Workers at Aria Diagnostics assemble COVID-19 tests in Indianapolis on Thursday.

Workers at Aria Diagnostics assemble COVID-19 tests in Indianapolis on Thursday. Michael Conroy / AP

OPM Issues Guidance on Additional Paid Sick Leave for Feds During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The federal government’s human resources agency confirmed this week that most federal workers are eligible to take up to two additional weeks of paid sick leave this year related to COVID-19.

The Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday issued guidance to agencies providing clarity on how they should implement a provision of the coronavirus relief bill signed last month that provides two weeks of paid sick leave in connection with COVID-19.

In a memo posted to the OPM website Wednesday the agency confirmed that, with few exceptions, federal employees are entitled to two weeks of paid sick leave through the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act if they contract the coronavirus or are instructed to quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

OPM noted that in most cases, federal workers are not eligible for another chunk of paid leave provided under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, which provides some American workers with partially paid leave for up to 12 weeks to care for a child because their school or child care provider is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In short, all federal workers are eligible for two additional weeks of paid sick leave between April 1 and Dec. 31, unless their agency excludes them because they are a “health care provider” or “emergency responder,” or if the director of the Office of Management and Budget excludes them from the benefit “for good cause,” OPM wrote.

Although most federal employees are theoretically eligible for the additional sick leave, there are some requirements to fulfill before a worker can take advantage of the benefit. The employee must be subject to a federal, state or local governmental quarantine or isolation order related to the coronavirus, they must be instructed to isolate by a health care professional, or they must be caring for an immediate family member who is quarantining or suffering from the virus. 

“[The agency must grant the leave if] the employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19 [or if] the employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis,” OPM wrote. “[An] employee may not take EPSLA paid sick leave if he/she unilaterally decides to self-quarantine for an illness without medical advice, even if he/she has COVID-19 symptoms.”

The guidance does not address the issue of whether employees need a positive coronavirus test result, but it does allow for the use of the leave to seek a diagnosis from a medical professional.

OPM noted that the cap of extra leave—80 hours for full time workers—is a “per-employee limit,” meaning that employees cannot receive an additional two weeks of leave if they change jobs or encounter multiple instances in which they could qualify for the benefit.

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