What Federal Employees Should Know About OPM’s New Guidance on COVID-19 Leave
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released new guidance concerning the emergency paid leave program for federal employees included in the American Rescue Plan, which created a $570 million fund administered by OPM to pay for leave related to COVID-19. This guidance comes after some confusion as to how to implement the emergency paid leave program, with some agencies such as the U.S. Postal Service creating their own interim guidelines. This paid leave, especially for those federal employees looking ahead to a long summer with few available childcare options, or those still dealing with long term COVID-19 symptoms, is certainly a welcome benefit, and is another signal that Congress is looking at ways to attract and retain talented and skilled federal employees.
What is the new emergency paid leave program?
This program established a new category of paid leave, and allows federal employees to receive their normal pay up to $2,800 in a biweekly pay period, for a maximum of 15 weeks, for qualifying circumstances. The program covers leave taken from March 11, 2021, through September 30, 2021, unless the fund is exhausted prior to then. Employees can ask their agency to retroactively convert leave taken during the qualified time period to emergency paid leave, if they are eligible. OPM will be monitoring the fund and will set up a dashboard to track the overall funding usage.
Who is eligible for the new emergency paid leave?
The program covers employees appointed pursuant to Title 5, as well as employees of the U.S. Postal Service, the Postal Regulatory Commission, the Public Defender Service for D.C., and the D.C. Courts. Employees of the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, however, are exempted, but the American Rescue Plan authorized these three agencies to administer their own emergency paid leave funds.
To qualify for the leave, a covered employee must be unable to work (including telework) because the employee is subject to COVID-19 quarantine order/advisory; self-quarantining on the advice of a health care provider; caring for an individual subject to quarantine; experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and actively seeking a medical diagnosis; caring for a child because the child’s school or place of care is closed, or the child is participating in virtual learning; caring for a disabled or older family member if the place of care for such family member is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19; and/or obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine or recovering from any side effects (after using any administrative leave provided by the employing agency).
What is the process for requesting leave?
Each agency will provide employees with a form to request emergency paid leave, and employees should check with their agency’s human resources office to understand their agency’s exact procedures and documentation requirements. Employees can use their conditionally granted leave immediately upon approval, and agencies will then seek reimbursement from OPM. If the fund becomes exhausted before September 30, 2021, any emergency paid leave conditionally approved will have to be cancelled and substituted for another form of leave.
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By Alysa Williams