Some federal employees likely aren’t taking vacation right now, either because they’re under state stay-at-home orders or there’s simply too much work to do — or some combination of both.
A few House Democrats are eyeing new legislation that would ensure federal employees can hold onto the annual leave they’d otherwise have to forfeit at the end of the year.
Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) introduced the Federal Frontline Worker Leave Protection Act, which would specifically allow employees to carry over unused annual leave due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Under existing policy, most federal employees can carry up to 30 days of leave to the next year. Any accrued leave that’s left is usually gone.
But current statute does allow agencies to restore forfeited annual leave to federal employees, but only in specific circumstances. Agencies could, according to regulations from the Office of Personnel Management, restore lost annual leave when there’s an “exigency of public business.”
This may include scenarios where there’s an urgent need for an employee to be at work and therefore can’t use his or her annual leave, OPM has said.
Wexton’s bill would specify the current coronavirus pandemic as an “exigency of public business” for the purposes of restoring annual leave lost before, during or after the date of the legislation’s enactment.
“During the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, our federal workers are stepping up and working tirelessly to help Americans weather this crisis,” Wexton said Tuesday in a statement. “It’s all hands on deck right now and taking time off is not an option for many federal employees. Federal workers should not be forced to lose their benefits while they carry out the essential work of government. We owe it to them to protect what they’ve earned.”
The bill has a few co-sponsors, including Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), as well as District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
The Pentagon issued related guidance on leave for military members last month. The Defense Department is allowing active-duty members to accrue more leave than usual— anywhere from 60 to 120 days — and hold on to it through 2023.
DoD’s stop move orders, which run through at least June 30, are clearly preventing servicemembers from using their leave, Matthew Donovan, the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, said.
“Leave is vital to the continued health and welfare of our service members and civilian workforce and is key to the Secretary of Defense’s first priority in responding to COVID-19-protecting our service members, DoD civilians, and their families,” he said in the guidance.
Beyond Wexton’s legislation on annual leave, several other congressional members have introduced bills of their own that would compensate or protect federal employees working through the pandemic.
Push for federal hazard pay continues
Congressional Democrats have been most vocal in advocating for hazard pay for federal employees working on the frontlines of the pandemic, but there are signs of bipartisan support.
Nearly 20 senators, led by Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)