By Klara_Steffkova /

COVID Relief Benefits for Feds, and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

New legislation in Congress would grant federal workers access to more fully paid leave if they are exposed to COVID-19 or if they must care for a dependent whose school or care center is closed due to the pandemic.

The House version of the latest COVID relief package includes $570 million to cover up to 600 hours—or 15 weeks—of paid leave for federal workers, including U.S. Postal Service employees, if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, must quarantine due to possible exposure to the virus, or if they must care for someone with the virus. It also could be used if the employee’s child’s school or child care center is closed or using virtual learning, as well as if they must care for a family member 65 or older whose adult care center is shuttered.

The bill also would provide paid leave for feds to get vaccinated for COVID-19, as well as to recover from any symptoms that result from getting vaccinated. This is something some Washington, D.C.-area lawmakers urged the Office of Personnel Management to provide administratively last week.

If enacted, the relief package would mark an improvement on the emergency leave provision passed for feds last year, which provided two weeks of fully paid leave if employees had COVID or were quarantining, along with an additional 10 weeks of partially paid leave if they were caring for a loved one who was ill or whose school or care center was closed.

However, one key difference in the latest proposal is that federal employees must exhaust all of their normal paid sick leave before they may access the new benefit.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee is expected to advance the measure to the chamber’s floor on Friday.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders are pushing again to grant employees of the Transportation Security Administration access to the full host of benefits and protections guaranteed to most federal employees, including access to the General Schedule pay system.

Since the agency’s founding following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, TSA was given wide latitude to determine employees’ pay and benefits, as well as to discipline and fire workers. Employees were only given the ability to unionize in 2011, but their bargaining rights also remain abridged.

The Rights for the Transportation Security Administration Workforce Act, introduced by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., along with several other committee and subcommittee chairs, would make the TSA workforce subject to Title 5 protections. Title 5 provides federal employees with access to the General Schedule pay system, federal sector collective bargaining rights, as well as due process protections if they are disciplined or fired. The bill’s sponsors stressed that TSA employees still would not be able to strike.

Experts have cited low pay and lack of workplace rights as a key factor in the perennially low morale and high turnover at TSA. A previous iteration of the bill was passed by the House in March 2020, but the Republican-controlled Senate declined to take up the measure.