Federal employees have more paid time off from OPM to get COVID-19 booster shots

The Office of Personnel Management authorized up to four hours of paid leave for federal employees to receive their COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

The Office of Personnel Management is making it a little easier for federal employees to get their booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Employees now have up to four hours of paid administrative leave, after OPM authorized the time off on Oct. 6. Feds can also use time off to take family members to get their doses of the vaccine. And any employees who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 can use the time off toward getting their first dose.

The authorized leave followed recent efforts from the Biden administration, encouraging Americans to get vaccinated this fall to try to prevent the spread of the illness and minimize disruptions from the pandemic. OPM’s federal leave authorization aims “to further that comprehensive effort,” the agency wrote.

“The updated vaccine provides the strongest available protection from the Omicron strain of the COVID virus, which did not exist when the original vaccine was developed,” OPM wrote. “Given the potential for infections to increase in the fall and winter, it is critical that Americans get a new, updated COVID-19 vaccine to stay protected.”

The allotted four hours of paid administrative leave will cover the time it takes to get the shot, as well as travel time both to and from the vaccination site. Employees should also get approval from their agencies before taking the leave, OPM said.

Additionally, federal employees are eligible for up to two days off if they have an adverse reaction to the vaccine. Beyond the initial two days, employees can use their own sick leave to take additional time off until they recover.

The announcement from OPM was also in line with guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, which said agencies must offer administrative leave to eligible employees, to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. In August, the task force also loosened its COVID-19 screening guidance for employees, contractors and other visitors to federal facilities.

OPM responds to recent natural disasters

Agencies can also extend some paid time off to federal employees who were directly impacted by the recent severe weather from Hurricanes Ian and Fiona.

Federal employees can use weather and safety leave in certain circumstances, including these two hurricanes, OPM said in an Oct. 7 announcement. Agencies can also authorize advance payments and travel reimbursements to employees who need to relocate due to a local emergency.

Typically, teleworking employees cannot use this type of leave, unless the conditions are directly affecting their telework location, such as a home office.

“Telework continues to play a significant role during emergency situations by enabling a greater number of federal employees to work and supporting continuity of operations. Agencies should continue to promote and incorporate telework into their agency emergency planning,” OPM wrote.

Currently, there are more than 3,400 federal workers deployed to Florida and the southeastern U.S. to help with response and recovery efforts. The number of federal teams supporting search and rescue operations has also doubled, adding six more groups to the response efforts, the White House wrote in an Oct. 1 fact sheet. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) leads these operations.

OPM is also currently assessing the need for an Emergency Leave Transfer Program for employees impacted by Hurricane Ian. The agency authorizes ELTPs in emergency situations to let federal employees transfer their unused leave to employees who may need it as a result of a natural disaster.

There are some stipulations for the program, though. Agencies can only substitute advanced annual leave, sick leave or leave without pay that’s used because of the given emergency.

“This is very important, because if an ELTP is later established, employees will not be able to retroactively substitute donated annual leave for any accrued annual leave or sick leave they used because [of] the adverse effects of the disaster or emergency,” OPM wrote.

There is also now some temporary flexibility from OPM for agencies that need to hire more staff to aid recovery efforts following Hurricanes Fiona and Ian.

The temporary federal hires can serve up to one year, and only work in roles that are directly related to hurricane recovery and relief efforts, OPM wrote in an Oct. 7 announcement. Agencies can extend the appointments in increments of one year at a time, for as long as the positions are needed.

“Although public notice is not required when filling positions in the excepted service, OPM strongly encourages agencies to conduct appropriate recruiting and notice to meet agencies’ technical needs,” the agency wrote.

The employees hired to the temporary positions for more than 90 days will generally be eligible for health, vision and dental benefits, but will not have access to the Thrift Savings Plan, life insurance or retirement benefits.

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