Fedweek

Pay, Benefits Issues Left for Future Virus Relief Bill

President Biden has signed into law a bill creating a special – albeit short term – fund to provide additional paid leave to federal employees for certain pandemic-related reasons.

Biden’s action quickly followed House approval of changes made earlier by the Senate to the host bill, HR-1319 (the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021). Guidance to agencies on how to use the fund is likely in the time just ahead.

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Among many other provisions, the stimulus bill would create a $570 million “Emergency Federal Employee Leave Fund” from which agencies could draw to fund up to 600 hours of additional leave for employees who have needs related to personal or family health situations, school closings or unavailability of regular day care services related to the pandemic.

Eligibility would begin with enactment of the bill and would not be retroactive; it further would end on September 30, raising the prospects of an extension in a later budget measure.

The measure no longer explicitly requires that employees must have exhausted their other leave before being eligible, as was originally proposed; presumably, agencies still would take that into account, though.

Other new provisions cap the value at $2,800 biweekly and specify that time during which employees were receiving the benefit would not count as service credit in a later retirement benefit calculation.

The bill also would put into law a policy the Labor Department has followed of deeming Coronavirus infections of employees who have been working in certain front-line positions as work-related for purposes of FECA injury compensation benefits.

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