Feds get time off to care for domestic partners, but not pets

Federal employees can now officially take leave to care for ill domestic partners.

In a final rule published in the Federal Register on Monday, the Office of Personnel Management clarified that partners of the same and the opposite sex count as family members for the purposes of sick leave, funeral leave, voluntary leave transfer, voluntary leave banks and emergency leave transfer. Parents of domestic partners also fall under the definition of family members and immediate relatives, according to the personnel agency.

"When implemented, these regulations will help ensure that agencies consider the needs of a diverse workforce and provide employees with the broadest support possible to help them balance their work, personal and family obligations," the rule stated.

The regulation takes effect on July 14. It comes in response to a June 2009 presidential directive to extend same-sex domestic partners of federal employees similar benefits as spouses, where legally possible. President Obama reiterated his commitment in a memorandum earlier this month.

OPM noted it received 74 comments from agency officials, labor unions, professional groups and individuals on the draft wording released last fall. Most supported the rule change, with several noting it would mean they could keep their jobs and still care for loved ones.

Nine people opposed the change on the grounds it hurt the institution of marriage and would confer a right to a "special interest group" saddling taxpayers with additional costs. In response, OPM said the regulation simply ensures agencies consistently provide existing rights. "These changes do not reflect an additional benefit provided to a 'special interest group' or a fundamental change in the government's human resources policy," the rule stated.

Agency officials rejected requests to add others such as nieces and nephews to the list of qualified relatives, noting the examples of family members "are not intended to be exhaustive, but rather illustrative." They also denied requests for more documentation of domestic partnerships, noting the same rules should apply to all types of relatives and officials have the right to seek more information if they suspect abuse of the policy.

OPM nixed a suggestion to include pets in the definition of family members, noting, "while we agree that a person may have a close bond with his or her pet," employees still must use annual leave or leave without pay to stay home with sick pets.

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