Fedweek

The House is moving toward creating a new central fund that would provide additional paid leave time for federal employees with personal or family medical or care issues related to the pandemic that prevent them from working, but who have no sick leave remaining.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee approved that proposal Friday as part of the process of creating a new pandemic relief bill; other committees approved proposals falling under their jurisdictions, as well, and they will be combined into one measure that could reach floor voting as soon as the week of February 22.

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While most of the spending under that committee’s control under the bill being drafted relates to funding for lower levels of government for pandemic relief efforts, the measure also includes $570 million for an “emergency federal employees leave fund” which all agencies could tap if they cannot work because the employee (in the bill’s words):

* “is subject to federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID–19; has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID–19; is caring for an individual who is subject to such an order or has been so advised; is experiencing symptoms of COVID–19 and seeking a medical diagnosis;

* “is caring for a son or daughter of such employee if the school or place of care of the son or daughter has been closed, if the school of such son or daughter requires or makes optional a virtual learning instruction model or requires or makes optional a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning instruction models, or the child care provider of such son or daughter is unavailable, due to COVID–19 precautions;

* “is experiencing any other substantially similar condition; is caring for a family member with a mental or physical disability or who is 65years of age or older and incapable of self-care, without regard to whether another individual other than the employee is available to care for such family member, if the place of care for such family member is closed or the direct care provider is unavailable due to COVID–19; or is obtaining immunization related to COVID–19 or to recover from any injury, disability, illness, or condition related to such immunization.”

To be eligible, employees first would have had to use any sick leave available to them for those purposes. Employees who qualify would be eligible for up to 600 hours of leave, the equivalent of 15 40-hour workweeks.

The conditions are largely the same as those under a special form of sick leave was created by one of the pandemic relief laws enacted early last year except for the reasons related to getting a vaccine, which was not available at the time, and the requirement to use other sick leave first. That law provided for less than full salary, though, and apparently was little used in the federal workplace. That law is now expired and the fund created by the bill would be available only for the balance of the current fiscal year, ending September 30, unless it would later be extended.

The measure does not specify a process for requesting such leave, leaving that to later guidance, presumably from OPM.

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The bill meanwhile does not contain other proposals that Congress considered but ultimately did not pass last year, such as mandates for hazardous duty pay in certain situations or standards that must be met before employees may be recalled from telework.

However, it would put into law a policy already being followed by the FECA program of creating a presumption that an infection is deemed to be work-related for federal employees who have worked in certain front-line positions since the outset of the pandemic.

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