OPM has issued rules to carry out the paid parental leave authority that will be available to most of the federal workforce for births, adoptions and foster placements occurring on October 1 or later, even as Congress considers expanding that benefit to include many of the employees currently left out.
The rules carry out a law enacted late last year allowing employees to change from unpaid to paid the 12 weeks of unpaid leave available under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The paid leave entitlement will apply only to categories of employees eligible under the FMLA, which requires one year of total federal service before eligibility and excludes temporary and intermittent employees.
The rules note several important distinctions, however, related to how last year’s law was written, including:
* Although the FMLA provides for leave for both parental and various other purposes, the paid leave will apply only for parental purposes as that law defines them.
* While the FMLA allows for taking unpaid leave within a 12-month period that starts before a birth, adoption or foster placement, the paid leave will be available only for the 12-month period after that event.
* Any amount of unpaid FMLA leave taken for either parental or other purposes will reduce the amount of time available to take as paid parental leave within the pertinent period. However, employees will remain free to substitute other forms of paid leave—such as annual leave or, in some circumstances, sick leave—for unpaid FMLA leave.
Other key provisions include that: in a two-federal-employee household, each parent will be eligible; the paid leave entitlement expires at the end of the 12 months and cannot be carried forward or converted into cash; and employees using paid leave must promise to return to work for at least 12 weeks afterward or else repay the government’s contribution toward FEHB for that time, although agencies may waive that obligation.
The announcement comes as no final action has been taken to extend the entitlement to employees outside the Title 5 civil service laws, who were left out of the law when it was enacted late last year. That includes the FAA, Title 38 medical personnel, TSA employees other than screeners (who are also outside Title 5 but were specifically included) and several other smaller categories.
The House has added language to the DoD authorization bill to cover those employees but the Senate counterpart does not include similar language and final action is not expected on that bill until September at least. The VA has said that it will extend the authority to its Title 38 personnel in any case.
Postal Service employees also are not covered but the proposal before Congress would not extend the policy to them. Meanwhile, the rules say that employees of the SEC and FDIC, which currently offer six weeks of paid parental leave on their own, will fall under the broader eligibility.