Study of Federal Employee Leave Policies Planned

OPM’s strategic plan says that before moving to combine annual and sick leave into one form of leave, as proposed in the White House’s recent budget, it would sponsor a study of current private sector practices on leave.

OPM’s new strategic plan gives little further detail on the leave combination proposal, and like its promise to engage stakeholders on the proposal for pay for performance does not indicate how soon a formal proposal for a change in law might result.

Currently, all full-time federal employees earn 13 days of sick leave a year plus annual leave of 13 days for those with fewer than three years of service, 20 days for those with between three and 14, and 26 days for those with 15 or more. Part-time employees earn both forms of leave at proportionate rates.

One study that has been done, by the conservative Heritage Foundation—whose views have influence in the administration—proposed combining the two types of leave into a catchall called paid time off, or PTO. Such arrangements “are favored by many employees who generally use little or no sick leave because it provides them with more total vacation days,” it said.

“To be competitive with the upper tier of private employers, a federal PTO policy would provide between a minimum of 16 days of PTO for workers with fewer than three years of service, and up to 27 days of PTO for the most senior workers,” said that study, issued in 2016.

However, it did not address distinctions in the current federal employee leave program that would have to be resolved. These include limits on how much annual leave, but not sick leave, can be carried forward from year to year; and the ability to cash in unused annual leave at retirement while unused sick leave is credited toward the annuity calculation. There are also minor differences, for example that unused annual leave, but not sick leave, can be donated in leave sharing programs for the benefit of other employees facing health crises or other emergencies.