Expert's View

Recent articles have covered two kinds of paid leave you earn while an employee: annual leave and sick leave. Let’s take a look at another leave option that is available to employees: leave without pay. In this article, I’ll explain the circumstances under which you can take LWOP and what effect it will have on your benefits.

Mandatory LWOP
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, you are entitled to up to a maximum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to take care of certain family and medical needs. Also, if you are called to active duty, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act entitles you to take LWOP. And, if you are a disabled veteran, Executive Order 5396 entitles you to take LWOP for needed medical treatment.


Optional LWOP
If you want to take advantage of an educational or training opportunity that your agency is unable to pay for, it might honor your request for LWOP. They may also agree to letting you go on LWOP if you are waiting for a decision on either worker’s compensation or disability retirement. While it would usually only grant your request if you have used up your annual or sick leave, it can also do it if you still have hours in your leave account. It’s their decision to make.

Impact on Creditable Service
If you are a career employee, the first 30 calendar days of each non-pay period is considered creditable service. If you are a probationary employee, you get credit only for 22 workdays.

Time spent in a non-pay status is considered to be creditable service for meeting time-in-grade requirements for promotion; however, the crediting rules are different for within-grade increases. For GS employees, only two work weeks in a non-pay status is creditable toward the waiting period for steps 2, 3 and 4; four work weeks for advancement to steps 5, 6 and 7; and six work weeks to steps 8, 9 and 10. For wage system employees, it’s one work week for advancement to step 2, 3 work weeks to step 3, and four work weeks to steps 4 and 5.

See also, Federal Employee Leave Without Pay at

As a rule, if you take no more than six months of LWOP in any calendar year, you’ll get credit for that time for both retirement and reduction-in-force retention purposes. And you won’t have to make a deposit to the retirement fund to get that credit. On the other hand, any period of LWOP that exceeds six months in a calendar year isn’t creditable, and you can’t make a deposit to get credit for it.

The rules are different if you are called to active duty. As a result, all the time you are away from your job would be creditable service but only if you make a deposit to the retirement fund for that time. The deposit equals a percentage of your basic military pay, not including allowances or differentials. (If LWOP-US – meaning interrupted civilian service time – the amount of the deposit is the lesser of a percentage of their basic military pay or what they would have paid into the retirement system had they remained working minus retirement contributions already paid if they were in pay status for some of their activation period.  They usually take AL or military leave so some of their time is in pay status.

Finally, if you are on LWOP either because you are on active duty and the deposit is satisfied, or on workers’ compensation, that period of time will be treated as if you didn’t have any break in your employment. In other words, your employment record will be seamless.