Whoever is in charge of OKing regulations at the Office of Personnel Management (or Office of Management and Budget, for that matter) must be going on vacation soon.
OPM — which, with all due respect, isn’t known for its expediency in releasing new regulations —released two big ones on Friday morning.
One was a new regulation allowing “essential” federal employees to carry over restored annual leave they’d otherwise have to forfeit at the end of the year because their services are needed during the coronavirus pandemic.
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The new rules, which we describe in some detail here, apply to this current emergency and future ones. Essential employees are allowed to hold on to at least some of their excess leave for two years after the end of the emergency, and in some cases, longer. It’s an acknowledgment that for some feds, this pandemic hasn’t allowed them to take much time off.
Then there’s the new rule on paid parental leave, which OPM also released late last week.
Paid parental leave has been a decade in the making, and longtime House members have been trying to pass a program for federal employees into law for years. New benefits for federal employees aren’t easy to come by.
But the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA) became law last December, and the program is set to go into effect in less than three months.
Starting Oct. 1, federal employees are eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave. It only applies to children born, adopted or placed on or after Oct. 1.
We heard from dozens of federal employees about this one over the last eight months. You wanted to know why your agencies didn’t have more information yet on the new paid parental leave program.
Answer: they were waiting on these OPM regs. The National Finance Center, one of four federal payroll providers, emailed its customers on Friday, informing them of the three payroll codes it had implemented to comply with the new paid parental leave program.
You may not see it directly, but agencies are preparing for paid parental leave.
You also wanted to know whether Congress had fixed the program yet, after lawmakers accidentally left out non-screeners at the Transportation Security Administration, employees at the Federal Aviation Administration and other federal workers.
(Answer: Not quite, though Congress seems poised to pass paid parental leave corrections in this next defense authorization bill, so stay tuned.)
Most of all, you wanted to know why the program only applies to new children born or adopted on or after Oct. 1.
This one is trickier to answer. The federal employee groups I’ve spoken to about this question acknowledge, yes, for the parents whose new child is born on Sept. 29 or 30, they’re essentially out of luck.
A group of House Democrats had called for a retroactive expansion of paid parental leave to employees expecting new children before the Oct. 1 implementation date, but lawmakers would have needed to pass a new bill into law in order to make those changes.
They did not.
Like it or not, Oct. 1 is the start date, and the beginning of the fiscal year makes some sense. OPM and each agency also need time to implement the new paid parental leave program.
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“To properly prepare for the congressionally-mandated effective date of the new rules on paid parental leave, agencies need this regulation to be promulgated with sufficient lead time to create internal policies and procedures, to modify their payroll systems, to retrain their human resources staff and to provide effective notice to eligible employees,” OPM said.
The paid parental leave regulations are 85 pages long and cover all kinds of hypothetical scenarios. We can’t possibly cover them all, but here are a few.
Employees at the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, whose agencies had implemented six weeks of paid parental leave last October, will be eligible for the 12 weeks like most every one else in three months.
And while you’re combing through those 85 pages, make sure to read the fine print.
Because paid parental leave is supposed to substitute the unpaid leave employees already have the Family Medical and Leave Act for the birth or adoption of a new child, federal workers are still limited to 12 weeks of paid/unpaid FMLA leave in any 12-month period.
“Thus, use of FMLA unpaid leave for other purposes (e.g., based on the employee’s own serious health condition or to care for certain family members with a serious health condition) can—depending on the timeframe in which it is taken—limit the amount of FMLA unpaid leave available for a birth or placement event, and thus limit the amount of paid parental leave that can be substituted for it,” OPM said.
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