Expert's View

The original purpose of sick leave was to allow employees to be absent from work either because of physical or mental illness that resulted in their being incapable of performing their duties or because they needed time off to receive medical, dental or optical exams or treatment. Since then, the reasons for which sick leave may be used have expanded.

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For example, during and after giving birth to a child both federally employed parents are entitled to use up to 12 weeks of accrued sick leave for medical appointments, hospitalization, and recovery. And they may use the same amount for purposes related to the adoption of a child.

While it was previously the policy that an employee who has been exposed to a communicable disease can use sick leave when his presence would jeopardize the health of others, under regulations made final on December 6 that authority has been extended to allow an employee to use up to 104 hours of sick leave to provide care for a family member who has been exposed to a communicable disease, even before it is clear if the family member has contracted the disease.

Examples of communicable disease for which sick leave for family care may be granted include cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, small pox, yellow fever; viral hemorrhagic fevers, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and influenza that causes or has the potential to cause a pandemic. However, an agency isn’t required to agree to sick leave being used by an employee who has been exposed or for his or her care of a family member unless guidance has been received from appropriate officials, such the Centers of Disease Control or OPM.

Also authorized by the new regulations, which implement provisions in the defense authorization act for fiscal year 2008, up to 26 weeks of sick leave during a single 12-month period may be substituted for unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act leave when an employee uses it to provide care for a spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin who is a covered service member with a serious injury or illness.

Next time, I’ll fill you in on the situations for which advanced sick leave may be granted.