Friends search through the remains of a home destroyed in Santa Rosa, California, wildfires.

Friends search through the remains of a home destroyed in Santa Rosa, California, wildfires. Jeff Chiu/AP

OPM Loosens Restrictions on Emergency Leave Transfers

Employees can donate hours to a specific emergency, or bundle them together and let their agency decide how to allocate them.

As recovery efforts continue in the wake of wildfires in California and an especially destructive hurricane season, the Office of Personnel Management laid out new guidelines for agencies juggling emergency leave transfer programs for multiple disasters.

OPM has established programs that allow federal employees to donate unused annual leave to colleagues affected by hurricanes in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico, as well as devastating wildfires in northern California. Last week, OPM published a list of tips to help agencies manage the “unprecedented” number of leave transfer programs and ensure that employees affected by each disaster get the time off they need.

When employees want to give time off to a transfer program, OPM requires them to submit a written request for the donation to the agency where they work specifying the number of hours they wish to donate to the program associated with a particular emergency.

The newly issued guidelines loosen up some the bureaucracy behind this process, which can become convoluted and time-consuming when multiple disasters strike.

Employees may now donate different amounts of time for specific emergencies, or they can give their hours in a bundle for the agency to allocate to specific programs as they see fit. For example, an employee could give five hours to colleagues affected by Harvey, five to Irma victims, and five to Maria, or he could have his agency divvy up the 15 hours among the three disasters as needed.

The guidelines allow employees to redesignate their donations as long as they haven’t already been processed, and relax limitations on how donated hours can be redistributed if they go unused. They also permit agencies to waive the 104-hour limit on the amount of time people are allowed to give each year, as well as the 240-hour limit on the amount of donated time an employee affected by a disaster can receive through a single leave transfer program.

While someone can only donate to leave transfer programs if they work for an agency that has employees affected by the emergency, the guideline provides a way for one agency to transfer hours from its leave bank to another agency by coordinating with OPM.

Employees who intend to make use of the leave transfer program must live or work within one of the regions for which formal disaster declarations have been made in relation to the wildfires or hurricanes. They must apply to their agencies in writing, but an employee who is unable to do so may apply through a personal representative.