OPM extends federal leave without pay to same-sex couples

Federal employees with same-sex partners now are eligible for leave without pay to handle routine education and medical needs of their families -- a benefit long available to heterosexual couples.

A Sept. 10 memo from Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry directs agency chief human capital officers to extend annually 24 hours of leave without pay to federal employees and their same-sex domestic partners. The benefit would allow employees with same-sex domestic partners to attend school functions, such as parent-teacher conferences and volunteer activities; accompany children to medical and dental appointments; and care for elderly relatives, including attending routine appointments and arranging for housing or food needs.

Berry said agencies should revise their LWOP policies to include language supporting these benefits for federal employees and their domestic partners.

Berry's memo follows a number of steps the Obama administration has taken to extend long-term care benefits and family and parental leave flexibilities to same-sex partners of federal employees. President Clinton in 1997 introduced the LWOP policy and encouraged Congress to add the guidelines as an amendment to the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, though the legislation never passed. President Obama in June reiterated support for the policy, extended it to employees with same-sex domestic partners and ordered OPM to act on a number of benefits that could be provided without further legislative change, including child care subsidies and services; noncompetitive job appointments overseas; evacuation payments; and employee assistance programs.

That action resulted from a 2009 presidential memo directing department and agency heads to begin internal reviews to determine if they could offer additional benefits to same-sex employees.

Leonard Hirsch, president of Federal GLOBE, an affinity group for gay and lesbian federal employees, said the LWOP benefit is another step toward the equal treatment of all workers.

"It's important for those day-to-day parental activities that contemporary families need to do," said Hirsch. "In terms of the amount of time taken, it's minimal, but what it does is, it increases productivity rather than be a drain. That's because it means people who might take this leave will be more productive in other hours, and they're not going to be worrying about how to explain something and whether or not their kid got to the doctor on time."

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