Federal Employees News Digest

House Dems call for retroactive paid parental leave, retaining unused leave

After passing an historic paid parental leave provision in last year's defense authorization bill, Democratic House members are asking for the 12-weeks of paid leave to apply to all federal workers who give birth to, foster, or adopt a child between Dec. 20, 2019, and Oct. 1, 2020.

In a May 8 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), 12 members led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) pointed out that the law left out thousands of federal employees who were welcoming children much earlier than Oct. 1, when the provision is set to go into effect.

Federal employees have had to contend with working while caring for children and dependents due to school and childcare facility closures, and there has been some confusion over how such workers can take advantage of an existing temporary excused paid leave benefit.

"It has been shown that workers who are able to take paid parental leave are more productive and in better health when they return. Better child and parental health also means fewer emergency medical visits and a lighter burden on our already beleaguered health care system," the members wrote.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) wants to make sure that federal workers would be able to retain any paid leave they accrued but were unable to use due to added job obligations as a result of COVID-19.

Ordinarily, federal employees are only allowed to carry over 30 days of annual leave into a new year. Any additional leave, known as annual "use or lose" leave, essentially evaporates at the end of the year. Wexton is hoping to change that arrangement with the Federal Frontline Worker Leave Protection Act, introduced on May 5.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, "an agency may restore annual leave that was forfeited due to an exigency of the public business or sickness of the employee only if the annual leave was scheduled in writing."

Rep. Wexton’s bill would designate COVID-19 as an exigent circumstance in order to allow federal workers to roll over any unused leave hours due to the pandemic. The measure would retroactively apply to any leave an employee lost as a result of working through COVID-19 once it passed into law.

"Our federal workers are stepping up and working tirelessly to help Americans weather this crisis, [and] taking time off is not an option for many federal employees," Wexton said in a statement announcing the bill. "Federal workers should not be forced to lose their benefits while they carry out the essential work of government. We owe it to them to protect what they’ve earned."

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