Feds will get a few more hours of annual leave this year, but there’s a catch

If the extra hours of annual leave put federal employees over their cap on carryover leave, they’ll have to use that time off — or lose it — by January 20...

For 2023, most federal employees will get a few extra hours of annual leave. But there are a few stipulations for the additional time off.

Federal employees’ annual leave accrual looks a little different this year because of the way the 2023 calendar falls. Specifically, federal employees will end up with 27 pay periods for the 2023 leave calendar, rather than the standard 26 pay periods in most years.

Because of the standard accrual rates of feds’ annual leave, set in law, that means “most federal employees will accrue an additional four, six or eight hours of annual leave in the 2023 leave year based on each individual employee’s annual leave accrual rate,” the Office of Personnel Management said in a memo to agency HR directors Monday. “Employees with three years but less than 15 years of service accrue 10 hours of annual leave in the last full biweekly pay period of the year.”

But there is a catch. If the extra hours of accrued leave put feds over their annual carryover cap, they’ll have to use that time off — or lose it — by January 2024, OPM said.

Notably, the change in the 2023 leave calendar won’t affect the maximum number of leave hours that federal employees can carry over to the following calendar year, OPM said. That means federal employees who get those extra four, six or eight hours of annual leave this year will have to use them by January 13, 2024 — or otherwise forfeit them — if those extra hours will put them above the carryover cap.

Most federal employees can carry over up to 240 hours, or 30 days, of annual leave, but there are some exceptions. Overseas employees can roll over up to 360 hours, or 45 days. And employees in the Senior Executive Service (SES), as well as senior level (SL) and scientific and professional (ST) employees can carry over up to 720 — or 90 days — at the most.

Ceilings for federal employees’ annual carryover leave

Type of employee Maximum carryover leave (in days)
Federal employees stationed in the U.S. 30
Federal employees stationed overseas 45
Senior Executive Service (SES), Senior-Level (SL) and Scientific and Professional (ST) federal employees 90

Chart data from the Office of Personnel Management’s website.

“Although affected employees will earn an additional pay period’s worth of leave during the course of the 2023 leave year, the maximum carryover ceiling on annual leave still remains in effect,” Veronica Hinton, OPM’s associate director of Employee Services, said in the OPM memo Monday.

But the change for annual leave this year does not impact the 26 pay days for federal employees, Hinton said. Federal employees will still receive the standard 26 pay days this year, despite the additional pay period’s worth of accrued leave hours. Any payroll deductions for federal employees will also be set at the standard 26 periods for 2023.

In some specific cases, OPM said, agencies can restore annual leave that an employee previously forfeited, for example, if the employee was sick or if the employee scheduled their approved leave by the third pay period before the end of the leave year. For 2023, that deadline is December 2.

OPM in the past has, at times, made exceptions to the standard annual leave policy for federal employees. Most recently, in 2021, OPM temporarily updated the annual leave policy for federal employees after the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act allowed a larger cap for leave hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, for the vast majority of federal employees, the higher cap — in place for 2021 only — was 300 hours, or 37.5 days of annual leave.

Once 2022 began, the majority of federal employees saw their annual leave cap return to the carryover limit of 240 hours, or 30 days of leave.

Regarding the leave changes for 2023, agency human resources and payroll offices at headquarters should reach out to OPM directly with any questions about the impact of the now 27 pay periods on employees’ pay and pay limitations. The leave calendar will return to the standard 26 periods in 2024.

The 2023 leave year for federal employees began January 1, 2023, and will end January 13, 2024.


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