Expert's View

Sick leave may be used to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Image: Jarretera/Shutterstock.com

Two of the most important benefits provided to federal employees are annual leave and sick leave. And they are among the ones that generate the most frequent questions. Two weeks ago, I went over the basic rules governing the granting and use of annual leave. In this article and the one next week, I’ll do the same with sick leave.

Earning Leave

Unlike annual leave, sick leave is earned at a constant rate. For all full-time employees, that’s four hours for each biweekly pay period. For part-time employees, it’s 1 hour for every 20 hours in a pay status. That’s true no matter how long you work for the federal government.

Accumulating Leave

Unlike annual leave, there are no limits on the amount of sick leave you may accumulate. In fact, a healthy employee who never took an hour of sick leave would accumulate 3,120 hours in a 30-year career. Accumulation of sick leave early in a career is especially important because the federal government has no short-term disability program.

Using Leave

Sick leave may be used for a wide variety of purposes. First and foremost is for your own medical needs. These include being incapacitated for the performance of your duties because of physical or mental illness, injury, pregnancy or childbirth. If your need for sick leave exceeds three days, your agency may require you to provide a medical certificate or other acceptable evidence that you are, in fact, ill. In some cases, your agency may require such evidence for absence of fewer than three days.

Second, sick leave also may be used for family care or bereavement purposes. In most cases you may use up to 104 hours of sick leave to provide care for a family member who is either incapacitated or who needs medical, dental or optical examination or treatment. Similarly, it may be used if a family member dies or to attend the funeral. However, there are limits on using leave in this manner. While you have a right to use 40 hours for these purposes in each leave year, you may only use the additional 64 hours if you maintain a balance of 80 hours of sick leave in your account. (The number of hours available to part-time employees is proportionately less.)

Third, sick leave may be used to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Most employees may use up to 12 workweeks of sick leave each year for this purpose. However, if you previously used any portion of the 104 hours of sick leave mentioned above for general family care and bereavement purposes, that amount would have to be subtracted from the 12-week entitlement. Likewise, if you use the 12 workweeks of sick leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition, you could not use the 104 hours in the same leave year for general family care and bereavement purposes.

Note: If you have exhausted all your sick and annual leave, the Leave Transfer Program permits employees to donate annual leave directly to you. There is no limit on the amount that you may receive. However, there are some restrictions on both the donor and the recipient. For example, any unused donated annual leave must be returned to the leave donor(s) when the medical emergency ends.

Next week, I’ll fill you in on advanced sick leave, recrediting sick leave, and the extra benefit you get from sick leave when you retire.


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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