On January 8, those of you who had annual leave hours that exceeded the maximum allowed by law (in most cases, 240) saw those hours disappear in a puff of smoke. The same thing didn’t happen to your hours of sick leave. And that’s a very good thing.

Every full-time federal employee earns the same amount of sick leave – 4 hours every two weeks, 104 hours per year. Part-time employees earn proportionately less. You can accumulate that leave without limit and use it not only when you are sick or have a medical appointment, but for such things as general family care or bereavement, or for the adoption of a child. Further, your agency, at its discretion, can advance you up to 30 days of sick leave for those purposes.

Just as is true of annual leave, the use of sick leave must be approved by your supervisor and can be scheduled in advance—in the case of sick leave, this might arise from a known absence due to pregnancy/childbirth or a scheduled operation, for example.

However, unlike annual leave, sick leave also is often approved after the fact, for example when you call in sick after coming down with a cold or flu. If you are on that kind of sick leave for three days or more, your supervisor can require you to provide proof of your illness, most commonly a note from your doctor. Although the rules on using sick leave are flexible, misuse can result in disciplinary action or even being fired.

While most employees use up a lot of sick leave, there are a few who end a 30 year career with over 3,000 hours in the bank. There’s a real financial incentive to do that. At retirement, those hours will be added to your actual years of service, resulting in a larger annuity. For example, if you are a CSRS employee who retired with a whole year’s worth of sick leave (2,087 hours), your annuity would be increased by roughly 2 percent, with each additional month worth about one-sixth of 1 percent.

If you are a FERS employee, it would be increased by 1 percent per year, with each additional month worth one-twelfth of 1 percent. (The annual percentage would be increased to 1.1 if you retired at age 62 with at least 20 years of service, with each month worth one-twelfth of that.)

Clearly, sick leave is a valuable benefit. Use it wisely and only for legitimate reasons.