuja wrote in the Thursday guidance.

“Agencies may utilize the streamlined authority outlined in the interim regulation to restore annual leave to employees whose work the agency determines to be essential for the response to the COVID-19 national emergency.”

Agencies are required to notify employees in writing if they qualify as essential for COVID-19 response.

Once the employee is no longer essential for emergency response — whether by the nature of the employee’s position or the end of the emergency itself — a full-time employee has two years to use any excess leave up to 52 days. Employees get an extra year for every 26 additional days of excess leave.

Part-time essential employees have two years to use any leave equal to or less than 20% of their annual work hours and have an additional year to use any additional leave equal to 10% of their annual hours.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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