The federal government's HR agency said it will issue regulations allowing for agencies to restore federal workers' use-or-lose annual leave if it is canceled due to essential coronavirus response work.
The Office of Personnel Management on Thursday announced that it is planning to issue regulations to allow agencies to restore federal employees' so-called "use or lose" annual leave that was canceled so they could work on the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ordinarily, federal workers can only carry over so much annual leave from year to year. Any unused leave over that cap is forfeited at the end of the year. Leave that is lost at the end of a year can only be restored to federal workers if it was forfeited due to an administrative error, an employee being ill, or if leave was canceled due to an "exigency of the public business."
In a memo to agency heads, acting OPM Director Michael Rigas said his agency will issue regulations officially deeming COVID-19 a national emergency to fulfill that "exigency of public business" requirement and to streamline procedures to restore leave to feds.
"Please know that OPM plans to issue regulations in the near future that will streamline the leave restoration process for agencies that have employees with 'use or lose' annual leave who are unable to use this leave because of work-related requirements related to the COVID-19 national emergency," he wrote. "The regulations will deem the COVID-19 national emergency to be an exigency of the public business for the purpose of restoring forfeited annual leave."
Rigas stressed that the forthcoming regulations will only cover federal employees who had to cancel leave because of their work responding to the pandemic, not because they had to cancel vacations or travel plans.
"An employee's decision to cancel annual leave he or she had previously scheduled or not schedule annual leave due to the cancellation of vacation or travel plans because of COVID-19 restrictions does not constitute an exigency of the public [business] for the purposes of restoration of annual leave," he wrote.
Additionally, the regulations will not allow for restoration of leave that is scheduled but canceled late in the year.
"An agency may restore annual leave that was forfeited due to an exigency of the public business or sickness of the employee only if the annual leave was scheduled in writing before the start of the third biweekly pay period prior to the end of the leave year," Rigas wrote. "Any annual leave scheduled after that date will be forfeited if not used by the final day of the leave year."
Given these restrictions, Rigas stressed that agencies should "work with their employees" to make sure they schedule and use their annual leave if possible. Under the forthcoming regulations, agencies will be required to inform employees if they are eligible for leave restoration.
"Agency heads will be required to identify any employees covered under this annual leave restoration authority and inform them in writing of this designation," Rigas wrote. "This means that agencies and their employees will not be faced with the administrative burden of scheduling, canceling and restoring such leave for these employees at a time when all available attention and energy should be focused on the national emergency."
Although Rigas said the regulation would be published "in the near future," he did not provide a specific target date for its release.
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