Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, is the sponsor of the Senate bill.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, is the sponsor of the Senate bill. Julio Cortez / AP

Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Protect All Feds’ Leave Following COVID

Although OPM’s current policy only waives the 30-day annual leave cap for essential employees who are unable to use their leave due to their duties responding to the coronavirus pandemic, Democrats in Congress want to extend the waiver to all federal workers.

Congressional Democrats introduced legislation last week to allow more federal employees to carry over their annual leave until next year in the event they were unable to take time off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ordinarily, federal workers can only carry a maximum of 30 days of annual leave over from one year to another—the rest is deemed “use it or lose it” leave. But in August, the Office of Personnel Management declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be an exigency of the public business, granting waivers of the leave cap to some federal workers. The waivers applied to those deemed essential by their agency.

The Federal Worker Leave Fairness Act (H.R. 8457 and S. 4777), introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., in the House and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, in the Senate, would expand OPM’s waiver so that it applies to all federal workers. The lawmakers argued that even if a federal employee is not considered “essential” for the purposes of OPM’s waiver, many have not taken leave due to the need to protect themselves from exposure to the virus or because of state or local restrictions aimed at limiting COVID’s spread.

“Thousands of dedicated federal workers have been tirelessly responding to the coronavirus pandemic, including U.S. Postal Service employees, Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration workers, and National Institutes of Health researchers,” Hirono said. “Our nation has leaned on them as they deliver medicines and Social Security checks, assist Americans with filing their taxes, develop a vaccine and provide other vital services. This bill makes sure that no federal worker loses their leave because of this or any future pandemic.”

Kilmer noted that the waiver should apply not just to those employees whose agencies have discouraged them from taking leave, but also to those who chose to come to work out of dedication to public service.

“Federal workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard [in Washington state] have been working tirelessly throughout this pandemic to maintain the Navy’s readiness to respond to national security threats and have avoided unnecessary travel to minimize health risks that could threaten this important work,” Kilmer said. “They shouldn’t have to sacrifice the paid leave benefits they’ve earned because they chose to prioritize national service.”

Federal employee groups quickly endorsed the legislation, which has four cosponsors in the House and seven in the Senate.

“Federal employees have continued serving the American people, whether in person or remotely, since the start of this pandemic, in many cases forgoing planned vacations or personal leave to ensure that the government’s vital services continue uninterrupted,” said Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Craig Carter, national president of the Federal Managers Association, said: “FMA is proud to endorse Sen. Hirono’s bill, which would provide certainty to all feds that the use-it-or-lose-it annual leave they dutifully earn throughout the year will not be unjustly forfeited due to unusual and unexpected circumstances, like this pandemic, that are completely out of their control."