Issue Briefs

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Following are key sections of a GAO report on the paid parental leave benefit for federal employees, calling on OPM and individual agencies to better communicate its availability and its terms.

Paid parental leave under FEPLA is available to covered employees for the birth or placement for adoption or foster care of a child that occurred on or after October 1, 2020. Paid parental leave under FEPLA is paid leave that is substituted for qualifying unpaid leave under FMLA. Paid parental leave may only be used after the occurrence of the birth or placement of the child involved—when an employee assumes a “parental” role—and may be used within 12 months of the child’s arrival. No payment may be made by the employing agency for unused paid parental leave that has expired.

Before the birth or placement of a child, an employee may take unpaid FMLA leave—but cannot substitute FEPLA paid parental leave—to cover certain activities related to those events. The use of FMLA leave for purposes unrelated to paid parental leave can also limit the amount of substitutable paid parental leave available, depending on the timeframe in which it is taken. For example, if an employee exhausts all 12 weeks of FMLA unpaid leave to care for a spouse before the birth of a child, the employee may need to use other types of leave (e.g., sick leave) after the birth of the child. An employee may take sick leave or request annual leave without invoking FMLA unpaid leave.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for paid parental leave, a federal employee must be eligible for FMLA leave and meet eligibility requirements, including:

• completing at least 12 months of eligible federal service,

• having a part-time or full-time work schedule (i.e., individuals working on an intermittent basis are ineligible),

• having an appointment of more than 1 year in duration (i.e., employees with temporary appointments not to exceed 1 year are ineligible), and

• completing a written agreement to subsequently work for the applicable employing agency for no less than 12 weeks.

Selected Agencies Used OPM Guidance, but Information on OPM’s Public Webpage Is Outdated

OPM issued guidance that the selected agencies reported they used to establish policies and procedures for implementing paid parental leave, including standard operating procedures, paid parental leave request forms, return to work agreements, and frequently asked questions. Accordingly, we found that OPM and the selected agencies developed processes that aligned with internal control standards to design control activities.

OPM. On August 7, 2020, OPM issued a memorandum to heads of agencies announcing the FEPLA interim regulations. The memorandum included a summary of key features of paid parental leave, templates for requesting paid parental leave and the 12-week work obligation agreement, and examples of acceptable supporting documentation that employees may submit when requesting the leave. In addition, OPM briefed agency human capital officials to describe key elements of the program. For example, OPM presented different scenarios of how paid parental leave may be combined with other types of leave, such as unpaid FMLA leave, sick leave, annual leave, and leave without pay. Officials from the selected agencies said that they generally found OPM guidance helpful in creating their own policies.

Selected agencies. DOJ, SBA, and SSA used OPM guidance and templates, and participated in briefings with OPM to develop policies and procedures to implement paid parental leave. Paid parental leave policies at the selected agencies described the laws and regulations establishing the leave, employee eligibility, and the requirements for employees to submit supporting documentation. The policies also included requirements for employees to complete and submit an employee certification and work obligation form to their designated leave-approving official. In addition, the selected agencies ‘leave request and work obligation agreement forms were similar to the templates provided by OPM.

OPM and the selected agencies found no significant obstacles to employees using paid parental leave. SBA and USMS union officials told us their members were very appreciative of paid parental leave and had not heard of any issues of employees who were eligible to take the leave having difficulty doing so. SSA union officials told us their members found the benefit helpful but thought there were opportunities to expand paid parental leave eligibility criteria, such as eliminating the 12-month federal service requirement.

Users of OPM’s Webpage for Federal Leave Benefits Are Directed to Outdated and Inaccurate Information on Paid Parental Leave

OPM’s Leave Administration webpage includes handbooks and fact sheets intended to provide information on various topics concerning leave administration for federal employees.17 For example, the webpage includes fact sheets on administrative leave, leave without pay, and sick leave. However, we found the webpage directs users to outdated information about FMLA before FEPLA went into effect.

Specifically, the webpage directs users to the 2015 Handbook on Leave and Workplace Flexibilities for Childbirth, Adoption, and Foster Care, which does not reflect the availability of paid parental leave provided under FEPLA. The webpage also does not include FEPLA fact sheets. As of December 2023, we found that none of the relevant handbooks or fact sheets on OPM’s Leave Administration webpage mentioned FEPLA or paid parental leave. Internal control standards state that quality information that is current and accurate should be used to achieve objectives.

In September 2023, OPM officials told us that they had not yet completed updating the Handbook and fact sheets on OPM’s webpage because it has competing priorities and limited staff available to update paid parental leave guidance. OPM officials said that they intended to do so as staff resources and workload permitted. In addition, OPM officials told us that they initially waited to issue updated guidance until the FEPLA regulations were finalized, to give agencies time to administer the new benefit and identify any issues, and address any potential legislative changes to FEPLA.

Because users of OPM’s “Leave Administration” webpage cannot access current and accurate information on paid parental leave, OPM is missing an opportunity to help raise awareness of paid parental leave and ensure that federal employees understand their eligibility.

Selected Agencies Used Multiple Channels to Communicate Paid Parental Leave to Their Employees

We found the selected agencies’ efforts to increase awareness of paid parental leave aligned with internal control standards to internally communicate the necessary quality information to achieve objectives. Examples of their efforts to raise awareness, which included publishing guidance documents on internal webpages, emailing employees with reminders and information, providing training for managers, and hosting information sessions.

Union officials we spoke with said that their respective agencies’ communication about paid parental leave was helpful and generally effective. SSA union officials added that additional efforts to disseminate information on paid parental leave—such as posting flyers in the office—could help increase awareness of the program. SSA union officials shared these suggestions with SSA.

We reviewed public-facing webpages highlighting compensation and benefits packages for SBA, SSA, and DOJ. We found that selected agencies’ public-facing webpages designed to communicate federal benefits to prospective employees did not reflect current paid parental leave policies. For example, DOJ’s department-wide “Benefits” webpage mentioned health benefits, life insurance, long-term care insurance, retirement benefits, vacation and leave benefits, flexible work schedules, and FMLA, but did not mention paid parental leave.

During the course of our review, we told officials at the selected agencies that the public-facing webpages did not mention that their agency offered paid parental leave. We noted that doing so could help with employee recruitment efforts. DOJ, SBA and SSA agreed and updated the relevant public-facing webpages accordingly.

Internal control standards state that necessary quality information should be externally communicated to achieve the entity’s objectives. Moreover, we previously identified actionable strategies that agencies may use to effectively manage the future federal workforce. These strategies include increasing awareness of and tailoring benefits and incentives to employees’ needs, which may help agencies compete for top talent even in labor markets where federal pay may not be competitive.

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