OPM Issues Guidance on COVID Emergency Paid Leave

OPM has provided federal employees with more information on how to utilize the 2021 COVID emergency paid leave (EPL) benefit.

Federal employees who have been anxious to use the new COVID emergency paid leave (EPL) benefit authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act now have the answers they have been seeking. The Office of Personnel Management has issued the long-awaited guidance on using the new benefit.

OPM made the announcement via a memo on the new emergency paid leave benefit. Federal employees interested in using the leave must use it between March 11 through September 30, 2021.

Note: the new emergency paid leave benefit is referred to as emergency paid leave (EPL) by OPM and as emergency federal employee leave (EFEL) by the Postal Service.

Emergency Paid Leave Qualifications

There are 8 qualifying circumstances for using the leave:

  1. Subject to Federal, State, or local government quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19 (including government advisory).
  2. Advised by health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns.
  3. Caring for an individual subject to (1) such order/advisory or (2) such advice.
  4. Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and actively seeking a medical diagnosis.
  5. Caring for employee’s child when required because, due to COVID-19 precautions, the child’s school or place of care has been closed, or the child is participating in virtual learning instruction, or the child’s care provider is unavailable.
  6. Experiencing any other substantially similar condition (as approved by OPM).
  7. Caring for a family member (i) who has a mental or physical disability or who is 55 yearsof age or older and (ii) who is incapable of self-care, without regard to whether another individual other than the employee is available to care for such family member, if the place of care for such family member is closed or the direct care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19.
  8. Obtaining immunization related to COVID-19 or recovering from any injury, disability, illness, or condition related to such immunization (after using any administrative leave provided by the employing agency).

OPM said that the following categories of federal employees are covered by the benefit:

  1. an individual in the executive branch for whom annual and sick leave is provided under subchapter I of chapter 63 of title 5, United States Code;
  2. an individual employed by the United States Postal Service;
  3. an individual employed by the Postal Regulatory Commission; and
  4. an employee of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and the District of Columbia Courts.

Utilizing the Leave Benefit

OPM says in its guidance that federal agencies must submit requests to OPM to request reimbursement from the fund set up to cover the emergency paid leave benefit:

An agency may not submit a request for reimbursement until the leave covered by the request has been used by the employee. An agency request must be associated with completed biweekly pay periods.

An agency must submit a separate reimbursement request for each biweekly pay period. The request must identify the pay period by the pay period end date. In addition to providing the total dollar value of the conditionally granted emergency pay leave for which reimbursement is sought, the request must also include the total number of leave hours covered and the total number of employees using the covered leave.

Agencies also are required to notify federal employees that “the granting of emergency paid leave to employees who meet the eligibility conditions is tentative and conditional upon monies being available in the Fund.”

OPM’s guidance adds this:

Before an employee is granted conditional emergency paid leave for the first time, the employee must agree in writing that, if any conditional emergency paid leave subsequently granted to the employee is not available due to exhaustion of the Fund, the employee will apply other paid leave or paid time off (as available to the employee and as appropriate for the given circumstance, including any limited amounts of administrative leave that may be granted by the agency in accordance with established principles) or will retroactively be placed on leave without pay for the affected period and voluntarily provide monetary reimbursement to the agency to cover the resulting overpayment debt. (See 5 CFR 550.1102(b). The regulatory salary offset procedures do not apply when an employee consents to recovery. However, the monetary reimbursement may be made by offsetting salary payments, since the employee will have voluntarily agreed to permit the agency that granted conditional EPL to offset Federal payments (including salary payments) to the employee to recover the amount owed. Any offset of salary payments will be limited to 15 percent of an employee’s disposable pay, except in the case of a final check at the time of separation from employment.) An employee may seek to apply advanced annual or advanced sick leave (as appropriate) under the normal rules governing such advances of leave.

OPM says that if the Fund is nearing the point of exhaustion, “agency reimbursement requests will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis, based on the date and time OPM receives each agency reimbursement request…”

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. 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.