Fedweek

As it finished work for the year Congress finalized the creation of one new paid leave benefit for federal employees while setting aside at least temporarily a plan to create another.

The Senate last week joined the House in passing the annual DoD authorization bill, whose main government-wide provision for federal employees is to create a new two-week entitlement for parental bereavement leave on the death of a son or daughter. The legislative language is sparse, however, and likely will need to be filled in through a rule-making process that will have to address specific terms of eligibility and the effective date—including potential retroactivity to the date of enactment.

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Other government-wide policies in that bill include extending special allowances for employees working in areas of active military operations; ordering a study of allowances for employees working in remote areas; and ordering new or revised occupational series in a number of high-demand IT fields with a goal of addressing the government’s difficulties in recruiting and retaining employees in them.

The bill further contains several provisions specific to DoD employees, including ending effective in 2023 a requirement for a two-year probationary period for newly hired employees there, which is double the standard policy; and opening the way for ending a policy there that elevates performance ratings above length of service in RIF retention.

Meanwhile, the Senate set aside a bill that had been the last order of business preventing Congress from taking its annual holiday season recess, after completing other major priorities including the defense bill and raising the debt ceiling limit by enough to carry that issue past next year’s elections.

The “Build Back Better” measure includes language to provide—although not until 2024—up to about $800 a week for up to four weeks within a 12-month period for all Family and Medical Leave Act-covered purposes. Postal employees would become eligible for the four weeks of partial pay for all FMLA-covered purposes while other federal employees—who already are eligible to substitute paid leave for parental purposes for the full 12 weeks of unpaid leave under that law—would benefit from the partial pay for purposes other than parental reasons.

Democratic leaders put off a vote on the parent bill due to objections by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., whose vote is needed to pass it through the Senate even under the special rules being used to allow passage with only Democratic votes. The leaders have said they will call a vote on the bill in January in any event.

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