Federal employees deemed essential for the response to COVID-19 can still carry over their unused annual leave in excess of the normal annual cap.
The Office of Personnel Management made the announcement in a recent memo to agency heads. According to OPM director Kiran Ahuja:
I am notifying agencies that I am reaffirming the OPM Director determination under 5 CFR 630.310 that the COVID national emergency is a qualifying exigency of the public business for the purpose of restoring forfeited annual leave. Agencies may utilize the streamlined authority outlined in the interim regulation to restore annual leave to employees whose work the agency determines to be essential for the response to the COVID-19 national emergency. Agencies continue to be authorized to determine that employees who would forfeit annual leave in excess of their maximum allowable carryover rate due to their services being considered essential for the response to the COVID-19 national emergency are deemed to have scheduled the annual leave in advance, and such leave is subject to restoration.
Under normal circumstances, any accrued annual leave in excess of an employee’s annual leave ceiling (30, 45, or 90 days for most employees) is forfeited if not used by the final day of the leave year.
The annual leave must be scheduled in writing before the start of the third biweekly pay period prior to the end of the leave year (i.e., no later than November 20, 2021, for employees on the standard biweekly payroll cycle). Any annual leave scheduled after that date will be forfeited if not used by the final day of the leave year under normal circumstances.
Actions Required by Agencies to Allow COVID Annual Leave Rollover
Agency heads must perform the following actions to restore any applicable annual leave under the special rules for COVID-19:
- Determine the specific employees or groups of employees whose services are essential in response to the national emergency and who are qualified for coverage under the regulations;
- Inform designated employees in writing of such a determination;
- Continually monitor the agency’s response to the national emergency and determinewhether the services of the designated employees to respond to the national emergency are still required, preventing the employees from scheduling and using their annual leave; and
- Fix a termination date of the exigency of the public business for each employee or group of employees in accordance with the regulatory criteria, and inform both the affected employees and the agency payroll provider in writing of the termination date.
When Must Employees Use the Restored Annual Leave?
- Full-time employees must schedule and use restored annual leave of 416 hours or less by the end of the leave year in progress 2 years after the date fixed by the agency head (or designee) as the termination date of the exigency of the public business. This period is extended by 1 leave year for each additional 208 hours of excess annual leave or any portion thereof.
- Part-time employees must schedule and use restored annual leave in an amount equal to or less than 20 percent of the number of hours in the employee’s scheduled annual tour of duty by the end of the leave year in progress 2 years after the date fixed by the agency head (or designee) as the termination date of the exigency of the public business. This period is extended by 1 leave year for each additional number of hours of excess annual leave, or any portion thereof, equal to 10 percent of the number of hours in the employee’s scheduled annual tour of duty.
When is the COVID-19 National Emergency Authority Terminated?
OPM says that the special leave authority must be terminated for each covered employee on the date one of the following events occurs, whichever is earliest:
- when the agency head (or designee) determines that the services of a covered employee isno longer essential to the response to the national emergency or that the employee is ableto follow the normal leave scheduling procedures;
- on the day that is 12 months after the national emergency has been declared (however,the agency head (or designee), may extend this deadline annually by an additional 12 months, but an agency cannot grant more than two 12-month extensions); or
- when an employee whose services were determined to be essential during the national emergency moves to a position not involving services determined by the agency to be essential to the response to the national emergency.