shutterstock ID: 472129582 By fizkes

Feds struggle to get temporary excused paid leave

The federal government is allowing agencies to grant caretaker employees Temporary Excused Paid Leave in limited circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic, but employees at many agencies are experiencing obstacles obtaining the benefit.

The Office of Personnel Management published a fact sheet last month that advised agencies to grant federal workers flexible work schedules to accommodate any caregiving duties.

Federal agencies are permitted to extend the excused leave to employees required to telework who have dependent care obligations under certain circumstances. There are a few hoops to jump through: typically, employees are required to exhaust annual leave, sick leave, the paid leave supplied under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and maxiflex telework schedules before the Temporary Excused Paid Leave comes into play.

Feds are able to request, at least according to one participating agency, 20 hours per pay period capped at four hours per day and 10 hours per week of excused paid leave. The policies are expected to be evaluated during every pay period that includes mandatory telework due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The excused paid leave provision covers challenges related to school and daycare closures, dependent care lapses, and taking sanitary measures such as cleaning and sheltering-in-place to ensure compliance with local health measures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the measures that the federal government has taken to ensure that remote work is possible, agency employees say that the excused paid leave provision is not being rolled out evenly, burdening workers who have children and dependents.

The policies do not appear to be evenly applied across agencies. The Interior Department has so far not extended the benefit to its employees. At the Environmental Protection Agency, federal employees have apparently been waiting for weeks for a decision to be made.

The American Federation of Government Employees' Deputy General Counsel Cathie McQuiston said that the EPA was considering implementing a temporary paid leave policy for its caretaker employees, but that the agency continued to put off making a final decision despite unions' requests for the provision weeks ago during bargaining sessions.

EPA briefed agency unions on April 9, McQuiston said in an interview, and the paid leave option was discussed.

"They kept saying they were looking into it. We said, 'You've been looking into it for a while. It [feels] like you're trying to run out the clock and let the pandemic be over while you're still thinking about it.'"

Joyce Howell, vice president of AFGE Local 3631, which represents EPA workers in Philadelphia, echoed the same sentiment.

She said that while EPA has been more flexible on things such as hours of work and start/stop times, it has put up roadblocks when it comes to relieving strapped parents or those who have elderly relatives to care for.

"EPA has not elected to utilize administrative leave or weather/evacuation pay to give relief to caretakers. Our bargaining unit members who are caring for small children, elderly parents and disabled dependents are suffering," she said in an email. "They have enormous integrity, they put in the work hours for which they are paid. But the net result is sleep deprivation."

Bethany Dreyfuss, the president of AFGE Local 1236, which represents EPA attorneys in the Bay Area, said that part of the issue was that the EPA said it could only make a blanket decision at the national level.

"We’re being told it's a national thing and we have to wait for the [Washington] D.C. headquarters to make a decision," she said in an interview. "At the same time, my members are using up sick leave, personal leave, and using leave banks [leave donated by other agency employees] to make up the difference."

Dreyfuss said she had polled her bargaining unit and found that most respondents wouldn't use the leave.

"Any fear that it would be taken advantage of is unfounded. There are a number of people for whom a few hours a week would make an enormous difference, and for some 10 hours a week would be life-changing."

Dreyfuss noted that IRS invoked an evacuation order weeks earlier that allowed their care-burdened federal employees to take temporary leave.

A request for comment to EPA was pending as of publication time.

Employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs report similar concerns.

Sheila Elliott, the president of AFGE Local 2328 in Hampton, Va., said that in addition to ongoing concerns about a lack of personal protective equipment and unsafe working conditions, the VA was slow to implement policies for health care providers seeking relief, including parents and caregivers.

“I had one member who had taken temporary leave to take care of her son at home. Her supervisor called her and told her that if she didn’t report back to work, she would be terminated.”

A March 23 memo from the Veterans Health Administration Executive-in-Charge Richard Stone to agency leaders clarified that no leave was available to excuse employees who were tasked with caring for children or other dependents.

"There is no authority to approve Weather & Safety Leave or Excused Absence for childcare," Stone wrote.

Reader comments

Fri, Sep 25, 2020 Enid Fartsburger Miami

Ha! USCIS has decided to go in the entirely opposite direction, refusing to grant or deny all types of leave. To think that they’d consider something like this is hilarious. What a despicable organization.

Tue, Sep 15, 2020

At the Big Outfit in Bethesda, managers would by new furniture and computers and other toys cell phones for themselves and their relatives who did not work for the government. The executives were aware of their bogus buys and phony travel. They would write each other up for 5 digit bonuses while supposedly telecommuting when in fact they were at the beach or at the golf course. If a staff member was 2 minutes late because of traffic etc., they would be subject to write ups and threats of employment termination.

Wed, Apr 15, 2020

The Forest Service is not offering any relief either aside from the "use up a years worth of annual leave". While the BLM is doing a rotating schedule and when you are not on you are using admin leave. I really wish all agencies used the same across the board policies for everyone because things like this are causing a lot of anger among the employees who still have to come in. The article is right just a few hours would really help with all the stress that craziness is causing.

Tue, Apr 14, 2020

I'm honestly astounded Everytime I see managers waste government money left and right with the attitude of "who cares, it's not my money" until it comes to utilizing regulations and statutes ,as intended to help employees, then suddenly they are the epitome of thrift, going to ludicrous extremes to avoid the taxpayers money. It's of course not about the money at all. There is no difference whatsoever in those two situations. It's a matter of managers making their own job easier, with no concern for taxpayers, employees or anyone else. That is course is why we need the union,car least for those that are bargaining unit employees.

Tue, Apr 14, 2020 Sam USA

Every federal employee who is not being provided with safety gear such as face masks and rubber gloves by their agencies should file a Safety Violations complaints and grievances. Every employee who goes to work and gets the virus should file a OJI injury claim especially if they were not supplied with safety gear and their agency was not actively engaged in sanitizing the workplace. Stick together. Employees must stick together as it is your best defense against any abuses by the employing agencies.

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