The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said in a memo Thursday it plans to issue regulations soon that allowing some federal employees to restore “use it or lose it” annual leave due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The amount of annual leave federal employees are able carry over from year to year is normally capped. Under current regulations, leave that is lost at the end of a year can only be restored to the employee if it was forfeited in certain situations such as an employee being ill, an administrative error, or if the leave was canceled due to what is termed as an “exigency of the public business.”
In Thursday’s memo to federal agencies, OPM Director Michael Rigas said the agency will issue regulations officially deeming COVID-19 a national emergency to fulfill that “exigency of public business” requirement. Rigas said the agency will also streamline the procedures to restore leave to the federal workforce.
Below are highlights from the memo:
Agencies must work with their employees to ensure that they continue to take any annual leave or other paid time off before it expires. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) does not have the authority to change statutory limitations.
However, please know that OPM plans to issue regulations in the near future that will streamline the leave restoration process for agencies that have employees with “use or lose” annual leave who are unable to use this leave because of work-related requirements related to the COVID-19 national emergency. The regulations will deem the COVID-19 national emergency to be an exigency of the public business for the purpose of restoring forfeited annual leave. The regulations will provide that employees who would forfeit annual leave in excess of the maximum annual leave allowable carryover because of their essential work during the national emergency will have their excess annual leave deemed to have been scheduled in advance and subject to leave restoration. Agency heads will be required to identify any employees covered under this annual leave restoration authority and inform them in writing of this designation. This means that agencies and their employees will not be faced with the administrative burden of scheduling, canceling, and restoring such leave for these employees at a time when all available attention and energy should be focused on the national emergency.
Annual Leave (“Use or Lose”)
Employees may not carryover to the next leave year more than 240, 360, or 720 hours of annual leave, as applicable. The limitation on annual leave that may be carried over to the next leave year is established within section 6304 of title 5, United States Code. “Use or lose” annual leave is the amount of annual leave that is in excess of the employee’s applicable annual leave ceiling. Any accrued annual leave in excess of an employee’s annual leave ceiling will be forfeited if not used by the final day of the leave year. An agency may restore forfeited annual leave under certain conditions (see 5 U.S.C. 6304(d)).
Restoration of Annual Leave
Agencies may restore annual leave that was forfeited because it was in excess of the applicable leave ceilings described above if the leave was forfeited because of an administrative error, exigency of the public business, or sickness of the employee. An agency must restore the annual leave in a separate leave account.
For the purpose of Federal leave administration, an exigency of the public business occurs when there is a pressing need for an employee’s service and the agency must cancel the employee’s pre-approved annual leave because there are no other practical alternatives available to accomplish the work by a given deadline. An employee’s decision to cancel annual leave he or she had previously scheduled or to not schedule annual leave due to the cancellation of vacation or travel plans because of COVID-19 restrictions, does not constitute an exigency of the public for the purposes of restoration of annual leave.
To read the full memo, go here.