Annual leave is designed to give you vacation periods for rest and relaxation and to provide time off for your personal business or family needs. Your annual leave must be scheduled and approved in advance.


Most federal employees earn 13 days of annual leave each leave year if they have less than three years of service, 20 days if they have three years but less than 15 years of service, and 26 days if they have 15 years or more of service. For part-time employees, the accumulation rates by periods of service are one hour for each 20 in pay status, one hour for each 13 and one hour for each 10, respectively.

Higher accrual rate for certain positions

Under 5 U.S.C. 6303(f), as amended by Public Law 108-441, members of the Senior Executive Service (SES), and employees in senior level (SL) or senior scientific or technical (ST) positions accrue annual leave at the rate of eight hours per biweekly pay period (the maximum 26 days a year), regardless of their years of service. This provision also applies to the Senior Foreign Service, Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service, Senior Cryptologic Executive Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation Senior Executive Service, Drug Enforcement Administration Senior Executive Service, Department of Defense highly qualified experts, paid under 5 U.S.C. 9303(b), Defense Intelligence senior level employees paid under 10 U.S.C. 1602, and to certain pay systems deemed to be equivalent to senior executive or senior level and senior technical systems as defined in Compensation Policy Memorandum 2005-07. Implementing rules are at 5 CFR 630.301(a).

At an agency’s request, OPM may authorize the higher accrual rate for other categories of employees at equivalent levels, so long as certain criteria are met, including coverage under a performance evaluation system meeting certain standards. If OPM approves an agency’s request, the higher annual leave accrual rate is extended to all employees within the category for which the request was made, effective at the beginning of the pay period during which the request is approved. An employee who moves from a covered pay system to a noncovered pay system is no longer entitled to the higher annual leave accrual rate, and the employee’s annual leave accrual rate is redetermined based on the employee’s years of creditable service. Any annual leave accumulated by the employee under the covered position remains to the employee’s credit.

Creditable civilian service for leave

All civilian service that is potentially creditable for federal retirement benefits is creditable for annual leave accrual. Potentially creditable service includes service that could be credited if the employee made deposits to the retirement fund. Such deposits are not required before the employee gets credit for annual leave accrual purposes.

Creditable military service for leave

For non-retired members, full credit for uniformed service performed under honorable conditions is given for annual leave accrual purposes. For military retirees, annual leave accrual credit is given only for:

  • actual service during a war declared by Congress or while participating in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge is authorized; or
  • active duty when retirement was based on a disability received as a direct result of armed conflict or caused by an instrumentality of war and incurred in the line of duty during a period of war, including World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam era, the Persian Gulf War, or the period beginning on the date of any future declaration of war by the Congress and ending on the date prescribed by Presidential proclamation or concurrent resolution of the Congress.

Employees hired while on “terminal leave” pending retirement from the uniformed service are treated as retirees for annual leave accrual during the period before they start work.

Other creditable service

Under 5 U.S.C. 6303(e), a newly hired (or rehired following a break in service of at least 90 calendar days) employee’s prior non-federal work experience may be creditable in determining the amount of annual leave the employee will earn each biweekly pay period. The agency must determine that: the skills and experience the employee possesses are essential to the new position and were acquired through performance in a non-federal position having duties that directly relate to the position to which he or she is being hired; and the use of the authority is necessary to achieve an important agency mission or performance goal.

Leave accrual credit also can be granted under similar conditions to an employee who is a retired member of a uniformed service, for any period of active military service that otherwise would not be creditable for leave accrual during which he or she performed duties directly related to the position to which he or she is being hired. The determination must be made before the employee begins working.

If an employee separates from federal service or transfers to another agency prior to completing one full year of continuous service with the hiring agency, he or she is not entitled to retain service credit for non-federal or active duty work experience, although any annual leave accumulated by the employee remains to the employee’s credit. The agency must transfer the annual leave balance to the new employing agency if the employee is transferring to a position to which annual leave may be transferred, or provide a lump-sum payment for unused annual leave if the employee is separating from federal service or moving to a new position to which annual leave cannot be transferred.

Annual Leave to Establish Retirement Eligibility

An employee who is being involuntarily separated from an agency due to reduction-in-force or transfer of function, or because of his or her decision to decline relocation (including transfer of function), may elect to use annual leave and remain on the agency’s rolls after the date the employee otherwise would have been separated in order to establish initial eligibility for immediate retirement, including discontinued service or voluntary early retirement. The same option is also available to acquire eligibility to continue health benefits into retirement.

Advance Leave

Employees generally do not have an entitlement to advance annual leave; supervisors may grant such leave consistent with agency policy, up to the amount of annual leave an employee would accrue in the remainder of the leave year. A Presidential memo of January 15, 2015, strongly encouraged granting advanced annual leave when an employee makes a request for foster care placement in the employee’s home or for bonding with a healthy newborn or newly adopted child, regardless of the person’s current leave balance. Advanced leave also is available for certain situations related to elder care.

See the Handbook on Leave and Workplace Flexibilities for Childbirth, Adoption and Foster Care and the Handbook on Workplace Flexibilities and Work-Life Programs for Elder Care under the Fact Sheets tab at

In most cases, an employee who is indebted for advance annual leave separates from federal service is required to refund the amount.

Call to Military Duty

When called to active military duty, employees may use their accumulated annual leave, receive a lump-sum payment for it, or have it remain to their credit for use upon their return to civilian duty.

If using the leave, employees receive both their full civilian and military pay for those days. During that period they are in pay status, meaning they will continue to accrue annual and sick leave in that time.

Generally, a lump-sum payment will equal the pay the employee would have received had he or she remained employed until expiration of the period covered by the annual leave. If an employee’s military service ends before the number of days the lump-sum payment covers, the employee must refund to the agency the difference.

Leave saved for use on return to civilian employment is not subject to the employee’s “use or lose” ceiling.

Restoration of Leave

Any accrued annual leave in excess of the maximum allowed by law will be forfeited at the end of a leave year. However, if the leave was scheduled before the start of the third biweekly pay period prior to the end of the leave year, agencies may restore such leave if the leave was forfeited because of an administrative error, exigency of the public business, or sickness of the employee. An agency must restore the annual leave in a separate leave account.

The employing agency determines what constitutes an administrative error and that an exigency is of major importance and that excess annual leave cannot be used. Under a policy that took effect in 2020, employees who would forfeit annual leave because of work demands related to a national emergency have their excess annual leave deemed to have been scheduled in advance of the deadline.

The agency also determines if the annual leave was forfeited because of a period of absence due to an employee’s sickness or injury that occurred late in the leave year or was of such duration that the excess annual leave could not be rescheduled for use before the end of the leave year.

An agency may consider for restoration annual leave that was forfeited due to an exigency of the public business or sickness of the employee only if the annual leave was scheduled in writing before the start of the third biweekly pay period prior to the end of the leave year.

Note: Rules at 5 CFR 630 subpart C provide that employees who would forfeit annual leave because of exceptional needs for their agencies to have them work during a national emergency will have their excess annual leave deemed to have been scheduled in advance of the deadline noted above. The rules were issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic but also apply in any national emergency for which OPM determines there is such a need. For employees with large amounts of excess leave, the rules also provide for extending the time frame for using restored leave.

Under Section 6304(d) of Title 5, U.S. Code, any leave lost by an “emergency essential” employee serving in a combat zone by reason of that service is restored to the employee. For this purpose, an emergency essential employee is one who, temporary or permanent, provides immediate and continuing support for combat operations or who supports maintenance and repair of combat essential systems of the Armed Forces.

An employee must schedule and use restored annual leave not later than the end of the leave year ending two years after:

  • the date of restoration of the annual leave forfeited because of administrative error;
  • the date fixed by the head of the agency or designee as the date of termination of the exigency of the public business; or
  • the date the employee is determined to be recovered from illness or injury and able to return to duty.

Lump-Sum Payments

An employee will receive a lump-sum payment for any unused annual leave when he or she separates from federal service or enters on active duty in the Armed Forces and elects to receive a lump-sum payment. Generally, a lump-sum payment will equal the pay the employee would have received had he or she remained employed until expiration of the period covered by the annual leave.

An agency calculates a lump-sum payment by multiplying the number of hours of accumulated and accrued annual leave by the employee’s applicable hourly rate of pay for that period (including any raises that would have been paid in that time), plus other types of pay the employee would have received while on annual leave, excluding any allowances that are paid for the sole purpose of retaining a federal employee in government service (for example, retention allowances and physicians comparability allowances).