Paid Parental Leave for Some Federal Employees Start Oct. 1

The Federal Employee Paid Leave Act gives workers up to 12 weeks of paid time off for the birth, adoption, or placement of a new child.

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Paid federal leave for federal employees, long thought to be a dream, became a reality for federal workers on Oct. 1.

The Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA) provides 12 weeks of paid parental leave to certain federal civilian employees covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The leave can be used for the birth of an employee’s child, adoption, or foster care.

Before the paid parental leave requirement was put in place, federal employees had to take unpaid leave. They could also use sick or annual leave for such reasons.

The benefit is for parental leave only, it does not apply to federal employees who want paid time off to care for a sick family member or to recover from their own serious medical condition, unlike FMLA.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) estimates most of the Executive Branch employees — about 2 million federal civilian employees — will be covered by the new leave requirement.

However, in the rush to get the legislation approved and signed, not all federal government workers were granted access to the benefit. Only workers employed under Title 5 and Transportation Security Administration screeners are guaranteed paid parental leave under the new legislation. Agencies such as the U.S. Postal Service, the Postal Regulatory Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Aviation Administration, and, for the most part, TSA personnel, are excluded, according to OPM.

But leadership at other agencies, particularly the Veterans Affairs Department, have vowed to make the leave benefit available beginning in October although no public announcement has been made, Government Executive reports.

OPM also noted that at least 2 federal agencies have provided 6 weeks of paid parental leave: the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began providing paid leave in October 2019 and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) began providing paid leave in January 2020. The employees of the 2 agencies will be covered by the paid parental leave provisions that take effect on Oct. 1, 2020.

Only workers employed under Title 5 and Transportation Security Administration screeners are guaranteed paid parental leave under the new legislation.

The new federal leave requirement is part of the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020” that was signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, 2019. Reports at the time indicated that Trump struck the deal for paid federal leave in order to get Democrats to go along with his proposal for the creation of the U.S. Space Force, the new branch of the armed forces.

Eligible employees

In addition to working for an agency covered by the legislation, an employee is eligible for paid parental leave if he or she has completed at least 12 months of service in the federal government. Unlike FMLA, employees are not required to be employed by a specific employer for at least 12 months or to have at least 1,250 hours of service during the previous 12-month period; instead, they need only 12 months of covered service performed at any time in the past, according to OPM.

Employees do not include individuals employed on a temporary or intermittent basis.

Substitute for the FMLA

Covered employees may choose to substitute up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for the up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave provided by FMLA. Because the paid parental leave is designed as a substitute for the 12 weeks of unpaid leave available each year under the FMLA, a federal employee who takes 4 weeks of FMLA unpaid leave would only be eligible for 8 weeks of paid parental leave within the same year and an employee who takes 12 weeks of paid parental leave would no longer have any FMLA unpaid leave for the rest of the year.

Trump struck the deal for paid federal leave in order to get Democrats to go along with his proposal for the creation of the U.S. Space Force, the new branch of the armed forces. 

Paid parental leave must be used no later than the end of the 12-month period beginning on the date of the birth or placement involved. At the end of that 12-month period, any unused balance of paid parental leave granted in connection with the given birth or placement permanently expires and is not available for future use.

There is no carryover for any unused paid parental leave. An employee may not be paid for unused or expired paid parental leave.

If 2 covered federal employees are parents of the same newborn or newly placed child, each employee-parent would have a separate entitlement to paid parental leave.

Agencies can’t require employees to use sick or annual leave before taking paid parental leave.

Documentation

Federal employees will have to provide documentation to prove they need time off in connection with the birth or placement of a new child.

Birth certificates, documents naming a federal employee as the second parent, or hospital documentation can be used to provide evidence of childbirth, OPM says.

Documents from an 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 can be used to prove the adoption or placement of a child.

Post-leave work obligation

The new law requires federal employees to guarantee in writing and before they go out on leave that 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.

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. The decision on reimbursement is up to each agency, OPM said.

However, 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.

Leave expansion

A defense budget bill approved this summer by the U.S. House of Representatives on a 295 to 125 vote would extend eligibility for paid parental leave to the employees of the federal organizations presently excluded, except for postal employees. But, according to the Government Executive that bill has yet to emerge from a conference with the U.S. Senate, which has no similar language in its bill.

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