Fedweek

OPM: Agency officials are not charged with determining whether an employee’s belief is the correct interpretation of a religious creed.

New rules on excusing employees from work for religious reasons and having them square up the hours by working longer at another time will benefit both employees and agencies, according to an OPM memo released along with rules.

“These regulations support the President’s Management Agenda by clarifying the rules governing religious compensatory time off that in turn help agencies to become careful stewards of taxpayer dollars . . . These regulations also serve to highlight an important flexibility that can be used to help agencies recruit and retain employees that want to attend religious observances,” it says.

For employees, the rules in effect create a presumption that requests to substitute time will be granted, saying that they should be approved unless they would “interfere with the efficient accomplishment of an agency’s mission”—which the agency would have to document in writing.

“Agency officials are not charged with determining whether an employee’s belief is the correct interpretation of a religious creed. It is sufficient that the employee’s sincerely held personal religious beliefs cause the employee to feel an obligation that he or she should be absent from work for a religious purpose,” the memo adds.

The rules meanwhile impose several obligations on employees. They set a limit—which didn’t exist under prior policy—of when an employee must make up the time: within 13 pay periods before to 13 after the absence. (The rules as originally proposed would have allowed for 26 pay periods, a full year, on either end.) If an employee works additional time in expectation of taking time off for religious reasons but doesn’t take that time, it cannot be converted into another form of paid time off.

If an employee leaves the agency before making up time already taken off, the agency can reduce the employee’s annual leave, credit hours, compensatory time off in lieu of regular overtime pay, compensatory time off for travel, or time-off awards; an agency also could charge the employee leave without pay, “which would result in an indebtedness subject to the agency’s internal debt collection procedures.”

Read more on Comp Time Off for Federal Employees at ask.FEDweek.com