Expert's View terminal leave Image: Schira/

Reg Jones

Here’s another fiction that won’t die. It’s one where employees think they can burn off their annual leave before their retirement date, relieving them of the need to come to work for as long as that leave lasts. Some of them are former members of the military who ended up working for the government; others may have heard it from such a person.

Before they separate or retire, members of the armed services are permitted to take what’s called “terminal leave.” In other words, they can use up their accumulated annual leave. While they are still on the payroll, they have essentially left the service. The advantage of this arrangement is that it allows them to do a little job hunting while still in a pay status.


It’s easy to see why civilian federal employees would like to do this. A long-time employee, such as one eligible for retirement, earns 26 days of annual leave per year. Someone who conserves that leave in the last year of employment, and adds it to the potential 30 days of carry-over allowed from the prior year, could be looking at nearly three months off the job but still on the payroll.

However, in the civilian federal government there is no such thing as terminal leave. You just can’t burn it off. If you want to take annual leave, it has to be scheduled and approved by your supervisor.

Even if your supervisor was willing to let you burn off your leave, a Comptroller General ruling would prohibit that. B-46683, 24 Comp. Gen 511 states that “terminal annual or vacation leave may not be granted immediately prior to separation from the service in any case where it is known in advance that the employee is to be separated from the service.”

While this might seem like an unfair restriction, just remember that you’ll be paid for any unused annual leave you have to your credit when you retire, in an amount equal to what you would have received by remaining employed for that time (which means you’d also benefit from any pay raise occurring in that equivalent period).

This doesn’t mean that you can’t take a few days off before you retire. You can, with the approval of your supervisor. However, for your supervisor to approve it, the amount you request would need to be reasonable.

Even if some leave is granted, most agencies will require that you be at work on the day you retire in order to complete the processing needed to separate you from federal employment.

Evacuation Pay, Weather and Safety Leave COVID-19 Guidance


Don’t Get Burned Trying to Burn Sick Leave

Read more about Sick Leave Credit and Federal Retirement at

FERS Retirement Guide 2022