The final piece in our series on leave for federal employees. We go over Emergency and Voluntary Transfer Programs, then conclude with a recap on all types of leave.
When a member (or family member) of the federal workforce is experiencing an emergency – whether it be a personal medical situation or an event impacting numerous Americans – there are leave transfer programs that agencies can establish.
Whether the emergency is personal or more widespread, affected federal employees would submit a written application to their agency to potentially receive leave from the program. This letter should detail how they were impacted by the emergency. If not directly affected, but time off is needed to assist a family member, then how the fed is related to this person, and what the assistance entails, should both be specified. It should be noted that if the leave is requested to help a family member, then no other “reasonable form of assistance” can be available to that relative.
How the government defines “family member” for both types of transfer programs is generous. Spouses, domestic partners, parents (including the in-laws), children, siblings, grandparents, grandkids, stepparents, stepchildren, foster kids, and legal guardians are all allowed.
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For more large scale disasters, the worker (or a personal representative, if unable to write for themselves) would apply to an Emergency Leave Transfer Program. If the situation is more personal in nature, the application would be submitted to a Voluntary Leave Transfer Program. Both types have many similarities with each other. Agencies must approve applications within ten workdays of its delivery. If denied, the employing agency has to provide a reason.
Donated leave can substitute leave without pay retroactively, or it can be added to the recipient’s accrued leave balance, whether it was annual or sick leave that was given. However, these donations cannot be disbursed as a lump-sum payment or recredited to a former employee should they be rehired by another agency. The emergency is considered over if the impacted fed leaves federal service. Otherwise, it ends at the conclusion of the pay period in which the impacted worker notifies their agency that the event is no longer causing an adverse impact, the agency determines this on their own, or OPM approves a disability retirement for the individual. It should be noted that it is up to the agency to request information and investigate if abuse of a transfer program is suspected.
Beyond the cause of the given emergency, there are some other keys differences between the two categories of programs. One of the most important is that with Emergency Leave, only annual leave can be donated but for Voluntary Leave, both annual leave and sick leave are okay to give. Here’s an overview of the features unique to each of the programs –
Emergency Leave Transfer Programs
If there is a major disaster that adversely impacts a significant portion of the population, the US President may declare it a national emergency. If many of the affected individuals are also federal workers, the President can also instruct OPM to create an Emergency Leave Transfer Program. Once established, each federal agency is responsible for the following:
- Determining how much leave is needed, if any, for their impacted employees
- Approving donors, recipients, and transfers between employees both working for that agency.
- Facilitate with the distribution of leave for transfer between two different agencies.
- Setting up the timeframe in which donations of leave can be given and received.
Emergency leave that has been transferred cannot count toward eligibility for either an immediate pension or FEHB. There are also limits involved. No less than 1 hour and no more than 104 hours of annual leave can be donated by a fed (although the agency can waive this maximum). For recipients, there’s no real maximum to the amount they can be given if there is need for it, but each distribution of hours to a single individual has a limit of 240. And when it comes to unused leave, it must be returned to the agency. From there it can go into a “leave bank” should the agency have one, returned to the original donor, or forfeited. Unused donated leave from an Emergency Leave Transfer Program cannot be directly moved to another program that was established in response to a separate nationally declared disaster.
Voluntary Transfer Leave Program
An employee can give accrued sick and annual leave to another federal employee, who is experiencing a personal or family medical emergency, through one of these leave transfer programs. The leave must already be earned by the donor, they cannot advance leave they are expected to earn. Also, no more than ½ of the leave they are to earn for the current year can be donated.
To be eligible as a recipient, you must have exhausted your sick and annual leave and taken at least 24 hours of leave without pay – but remember, this can be retroactively reimbursed with the donated time. If the leave transfer is between employees at two different employing agencies, the donation can only completed if one of the following is true:
- Recipient is a family member (as defined above)
- Recipient’s agency’s workforce is insufficient to meet what is needed
- The receiving agency believes the transfer will “further the purpose” of their Voluntary Leave Transfer Program
Voluntary leave donations can only be switched from one recipient to another at the donor’s request. Unused donations of voluntary leave are returned to the original donor also, unless they explicitly opt out.
Categories of Leave for Federal Employees
There is also one last category of paid time off to go over: compensatory time-off. This is leave that is provided for overtime pay (or “irregular” work) instead of a bolstered pay rate. This time-off can be available to most feds, but can only be part of a regular schedule under a flexible work schedule. 1 hour of compensatory leave is earned for each hour of overtime worked.
Compensatory leave can be mandatory for some feds, but only if they’re FLSA-exempt and their basic pay is greater than the rate of a GS-10, step 10 employee. This time off must be used by the end of the 26th pay period after the pay period in which it was credited. If the employee retires or exits federal service some other way before the 26th pay period, any accrued compensatory time off is usually paid to the exiting individual.
And this concludes our series on the various types of leave available to the US government’s civilian workforce. To review, annual leave and sick leave are the two most prominent, and can have the biggest impacts on your retirement. Accrued annual leave is paid out as a lump sum upon retiring and any remaining sick leave can boost your pension.
There is also time off available for new parents – who can take up to 12 weeks off, paid. For personal medical emergencies, there is leave without pay available, although this can be replenished by a Voluntary Leave Transfer program, detailed above.
There are also alternative work schedules are available to some federal employees, who may have circumstances where an adjustment to their work schedule is preferable to taking leave. These alternatives include compressed and flexible work schedules.
Until Next Time,
**Written by Benjamin Derge, Financial Planner, ChFEBC℠. The information has been obtained from sources considered reliable but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Benjamin Derge and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize, or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors.