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Feds Impacted by Shutdown Can Roll Over 'Use-or-Lose' Leave, OPM Clarifies

The leave must have been scheduled by Nov. 24, 2018.

Federal employees impacted by the partial shutdown can carry over their “use-or-lose” annual leave into 2019, the Office of Personnel Management clarified in new guidance this week, as long as the days off were scheduled prior to the closing of their agencies.

Federal statute requires leave in excess of the normal cap on days off to be restored when it occurs because of “exigencies of the public business,” so long as it was scheduled in advance. While the law leaves it up to individual employees’ agencies to determine what constitutes such business, OPM acting Director Margaret Weichert said in a memorandum to agency leaders that a shutdown automatically qualifies. Employees must have placed their leave on the books by Nov. 24, 2018, in order to have it restored.

The restoration will apply to all federal employees at impacted agencies, both those who are working and those who were sent home.

“As long as the leave was properly scheduled in advance, agencies must restore any annual leave that was forfeited because of the lapse in appropriations—regardless of whether the affected employees were furloughed or excepted from the furlough,” Weichert wrote.

Employees can only roll over use-or-lose leave for one year, however, meaning any previously restored leave that was set to expire at the end of 2018 must be forfeited.

Several other leave rules apply during a shutdown, as spelled out in previous governmentwide guidance. Workers cannot substitute paid leave for furloughs if the government is closed. This means that if an employee has already scheduled leave, either for a vacation or medical leave, those paid days off would be cancelled during a shutdown. Workers have to accept unpaid furloughs.

For employees excepted or exempted during a shutdown, their already scheduled leave has been cancelled during a shutdown and they are now required to come into work or be labeled absent without leave.

There are some flexibilities encouraging managers to allow essential employees to use telework or alternative work schedules in cases where they must be absent for "brief or intermittent periods." If those programs cannot sufficiently accommodate the employee or the agency, the agency must furlough the employee for the time he or she misses. Due to the timing of this specific shutdown, OMB allowed for “intermittent unpaid absences” for excepted employees who had previously scheduled vacation around Christmas and New Years.

Erich Wagner contributed to this report.

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