Fedweek

OPM has issued interim rules on protecting federal employees from losing annual leave under “use or lose” leave rules if they are unable to take leave for reasons related to the pandemic, adding that the same policies also will apply to future national emergencies.

Generally, federal 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. The current leave year ends January 2, 2021. An agency may restore leave that the employee was unable to use for reasons including an agency-determined “exigency of the public business”—but only if the employee had scheduled to use the leave before a cutoff date, which this year will be November 21.

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That restriction has caused growing concern as this year has progressed for employees who have been in frontline positions or otherwise performing duties that have made it difficult if not impossible for them to work down leave balances to below the carryover limit.

“Because of the unprecedented outbreak and spread of this virus and the efforts toward response and recovery, many federal agencies and employees have been, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, engaged in work vital to our nation and to the pandemic response. Under current rules, some of these employees will be unable to use sufficient annual leave to avoid exceeding the limit on annual leave that may be carried over into the next year,” OPM said in a Federal Register notice Monday.

The regulations “provide that employees who would forfeit annual leave in excess of the maximum annual leave allowable carryover because of their work to support the nation during a national emergency will have their excess annual leave deemed to have been scheduled in advance and subject to leave restoration,” it says.

Restored leave generally must be used within two years but the rules provide for extending the periods for employees with large amounts of leave at stake and in certain other situations.

OPM further noted that it had followed a similar policy in the runup for employees whose services were in high demand to reprogram computers to avoid the potential “Y2K” problem, but that unlike that action, the new rules also will apply in any future situation in which OPM determines that agencies may invoke the authority.

The policies are effective immediately although comments still can be made within 60 days of the posting.

OPM in June had encouraged agencies to cooperate with employees to make sure they don’t lose leave; more recently it said it intended to issue rules along the lines of those now published.

Meanwhile, the House recently accepted an amendment to the annual DoD authorization bill to largely the same effect. The Senate version of the bill does not contain a similar provision, which if accepted in an upcoming conference and signed into law would strengthen the provisions.

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