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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Happy leave year

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For most federal employees, New Year's Day 2001 falls on Jan. 14.

That's the first day of the first full pay period in 2001, so new federal pay rates take effect on that date. Upper-level senior executives will get a 2.7 percent pay raise while lower-level executives and white collar federal workers will get an average 3.7 percent increase.

Jan. 14 also marks the beginning of the 2001 leave year. That gives you six work days from today to use up any use-or-lose leave that you accrued in 2000. Unfortunately, if you didn't already ask for that leave, you're probably out of luck, since you were supposed to file use-or-lose leave requests by Dec. 3.

Bonus Leave

For most civil servants, the 2000 leave year had 27 pay periods, not the usual 26 (the anomaly has to do with the way our calendar works). Some groups of federal workers are on different pay cycles, so they may have an extra pay period in a different year.

Because the standard federal 2000 leave year had an extra pay period, federal employees picked up a bonus of four, six or eight hours of annual leave, depending on how long they have worked for Uncle Sam. You can carry over that extra leave into 2001 as long as your accrued leave remains under the carry-over ceiling. U.S.-based civil servants can carry over 30 days (240 hours) of leave; overseas feds can carry over 45 days (360 hours); and members of the Senior Executive Service can carry over 90 days (720 hours).

You'll have to forfeit some hours if your allotment was higher than the ceiling because of the extra pay period.

Special Sick Leave

When you're planning your 2001 leave year, keep in mind that an important new sick leave rule took effect last year.

Under the new rule, you can now take up to 12 weeks of paid sick leave to care for family members with serious health conditions. The previous limit was 13 days. The guidelines for using paid sick leave for family care are a bit sticky, so you'll want to read carefully through the Office of Personnel Management's question and answer sheet if you think you may need to take extended time off to care for a loved one.

Mothers and fathers of newborns can take advantage of the new extended leave only if their infant has a serious health condition. If the baby is healthy, then there are limits to how much paid sick leave a parent can use during pregnancy and post-natal care. For the most part, parents can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for newborns under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Be on the lookout for an OPM report on the possibility of more paid parental leave. In the 2001 omnibus appropriations bill, Congress directed OPM to study options for offering up to six weeks of paid leave to parents who need to care for newborns or go through the adoption process. OPM has to issue the report by Oct. 1.

Don't Leave, Future Retirees

For civil servants thinking about retirement, there are special factors to consider when planning the leave year.

Tammy Flanagan, senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning, urges feds who are planning to retire not to take any annual leave this year.

"People planning on retiring this year should go out on Dec. 31 under [the Federal Employees Retirement System] and on Jan. 3 under [the Civil Service Retirement System]," Flanagan said. "They can save up an additional 200 hours by not taking any annual leave this year."

When they retire, they'll get paid for those hours at the higher 2002 pay rate, Flanagan said. Also, the check they'll get for those saved-up hours will only reflect tax payments, not other withholdings.

"It's a nice transition check" for people moving into retirement, Flanagan said.

Plan Your Year

You can use GovExec.com's 2001 Federal Leave Chart to plot and keep track of your annual leave and sick leave.

If you're thinking of taking time off for volunteer purposes, organ donation, adoption or other reasons, be sure to read through the rules on OPM's Web site. You can also find out the rules for donating your leave to other civil servants in need.

 
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