OPM Pushes Leave Act

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A law set to expire Dec. 21 giving federal employees paid sick leave to care for ill family members should be made permanent, the Office of Personnel Management recommended this week.

Under the Federal Employees Family Friendly Leave Act, employees are granted 40 hours of paid leave a year to care for sick family members and to arrange or attend funerals. Employees can use an additional 64 hours of leave for those reasons if they have a balance of at least 80 hours of regular sick leave, giving employees a maximum of 104 hours, or 13 days, in family medical leave a year.

The act granted the additional leave from Dec. 1994 through Dec. 1997. It also required OPM to recommend to Congress whether the act should be continued.

OPM recommended the law be made permanent after agencies OPM surveyed said they supported the act.

In 1996, 335,201 employees took advantage of the act, up 46 percent from 1995. Increased employe awareness of the act led to the increase, OPM said. Employees used an average of 23.3 hours (3 days) of family sick leave in 1995 and 28.9 hours (under 4 days) in 1996.

The average number of days of sick leave taken for any reason rose 8 percent, from 8.6 days in 1994 to 9.3 days in 1996.

About 3 percent of employees who used the family sick leave used the maximum 13 days.

OPM asked agencies if they felt 13 days was sufficient. Almost half the agencies that responded suggested that employees whose family members are struck with long-term, catastrophic illnesses should be granted more than 13 days on a case-by-case basis. OPM decided, however, not to raise the 13-day cap.

Agencies said the act benefits managers by improving employee morale, giving employees more incentive to save their personal sick leave in order to qualify for the additional family sick leave, and making employees more productive on the job.

But agencies also noted concerns managers have with the act. Managers found that timekeeping procedures had not been updated to track family sick leave, there were more short-term absences, and employees disputed the meaning of the term "family member." Managers also felt pressure to approve any requests for sick leave that met the requirements of the law.

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