A change in policy at the U.S. Department of Justice will permit agency employees to request an alternative to official travel when they anticipate needing medical procedures that won’t be available at a temporary duty station.

An email obtained by Federal Times and sent to all employees by Assistant Attorney General for Administration Jolene Ann Lauria says workers may end an official trip early or forgo it altogether for the purpose of accessing medical treatments that may not be accessible while traveling.

“The policy was prompted by recent questions from employees about standards and policies for requesting alternatives to [temporary duty] travel,” a spokesperson for the department said in an email.

An employee group that has long advocated for such a change has said this flexibility is particularly helpful for employees traveling to states that have passed laws limiting abortions and other reproductive health care.

“The government should allow federal employees to opt out of work-related travel or assignments to states that ban medically necessary miscarriage management and abortion care, if they are or may become pregnant,” wrote the DOJ Gender Equality Network in a 2022 letter to the administration.

The group declined to offer comment on the policy change, which took effect in February.

Employees do not have to disclose the nature of the request or the type of health care they’re seeking, according to the policy, which addresses health needs broadly and does not mention any specific kind of treatment.

With access to gender-affirming or reproductive care becoming increasingly location-dependent, DOJ Gen said on its website this fits within a range of requests it has made to the administration to protect abortion access since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

“Being in a state that bans or heavily restricts abortion can jeopardize federal employees’ health and even lives, especially now that doctors in some states must make risky judgment calls to decide whether a patient is sick enough to need abortion-related care,” the group of 1,700 employees said in a 2023 letter.

A total of 14 states have a total abortion ban, with others instituting partial bans, according to the Fuller Project.

While most states have left the issue of gender-affirming care for adults untouched, Oklahoma, Texas and South Carolina have floated bills to limit insurance coverage or provision of such care even for those over 18. Questions of fetal personhood in some states have also put the spotlight on in vitro fertilization and other reproductive treatments that could see increased efforts to regulate it, Federal Times previously reported.

As the vast majority of federal workers work outside of Washington, D.C., employees are left to navigate a motley of overlapping or contradictory health care laws that vary from state to state.

Regardless of the basis for a request, the policy said it’s sufficient for employees to “simply” list the impacted travel dates and state the need, anticipated or current, to obtain medical care that may not be available where they’re going.

“Supervisors are expected to respect employee privacy ... and may not inquire into or consider the employee’s specific health or other personal issues for which the request is made in assessing the request,” per the policy.

The policy also does not require dipping into paid or sick leave, though the Biden administration has offered that option for any feds who need to travel to obtain reproductive health care.

The Office of Personnel Management made it clear that’s for all agencies to take advantage of, though some departments have added their own guidance on top.

According to the General Services Administration, which maintains federal travel policy, an employee interrupting duty travel “because of an incapacitating illness or injury” and taking leave to travel to an alternate location for treatment may be reimbursed for travel costs.

Several agencies Federal Times queried about their TDY policies referred back to OPM’s guidance.

“For domestic employees, applicable policy from [OPM] regarding sick leave remains in place,” said a State Department spokesperson. “Specifically, the policy makes clear that federal employees can use sick leave to travel out of state for medical care.”

Service members, too, can take three weeks off to travel for various types of reproductive care, Military Times previously reported.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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