Expert's View

In general, if you retire before the end of a leave year, you’ll be given a lump-sum payment for all the annual leave you have to your credit when you retire. Image: Alena Ivochkina/

I probably don’t have to tell you that annual leave is one of the best benefits of federal employment. But I will, because it is. And, within reasonable limits, you can use that leave for whatever you want to do and whenever you want to do it. On top of that, you can cash in unused amounts when you retire or otherwise separate from federal service.

Now that a new leave year has begun, it’s time for you to restart your annual leave accumulation clock and for me to talk about leave topics on which you should focus: Accrual, carryover and cashing in.


The basic rules on leave accrual are simple, and they’re the same for all full-time General Schedule, Wage System, and Postal Service employees, regardless of the retirement system you are in. The amount you earn depends on your years of federal service. If you have fewer than three years of service, you earn four hours per biweekly pay period (13 days a year). If you have more than three but fewer than 15 years of service, you earn six hours per pay period (20 days per year). Once you reach 15 years of service, you earn 8 hours per pay period (26 days a year).

Senior Executive Service members, senior level and senior scientific and technical employees earn 8 hours of annual leave per pay period (26 days a year) regardless of the number of years of service they have to their credit.

If you are a part-time GS, Wage or PS employee, the amount of leave you’ll earn is based on your years of service and the time you are in a pay status.


The amount of annual leave you can carry over from one leave year to the next depends on your employment category. GS and Wage employees can carry over a maximum of 240 hours (30 days). Any leave above that level is called “use of lose” because if you don’t use it before the leave year ends, you’ll lose it. If you are employed overseas, you can carry over 560 hours (45 days).

If you are a Postal Service employee in a bargaining unit you can carry over 440 hours (55 days). Postal Service Executive and Administrative Schedule employees may carry over a total of 560 hours (70 days).

If you are in the Senior Executive Service, you have a 720 hour limit (90 days) unless you had more than that amount on October 13, 1994 when the limit was created. That number became your personal limit.

Cashing In

In general, if you retire before the end of a leave year, you’ll be given a lump-sum payment for all the annual leave you have to your credit when you retire. The amount you’ll receive will be based on the hourly rate of basic pay you would have earned had you stayed on the job until your leave ran out.

It’s a little different for Postal Service bargaining unit employees. You can be paid for any leave you carried over from the previous year and any additional leave you earned during the year you retire, not to exceed the carryover limit for your bargaining unit.

Well, there you have it. A primer on annual leave. I hope it not only reminded or informed you of that benefit, but it also got you thinking about how to use it wisely during the rest of the year.

Former head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management, and longtime FEDweek contributor, Reg Jones is known throughout the federal workforce community as an authority on pay and benefits.

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