OPM streamlines procedures for carrying over leave during emergencies

The Office of Personnel Management is issuing interim regulations to make it easier for agencies to restore annual leave to essential employees whose unused leave was forfeited because of their work in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Office of Personnel Management is issuing interim regulations to make it easier for agencies to restore annual leave to essential employees whose unused leave was forfeited because of their work in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently, employees who are performing mission-critical tasks during the COVID-19 outbreak – work considered an “exigency of the public business” – were required to follow a multistep process to keep any leave that was in excess of the maximum carryover.

Employees had to pre-schedule their annual leave before the third pay period prior to the end of the leave year, and the agency then had to cancel that pre-approved leave because there existed “no other practical alternatives available to accomplish the work by a given deadline,” OPM Acting Director Michael Rigas wrote in an Aug. 27 memo to agency heads. The process of restoring that leave could then proceed.

According to OPM’s explanation of the new interim regulations, “employees who would forfeit annual leave in excess of the maximum annual leave allowable carryover because of their work to support the nation during a national emergency will have their excess annual leave deemed to have been scheduled in advance and subject to leave restoration.”

The procedures are similar to those set up to prepare for the Y2K computer conversion and the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, OPM said, but differ in that they can be used not only for the COVID-19 response but also for certain future national emergencies where federal employees’ work is considered an exigency of the public business.

Before using this new authority, agencies must set up internal policies and procedures. They must identify all affected essential employees and let them know they will be covered by this new rule and that the requirement to pre-schedule annual leave no longer applies to them. Agencies are also required to monitor emergency response to ensure employees’ services are still required and fix a date that exigency of the public business will conclude.

Rigas concluded his memo by reminding agencies that they should  “continue to work with their employees to ensure that they take any annual leave or other paid time off before it expires,” and stressed that foregoing leave because COVID-19 interfered with vacation or travel plans “does not constitute an exigency of the public business for the purpose of restoration of annual leave.”

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