If you’ve ever wondered what leave without pay is, when it can be granted, and how it affects federal benefits, you’ve come to the right place. Simply stated, LWOP is an approved period of absence from work that you requested and for which you aren’t paid. It can be granted even if you still have annual or sick leave to your credit.

Uses of LWOP

As a rule, granting LWOP is a matter of supervisory discretion. However, there are situations where it must be granted. For example:

* to care for certain family and/or medical needs under the Family and Medical Leave Act;

* when your employment is interrupted by a call to duty in the armed services; or

* for medical treatment if you are a disabled veteran.

And there are other situations where the granting of LWOP is encouraged. For example:

* to allow you to enroll in an educational or training course, which would be of benefit to the agency;

* to keep you on the rolls while your disability retirement application is processed; or

* when your annual and sick leave has run out and your need for LWOP is clear.

Effect on Benefits

While there are any number of rules governing the effect on benefits of being on LWOP, I’ll focus on the ones that affect the largest number of employees:

Retirement: a total of six months in any calendar year is considered to be creditable service; and that coverage continues at no cost to you.

Health benefits: coverage continues for up to 365 days, with the government continuing to pay its portion of the premiums. You can either pay your portion on a current basis or when you return to pay status.

Life insurance: continues for up to one year without any cost to you.

Time-in-grade: time spent on LWOP is considered creditable service for meeting the time-in-grade requirements for promotion.

Within-grade-increases: if you are a GS employee, a total of two weeks on LWOP is creditable for advancement to steps 2,3, and 4; four weeks to steps 5,6, and 7; and 6 weeks to steps 8, 9, and 10. If you are a wage employee, it’s one week of LWOP for advancement to step 2, three workweeks to step 3, and four weeks to steps 4 and 5.

Reduction-in-force: a total of six months on LWOP in a calendar year is considered creditable service.