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The Fine Print on Feds’ Half Day Dec. 24, Gifts from Congress and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

President Obama last week gave federal employees a highly-anticipated Christmas present: a half-day off on Dec. 24. Though the gift was not exactly a surprise, many Government Executive readers were happy the president made it official. “This is wonderful,” one wrote in a comment. “The federal workforce has worked hard to serve this country and has endured unfair targeting from the political antics of Congress. A half day off to spend with family on Christmas Eve is a blessing.”

For anyone curious about the details, acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert on Friday sent agency chief human capital officers and human resources directors a memo explaining how the extra time off will work. Here are some basics:

  • The extra time off will be treated as a paid holiday;
  • Those who had planned to take “use or lose” annual leave for the second half of the day on Dec. 24 can reschedule that leave for another time before the end of the leave year. Those who are unable to reschedule the leave will lose it. They may be able to donate it to a co-worker;
  • Employees deemed “essential to the public need” for security or other purposes may still be required to report to work the afternoon of Christmas Eve;
  • Those employees required to work non-overtime hours during the last half of the day on Dec. 24 will receive holiday premium pay.

If you are a part-time employee, work a flexible or compressed schedule, or have another unique work arrangement, you may want to check out this sheet of questions and answers from OPM.

Meanwhile, Obama gave senior executives a less expected gift on Tuesday. As part of an executive order strengthening the Senior Executive Service, he raised the aggregate spending cap on executive performance awards from the current 4.8 percent to 7.5 percent.

A draft of the order leaked in November had contained the 4.8 percent cap. The higher limit is aimed at improving retention of SES, as well as senior level/scientific or professional employees. It also is meant to ensure they are paid more than their subordinates, and better reward top performers. The statute permits a ceiling as high as 10 percent.

Congress appears to be doing its part to make the holiday season more enjoyable for federal employees as well. After weeks of keeping federal employees in limbo, lawmakers reached agreement on a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill that would fund agencies through Sept. 30, 2016. Not only would the deal avoid a shutdown and furloughs of non-essential federal employees. It would smooth the way for next year’s 1.3 percent civilian and military pay raises.

The deal also includes as part of tax provisions language increasing benefits for workers who commute using public transit to bring them in line with parking benefits. Federal workers riding mass transit to their office would never again have to face a lower subsidy than their driving coworkers.

Another provision in the omnibus would give victims of the hacks of databases maintained by OPM -- which impacted virtually every current federal employee, many former federal workers, and security clearance applicants and their family members -- 10 years of protection and up to $5 million in identity theft insurance. Without the provision, OPM had planned to give victims three years of protections and just $1 million of insurance. 

Finally, in a separate piece of good news for military members, the Defense Department on Tuesday announced that basic allowance for housing rates will increase an average of 3.4 percent in 2016. That amounts to an average increase of $54 per month. Click here for a 2016 BAH calculator.  

(Image via  / Shutterstock.com)

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