Fedweek

fedweek.com: paid time off proposal lacking detail, no fix for parental leave yet

Several changes in federal workplace policies will kick in as of the start of the new fiscal year next Thursday, most notably that employees of most agencies will be entitled to a new paid parental leave benefit.

That benefit will allow employees to substitute paid leave for part or all of the 12 weeks of unpaid leave available under the Family and Medical Leave Act within 12 months of the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child, effective with such events occurring October 1 or after.

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The authority however excludes Postal Service as well as several categories of non-postal federal employees excluded because of what is called an oversight when the authority was enacted quickly late last year. Those include “Title 38” medical personnel, FAA employees, TSA employees other than screeners (who were specifically included in the authority), and several small subcategories.

A House-passed defense budget bill (HR-6395) would extend eligibility to all of those groups except for postal employees but that bill has yet to emerge from a conference with the Senate, which has no similar language in its bill. The VA earlier had said that it would extend the benefit to its Title 38 personnel in any case, although with only a week left, there still has been no public announcement.

Among the key provisions of the authority, as outlined in interim rules OPM issued in August, are that: the entitlement will apply only to categories of employees eligible under the FMLA, which requires one year of total federal service before eligibility and excludes temporary and intermittent employees; although the FMLA provides for leave for both parental and various other purposes, the paid leave will apply only for parental purposes as that law defines them; and while the 12-month FMLA leave period can start before a birth, adoption or foster placement, the paid leave will be available only in the 12-month period afterward.

Any amount of unpaid FMLA leave taken for either parental or other purposes will reduce the amount available as paid parental leave within the pertinent period. However, employees will remain free to substitute other forms of paid leave—such as annual leave or, in some circumstances, sick leave—for unpaid FMLA leave.

Also effective October 1 will be new per diem rates for federal employees on official travel, with the primary change to be increases in the lodging reimbursement for many of the destinations with their own rates. The standard lodging rate for locations without specific rates will remain $96, however, and the standard “meals and incidental expenses” portion remaining $55. For locations with specific lodging rates, the M&IE portion will continue to range from $56 to $76 per day.

In addition, federal employees newly hired starting October 1 will have 5 percent of salary, rather than 3 percent, invested in the TSP by default, a change designed to have them capture the maximum possible government contribution. As is current policy, they could change that investment rate at any time. The change will not affect current employees except if they have a break in service and return to federal employment under certain conditions.

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