How Does Paid Parental Leave for Federal Employees Work?

Federal employees have a new paid leave benefit: paid parental leave. Here is a summary of the key features and eligibility requirements.

The long awaited paid parental leave benefit for federal employees officially goes into effect today, October 1, 2020, meaning eligible federal employees can begin to take advantage of the new benefit for the birth or adoption of a child.

According to the latest guidance released from the Office of Personnel Management on the paid parental leave benefit, federal employees must meet Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) eligibility requirements including the following items to qualify for paid parental leave:

  • Employees must have completed at least 12 months of Federal service of a type that is covered under the title 5 FMLA provisions;
  • Employees must have a part-time or full-time work schedule (i.e., employees with an intermittent work schedule are ineligible); and
  • Employees must have an appointment of more than 1 year in duration (i.e., employees with temporary appointments not to exceed 1 year are ineligible).

Federal employees must also have must have a qualifying birth or placement event—that is, the birth or placement (for adoption or foster care) of the employee’s child must occur on or after October 1, 2020.

Paid Parental Leave Entitlement and Usage

  • An employee must invoke FMLA unpaid leave for the birth of a child or placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care in order to receive paid parental leave.
  • Paid parental leave is limited to 12 weeks in connection with a birth or placement of an employee’s child.
  • Paid parental leave is provided via substitution for FMLA unpaid leave. FMLA unpaid leave is provided under the normal rules in the title 5 law and regulations; for example:
    • FMLA unpaid leave is limited to 12 weeks in any 12-month FMLA period, except that an employee may have up to 26 weeks of FMLA unpaid leave during a single 12-month period in order to care for a covered servicemember.
    • In the case of FMLA unpaid leave based on the birth or placement of a child, an employee may not use FMLA leave intermittently unless the agency agrees.
    • Use of FMLA leave for purposes other than birth or placement of a child (e.g., leave based on a serious health condition) during a 12-month FMLA period may reduce the FMLA leave available for birth or placement purposes. (Note: To the extent that the amount of FMLA leave available for birth or placement is reduced, the amount of available paid parental leave also may be reduced.)
    • Each Federal employee has a separate entitlement to FMLA unpaid leave. If two covered Federal employees are parents of the same newly born or placed child, each employee would have a separate FMLA leave entitlement based on the birth/placement event. (Likewise, each employee-parent would have a separate entitlement to substitute paid parental leave for his or her FMLA unpaid leave.)
  • Paid parental leave may be used only during the 12-month period following the birth or placement. There are no carryover provisions for any unused paid parental leave. An employee may not be paid for unused or expired paid parental leave.

OPM’s summary document offers additional details about the key points and requirements of the new paid parental leave benefit.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.