A Sick Leave Primer

As a federal employee, you are blessed with a benefit that’s often denied to those in the private sector – sick leave, which you can earn at a rate of 4 hours per pay period. That’s money in the bank for two reasons.

First, you can use it for a wide variety of allowable purposes. For example, when you need medical, dental, or optical exams and treatment, are incapacitated for the performance of your duties, need to provide care for a family member who is incapacitated, or have to be absent to attend to matters involving the birth or adoption of a child. You’ll find the entire list in the Code of Federal Regulations at 5 CFR 630.401a. If you are going to be absent for more than three workdays, Section 630.403 makes it clear that your agency can ask you for “a medical certificate or other administratively acceptable evidence” of need.

Now to that second reason. Unlike annual leave, there isn’t any annual carryover limit. You can accumulate it over an entire career. Then when you are eligible to retire, that unused sick leave will be added to your actual service and result in an increased annuity. The more you have, the bigger the increase. With as few as 174 hours in the bank, your service time would be increased by one month, 522, three months, 1,217, 7 months, and 2,087, a full year, and so on.

While the benefits of savings up your sick leave are obvious, some employees have concluded that they’d be better off financially if they “burned off” these hours instead of having them used in the computation of their annuity. While that may be true from a financial point of view, sick leave can only be used for purposes as described above. Burning off sick leave is illegal. Using it without a valid reason would involve both you and your agency in a fraud.