OPM Director Reaffirms that Essential Feds Will Have Annual Leave Restored Due to COVID-19
Federal employees deemed essential to combatting the pandemic will again be able to carry over unused annual leave that exceeds the typical cap in January.
The Office of Personnel Management on Thursday announced that it will continue to allow federal workers who are considered essential to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic to carry over unused annual leave above the traditional cap.
Ordinarily, federal employees can only carry 30 days of unused annual leave from one year to another—the rest is deemed “use it or lose it.” But last year, OPM determined that the pandemic was considered an “exigency of the public business,” an exception that allows for employees whose leave is cancelled to carry over more than the 30-day maximum at the end of the year.
In a memo to agency heads Thursday, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja announced that she was renewing last year’s determination, and essential feds will again be able to carry over additional annual leave at the end of 2021.
“To avoid the cumbersome process for a large number of employees who have been required to work during this national emergency, the OPM director took steps to issue interim regulations that allowed agencies to continue to meet their vital missions while streamlining the process for restoration of annual leave for employees whose services are essential to respond to the COVID-19 national emergency,” Ahuja wrote. “I am notifying agencies that I am reaffirming the OPM director determination . . . that the COVID national emergency is a qualifying exigency of the public business for the purpose of restoring forfeited annual leave.”
Agencies in turn must determine which employees and positions are still essential to the national emergency response to the pandemic, inform those employees, and continually monitor whether their workforce is still essential. Employees who have excess annual leave restored will have two years following their no longer being deemed essential to emergency response—or the end of the emergency declaration—to use the excess leave.
Additionally, Ahuja reminded agencies that the increased annual leave cap established in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which provided employees with a traditional 30-day cap on carried over leave a new leave cap of 38 days, will not be renewed at the end of this year. That means any excess leave by employees deemed not essential to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic over 30 days must be used by the end of 2021, or it will be forfeited.
Excess annual leave under the authorization act “must be taken no later than Jan. 1, 2022, or it will be forfeited at the beginning of leave year 2022 (Jan. 2, 2022 for employees on the standard biweekly payroll cycle),” Ahuja wrote. “This [excess] annual leave may not be restored, may not be included in a lump-sum annual leave payment, and may not be donated under a leave transfer program.”