The paid parental leave program has many federal employees feeling especially curious about their new benefits, due to kick off in less than three months.
The Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law last December, gives workers access to up to 12 weeks of paid time off for the birth, adoption or placement of a new child.
Only births, adoptions or placements that occur on or after Oct. 1, 2020, are eligible under FEPLA. Employees who have a new child born on Sept. 30 are not eligible for the new paid parental leave benefits.
After receiving instructions from the Office of Personnel Management late last week, agencies and payroll providers are preparing for the arrival of the new benefits program.
In an email sent to its customers Friday, the National Finance Center announced it had developed payroll codes for the paid parental leave program. It’s up to each agency to coordinate with their time and attendance vendors to ensure they can implement these paid parental leave codes, NFC said.
Because paid parental leave is technically a substitute for the unpaid leave federal employees have under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), there are few nuances to the new program that are important to know.
Here are just a few.
Read the fine print on FMLA
To be eligible for paid parental leave, federal employees must also be eligible for FMLA. Employees are eligible under FMLA if they’ve completed at least 12 months of federal service at an applicable agency, have a full or part-time work schedule and have an appointment of a year or longer.
Employees who are ineligible for leave at the time of a qualifying birth but become eligible within the next 12 months may be able to use paid parental leave later.
“An employee may become eligible for FMLA leave by completing the required 12 months of service or by changing to a qualifying work schedule or appointment,” OPM said in a new fact sheet on the program. “Once FMLA leave eligibility is established and FMLA leave is invoked, an employee may be able to substitute paid parental leave in connection with a qualifying birth or placement.”
Employees can only use paid parental leave during the 12-month period following the birth or placement of a new child. They can’t carry over unused parental leave, and they won’t be paid out for unused or expired leave.
In addition, agencies can’t require employees to use sick or annual leave before taking paid parental leave, OPM said.
Birth certificates, documents naming a federal employee as the second parent or hospital documentation are all options to prove childbirth, OPM said.
Documents from the adoption or foster agency, letters from the parent’s attorney confirming the placement of the child, adoptive placement records, immigration visas for the child from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and foster care placement letters from a local social services agency are also options.
A few details on work obligations
The law requires federal employees to guarantee, in writing, they’ll continue working for their agencies for at least 12 weeks following the last day of paid parental leave.
The 12-week work obligation is in place regardless of whether an employee has used all 12 weeks or not, OPM said. To fulfill this requirement, employees must be working and in “on-duty” status; periods of unpaid or paid leave status, including furloughs, don’t count for the purposes of meeting an agency’s work obligation.
“Any periods of work between intermittent uses of paid parental leave do not count toward completion of the 12-week work obligation,” OPM said. “The work obligation is met by performing work after use of paid parental leave concludes.”
Employees who don’t fulfill their work obligations after using paid parental leave may be asked to reimburse their agencies for the full cost of the government’s contribution toward the employee’s federal health insurance during the time paid parental leave was used.
It’s ultimately up to each agency, however, to decide whether an employee should reimburse the organization. Employees must reimburse agencies in full.
There are exceptions, particularly if an agency determines an employee can’t immediately return to work due to “the continuation, recurrence, or onset of a serious health condition (including mental health) of the employee or the child whose birth or placement was the basis for the paid parental leave,” OPM said.
Employees may transfer to a new agency while using paid parental leave. In that case, the agency where the employee completes the paid parental leave period is owed the 12-week work obligation, OPM said.
For example, if an employee worked at the Agriculture Department before having a child and then transferred to the Interior Department halfway through his or her paid time off, the employee must commit to working for Interior for at least 12 weeks after returning from parental leave.
Federal employees who have multiple children born or placed on the same day are eligible for one leave period of 12 weeks.
But employees who have multiple children born or placed within the same year are entitled to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for each “event,” which they must use within the 12-month period after the birth or placement, OPM said.
There may, however, be periods where paid parental leave time limits may overlap. In those situations, leave from one birth or adoption may count toward an employee’s paid time-off allowance for the second “event.”
“In other words, usage of paid parental leave may count toward multiple 12-week limits to the extent that there are simultaneously in effect multiple ongoing 12-month periods beginning on the date of an applicable birth/placement,” OPM said.