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COVID-19 Emergency Paid Leave Guidance Issued

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has issued guidance for the Emergency Federal Leave Fund created by Congress and signed into law on March 11 as part of the American Rescue Plan. With this guidance, which we explain in more detail below, agencies now have the tools they need to implement this important program to assist federal employees affected by the pandemic. The guidance also answers a whole host of questions about how the program will work.

In other words, agencies no longer have an excuse for not making this emergency leave available to federal employees who qualify for it.

OPM has identified eight circumstances where employees can qualify for the emergency leave, and they are listed here. Generally, it is for situations related to personal or family COVID-19 illness, required quarantine because of possible exposure, and the closures of schools or daycare facilities for children or dependent adults.

One of the biggest outstanding questions was whether the leave could be applied retroactively, and the answer is yes, but it is limited. The emergency leave can only be applied to pandemic-related annual or sick leave you have already used since March 11, when the law was passed. Pandemic-related leave used before March 11 is not eligible for conversion.

Three things you should know right away:

1. The emergency paid leave program expires on Sept. 30, 2021, or when the $570 million fund created by Congress runs dry. It is available for up to 600 hours or 15 weeks per employee.

2. Employees will receive the same pay for emergency paid leave hours they would receive if they were on annual leave. However, each employee can only use $2,800 worth of emergency paid leave in a two-week pay period. Over an 80-hour pay period, that $2,800 would equal an average hourly rate of $35. Any additional time off needed must come from other leave sources such as annual or sick leave.

Here are some examples:

a. If the employee’s hourly adjusted rate of basic pay is $35 or less, the employee would be able to use up to 80 hours of emergency paid leave in a biweekly pay period.

b. If an employee’s hourly adjusted rate of basic pay is $70, the employee would be limited to 40 hours of emergency paid leave in a biweekly pay period. This employee could request other available leave to cover the remaining hours.

3. Employees will need to sign an employee agreement, an example of which is linked here, as well as complete the application form, an example of which is found here. The agreement acknowledges that approval of the emergency paid leave depends on money still being available in the fund and that you agree to reimburse your agency should the fund be depleted. That can be done by substituting appropriate paid leave (annual, sick, etc.) or by monetarily reimbursing the value of the leave.

Your agency now has to make this option available. NTEU is contacting every agency where we represent employees to ensure that it is ready to move quickly to make this leave available to employees.

Watch your inboxes: NTEU is updating the leave explainer document for our members and will make that available shortly. It will explain the emergency paid leave program along with other types of leave available to you.

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