What Federal Employees Should Know About the New Paid Parental Bereavement Leave Benefit
Thanks to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, federal workers can take up to two weeks off following the death of a child.
The Office of Personnel Management last week offered guidance to agencies on how they should implement the recently enacted benefit providing federal workers with up to two weeks of paid bereavement leave following the death of a child.
The new leave was adopted as part of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Biden last December.
In a memo to agency heads, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja wrote that although each agency is responsible for its own implementation of the new benefit, her agency wants to ensure that it is provided to employees across government “in an equitable and uniform way.”
The new leave category will be available to all Title 5 federal employees serving in permanent or term appointments of more than one year with at least one year of service. Employees with intermittent work schedules are not eligible, and seasonal employees cannot use leave during their off-season.
Employees become eligible for two weeks of paid bereavement leave if a child—including adopted, foster and step-children, as well as an adult child with “a mental or physical disability”—dies. The death essentially starts a one-year clock, during which employees may elect to take a period of up to two weeks of paid leave, although it cannot be taken intermittently without an agency’s approval in advance.
If an employee endures the death of a second child during that 12-month period, they effectively have two overlapping periods where they are eligible for paid bereavement leave, but any time off taken during the overlap will count against the two-week cap for both periods.
“If one or more children of an employee dies at a later time during a 12-month period associated with the earlier death of another child of the employee, each later death will result in the commencement of a corresponding 12-month period,” OPM wrote. “Thus, an employee may have overlapping 12-month periods. Any use of bereavement leave during an overlap period including parts of more than one 12-month period will count against the two-week limit for each affected 12-month period.”
Agencies are responsible for converting employees’ bereavement leave entitlement from “two work weeks” to the equivalent hours based on their schedule, whether that be 80 hours for feds who work eight hours a day, or 144 hours for those who work six 24-hour shifts. If an employee changes their schedule while they have pending bereavement leave, the agency then must recalculate their remaining balance to reflect the proportion of remaining leave according to the employee’s new work schedule.
Because bereavement leave is a “stand-alone” leave program for federal workers, the use of this leave does not affect employees’ accrual of other paid leave or paid time off. It also does not preclude employees from using other types of leave for bereavement purposes when appropriate.
“An employee may continue to use sick leave for bereavement . . . for different hours not covered by bereavement leave,” OPM wrote. “That sick leave may be used for the specific limited purposes of making arrangements necessitated by the death of the employee’s child or to attend the child’s funeral; it does not cover the broader purpose of bereavement.”
If a federal worker moves to another job in the federal government, they maintain access to their bereavement leave until the end of their original one-year period. But if they leave federal service, they forfeit any remaining bereavement leave, unless they return to a federal agency before the end of their 12-month period.
Since the new leave benefit became effective when Biden signed the NDAA on Dec. 27, 2021, OPM stressed that agencies must allow employees to take the leave retroactively to substitute for previously taken leave.
“An employee may request, and an employing agency must grant, bereavement leave for which the employee is eligible to cover a past period of leave without pay occurring during a qualifying period,” OPM wrote. “If an agency determines that an employee used other paid leave to cover a period of time for which bereavement leave could have been used, an agency may allow the employee to retroactively substitute bereavement leave for such other paid leave upon making a determination that the employee lacked information or was not allowed to use bereavement leave at the time.”