OPM updates sick leave policies

Federal employees now will have expanded access to sick leave to care for injured service members or family members exposed to communicable diseases.

According to a final rule in Friday's Federal Register, government employees beginning Jan. 3, 2011, will be allowed to substitute up to 26 weeks of sick leave for unpaid leave accumulated under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act to care for injured or ill service members. Agencies also can permit up to 30 days of advanced sick leave to be used for this purpose.

In addition, the rule defines when sick leave can be used in cases for communicable diseases, including the flu. Sick leave will be authorized only in situations the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes will threaten public health. Agencies must wait for guidance from CDC or the Office of Personnel Management to administer sick leave for these purposes, the rule says.

"The use of sick leave due to exposure to a communicable disease would be limited to circumstances where exposure alone would jeopardize the health of others and would only arise in cases of serious communicable diseases, such as communicable diseases where federal isolation and quarantine are authorized," the regulation stated.

Current sick leave policies allow an employee to take leave if his or her presence at work would jeopardize co-workers' health. The final rule grants leave to care for a family member who has been similarly exposed.

According to a final rule issued in June, current leave policies cover family members such as grandparents and grandchildren; same-sex domestic partners; stepparents and stepchildren; and foster children and other guardian relationships.

OPM issued a proposed rule in August 2009 and received 12 comments from agencies, labor and professional organizations, and individuals.

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