Use annual leave or lose it, OPM says

Employees -- and retirees leaving federal service in early January -- must schedule excess vacation by Nov. 19.

Federal workers have until Nov. 19 to schedule annual leave or risk forfeiting excess days accrued, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

In a memo sent Wednesday to agency human resources staff, Angela Bailey, associate director of employee services at OPM, wrote that 2011 is "unusual" because the end of the federal leave year and the calendar year both fall on Dec. 31. Workers must schedule annual leave by the end of the third pay period prior to the end of the leave year -- Nov. 19 -- or risk losing excess days.

Employees accrue annual leave based on how long they've been working in government. Full-time workers with less than three years of service earn four hours per pay period, employees who have between three and 15 years of service accrue six hours per pay period, and those with 15 years or more of service and Senior Executive Service members earn eight hours.

Federal workers can retain some unused leave at the end of the year -- those on duty stateside can carry over up to 30 days while employees on foreign assignment can save 45 days. SES members can roll over a maximum of 90 days from one year to the next.

The deadline is particularly important for workers covered under the Civil Service Retirement System and CSRS Offset who are planning to retire between Jan. 1 and Jan. 3, 2012, according to Bailey. If excess vacation is not used prior to Dec. 31, then it will not be included in the employee's lump-sum payment for annual leave, the memo stated.

Under OPM guidelines, agencies can restore forfeited annual leave under certain circumstances if that leave was scheduled in writing before the start of the third biweekly pay period prior to the end of the leave year. Annual leave not scheduled in advance can be restored only under very limited conditions -- for instance, in cases where the employee is affected by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act, administrative error or prolonged illness.