Expert's View

sick leave federal Image: Burlingham/

Along with annual leave, sick leave is a very valuable benefit for federal employees, providing paid, job-protected time off for personal or family medical-related purposes. Further, it can be used for a variety of other purposes, as we’ll examine next week. For now, though, let’s look at the general rules of sick leave and its using it for sickness.

Full-time employees earn four hours of sick leave per pay period—looked at other ways, that’s two hours a week, or 13 days a year. Amounts are prorated for part-time employees according to their hours of work.


Also, within the first 12 months of employment, newly hired veterans with a disability rating of 30 percent or more have 104 hours of special sick leave available from the date of hiring for medical treatment related to that disability. That leave does not carry over beyond that time.

Note: Employees returning to federal employment after a break in service will have any unused sick leave to their credit at separation recredited to them, except that the Postal Service does not recredit leave if the break was more than three years.

Unlike annual leave, which is subject to carry-over limits as we described last week, there is no limit on how much sick leave you can accumulate. Many long-time employees have many months’ worth, or even a year or more, to their credit—which is very valuable at retirement, as we’ll see later in this series.

But sick leave is there for you to use, for reasons such as when you: receive medical, dental, or optical examination or treatment; are incapacitated by physical or mental illness, injury, pregnancy, or childbirth; would, because of exposure to a communicable disease, jeopardize the health of others by your presence on the job; or must be absent from work for adoption-related activities.

You must request sick leave within any time limits your agency requires. An agency may require you to request advance approval for sick leave for your own or a family member’s medical, dental, or optical examination or treatment. For absences of excess of three days, or for a lesser period at its discretion, an agency may require a medical certificate or other administratively acceptable evidence.

Sick leave normally can be used only as it accrues, although up to 30 days of may be advanced.

Family Members’ Serious Health Conditions


If you have a family member with a serious health condition, you can use up to 12 weeks of your sick leave each year to care for him or her. This applies not just to a spouse and children but also parents, siblings and certain others; a full list is in a fact sheet at

The term “serious health condition” includes cancer, heart attacks, strokes, severe injuries, Alzheimer’s, pregnancy and childbirth. On the other hand, it doesn’t cover conditions for which treatment and recovery are relatively short—for example, a common cold, earache, upset stomach, routine dental or orthodontic problems or headaches (with the exception of migraines).

Care is defined as providing psychological comfort and/or physical care, including spending time with the family member while being examined in a doctor’s office or during a hospital stay. Your agency may require you to provide a written statement from a health care provider certifying that your family member requires such care and that he or she would either benefit from your care or that you are needed to provide that care for a specific period of time.

If you don’t have enough accrued sick leave, you can ask your agency to advance you a maximum of 30 days of sick leave for these purposes. Alternatively, you could take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Serious Communicable Diseases

If you have a family member who has been exposed to pandemic flu or another communicable disease – even if the family member hasn’t been diagnosed as having contracted it – you may use up to 13 days of your sick leave to care for him or her. However, to qualify for that benefit, your health care provider would have to verify that 1) your family member’s presence in the community would jeopardize the health of others and 2) you would need to actively provide care for your family member.

If it’s determined that your family member has, in fact, contracted the disease, you’d be entitled to use up to 12 weeks of sick leave to care for him or her mentioned above.


School Closures Because of an Emergency Health Situation

If schools are closed because of an emergency health situation, such as pandemic flu or other serious communicable disease, you may use up to 13 days of your sick leave if your child has been exposed to the disease and it has been determined that the child’s presence in the community would jeopardize the health of others.

Further, if your child contracts the disease, you can use up to 13 days of your sick leave to care for him or her. If your child’s illness rises to the level of a serious health condition, you can take up to 12 weeks of sick leave as mentioned above. Additionally, you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

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