LWOP, or leave without pay, may be used instead of paid leave for various purposes with supervisory approval. Extended periods of leave without pay may affect health and retirement benefits, future pay adjustments, and leave accrual, however.

LWOP can be used regardless of whether the employee has sick or annual leave remaining, but those who accumulate more than 80 hours will have their annual and sick leave balances reduced by the amount they would have earned during the pay period when the 80-hour mark was crossed.


Health and life insurance coverage continue, subject to specific cutoff requirements in both programs when an employee has accumulated a year of LWOP status.

Agencies must provide employees entering leave without pay status, or whose pay is insufficient to cover their Federal Employees Health Benefits premium payments, with written notice of their opportunity to continue their FEHB coverage. Employees who want to continue their enrollment must sign a form agreeing to pay their premiums directly to their agency on a current basis, or to incur a debt to be withheld from their future salary.

For retirement benefits, the years of service calculation is not affected until an employee spends six months in LWOP status in a calendar year.

LWOP equates to temporary nonpay status

LWOP is a temporary nonpay status and absence from duty that, in most cases, is granted at the employee’s request. In most instances, granting LWOP is a matter of supervisory discretion and may be limited by agency internal policy.


Employees, however, have an entitlement to LWOP under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Also, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (Public Law 103-353) provides employees with an entitlement to LWOP when employment with an employer is interrupted by a period of service in the uniformed service.

Family purposes—A 1997 presidential memo to agencies ordered them to grant up to 24 hours of leave without pay each year for the following purposes:

  • To allow employees to participate in school activities directly related to the educational advancement of a child. This would include parent-teacher conferences or meetings with child care providers, interviewing for a new school or child care facility, or participating in volunteer activities supporting the child’s educational advancement. In this memorandum, “school” refers to an elementary school, secondary school, Head Start program, or a child care facility.
  • To allow parents to accompany children to routine medical or dental appointments, such as annual checkups or vaccinations. Agencies should assure that employees are able to use up to 24 hours of leave without pay each year for these purposes in cases when no additional sick leave is available to employees.
  • To allow employees to accompany an elderly relative to routine medical or dental appointments or other professional services related to the care of the elderly relative, such as making arrangements for housing, meals, phones, banking services, and other similar activities.

Employees who do not have children may benefit from this policy by choosing to participate in school activities directly related to the educational advancement of a child. These activities may include attending school board meetings; tutoring students; and participating in school-sponsored activities, such as sports and recreation programs, field trips, class plays, “career day,” and so on.


This time may be used to meet the needs of an employee’s same-sex domestic partner or the same-sex domestic partner’s children.