Fedweek

OPM has said it will ease the “use or lose” restrictions on annual leave if pandemic-related duties prevent employees from taking it but for the meantime, agencies “must work with their employees to ensure that they continue to take any annual leave or other paid time off before it expires.”

Leave policy has become a concern for many employees who have stayed at their regular worksites in front-line type positions, in some cases with little or no chance to take vacation time since the pandemic was declared—and possibly with little prospect of taking it anytime soon.

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Generally, employees may carry forward no more than 30 days (240 hours); they must use annual leave in excess of that amount by the end of a leave year or forfeit it. (Employees stationed overseas may carry over up to 45 days, and SES, senior level, and senior scientific and professional employees may carry over up to 90 days.)

However, an agency may consider restoring leave that the employee was unable to use for reasons including an agency-determined “exigency of the public business”—although only if the employee had scheduled to use the leave before a cutoff date (which this year will be November 21).

In a memo, OPM said it “plans to issue regulations in the near future that will streamline the leave restoration process for agencies that have employees with “use or lose” annual leave who are unable to use this leave because of work-related requirements related to the COVID-19 national emergency. The regulations will deem the COVID-19 national emergency to be an exigency of the public business for the purpose of restoring forfeited annual leave.”

Under the rules, OPM said, agencies will identify eligible employees and inform them, so that neither will be “faced with the administrative burden of scheduling, canceling, and restoring such leave for these employees at a time when all available attention and energy should be focused on the national emergency.”

OPM also reminded agencies of several other leave considerations, including that compensatory time off for travel and compensatory time off in lieu of overtime must be used within 26 pay periods of being earned or is forfeited with no payout for its value. An agency may extend the period for the former category by determining that the employee was prevented from taking it “due to an exigency of the service beyond the employee’s control” but there is no similar provision for extending the latter, it said.

Similarly, it said, there is no authority to extend “disabled veteran leave,” a special form of leave of up to 104 hours that veterans with disability ratings of 30 percent or more can use in their first 12 months of federal employment for certain medical treatments.

It added that for credit hours, which accrue to the credit of employees under a flexible working schedule who work more than their standard number of hours, only 24 hours can be carried to the next pay period but there otherwise is no limit on how long hours can be carried forward.

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