Federal Employees Entitled to Sick Leave for Medical Travel After Abortion Ruling

OPM said that federal employees are entitled to sick leave to travel out of state for medical care, just days after the Supreme Court’s decision on abortions.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said this week that federal employees can get sick leave when traveling out of state for medical care.

OPM issued a list of frequently asked questions about travel access for medical care which contained the information about getting sick leave to travel longer distances to receive medical care. While it does not specifically mention abortion, the information is being released just days after the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, thereby returning the determination of abortion law to the states.

The key question in the list of FAQs is the first one which reads:

May sick leave be used to cover travel time to a location where a Federal employee will receive medical examination or treatment?

A: Yes. An agency must grant sick leave to an employee for the employee to receive medical examination or treatment. 5 CFR 630.401. Accessing that medical examination or treatment typically involves travel, and that travel can be covered by sick leave to the extent that the travel time occurs during the employee’s tour of duty established for leave-charging purposes. While such travel will generally be short distances—for example, to and from a local doctor’s office or hospital—an employee may find it necessary to travel longer distances, including out of state, to obtain medical care. In such instances, sick leave may be used to cover necessary travel time. (emphasis added)

The OPM document also notes that federal employees do not have to provide a reason for their request for leave under three days, but for an absence longer than that, “…an agency may require the employee to provide a medical certificate or other administratively acceptable evidence.” In other words, a signed doctor’s note would be required in these cases.

Federal employees can also use sick leave to accompany family members to obtain care in another state per OPM’s guidance. An employee’s travel time would be covered by sick leave in this scenario.

Since the Supreme Court decision was announced, a number of private sector companies have stated that they will be providing travel expenses to their employees to travel to other states to get abortions if they happen to reside in states that ban the procedure.

Push to Provide Paid Leave for Out-of-State Abortions

When word got out last month that the Supreme Court might overturn Roe v. Wade, an advocacy group within the Justice Department wrote a letter seeking administrative leave for federal employees to get out-of-state abortions. OPM was one of the recipients of the letter.

While OPM’s new guidance is not exactly what this group was seeking, it is a step in that direction without directly stating a policy on abortion or travel related to it.

Sick Leave vs. Administrative Leave

Sick Leave

According to OPM, federal employees are entitled to sick leave for the following reasons:

  • They receive medical, dental, or optical examination or treatment;
  • They are incapacitated for the performance of duties by physical or mental illness, injury, pregnancy, or childbirth; or
  • They would, as determined by the health authorities having jurisdiction or by a health care provider, jeopardize the health of others by their presence on the job because of exposure to a communicable disease.

OPM also notes that up to 13 days of sick leave may be advanced to employees “when required by the exigencies of the situation, for an employee’s own medical, dental, or optical examination or treatment.” It further adds, “An agency may also grant up to 240 hours (30 days) of advanced sick leave for an employee’s own illness, injury, pregnancy, childbirth, or exposure to a communicable disease.”

Administrative Leave

According to OPM, “Administrative leave (also referred to as ‘excused absence’) is an administratively authorized absence from duty without loss of pay or charge to leave.”

OPM also adds, “Administrative leave is not an entitlement, and agencies are not required to grant it. However, in special circumstances covered by Governmentwide directives or in reaction to emergencies, agencies may have policies and practices in place that provide for automatic application of administrative leave.”

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.