What You Need to Know: Leave Benefits

By Eric Yoder
Special to the Washington Post
Thursday, November 13, 2008 12:00 AM

One key consideration when evaluating a job is knowing when you won't have to be working at it. The federal government offers a variety of leave benefits, many of which stack up well against private sector practices. The government in many ways is liberal in the types of leave it offers and the situations in which employees may use leave.

Annual Leave

Full-time employees accrue 13 days of annual leave┬┐that is, vacation time--in each of their first three years of service, 20 days per year between years four and 15 years, and 26 days per year after 15 years. Leave for part-time employees is prorated according to the number of hours they work.

Annual leave can be used for any purpose the employee desires, although typically it must be scheduled several weeks in advance and a time-off request can be denied due to the agency's needs.

New employees can use their leave as they earn it, at the rate of a half-day per two weeks.

Employees typically can carry up to 30 days of annual leave from one year to the next--any excess is "use or lose."

Agencies also may grant employees advance leave of up to as much as they would earn through the rest of the year. Each agency has its own policy on the allowable situations.

Sick Leave

Full-time employees earn 13 days of sick leave a year; leave for part-time employees is prorated according to the number of hours worked. There is no limit on how much sick leave an employee can accumulate.

Most sick leave is used for personal medical needs. In addition, employees may use sick leave for family members who have a condition that would qualify an employee to take sick leave if afflicted personally, or for making arrangements for or attending the funeral of a family member. Also, an employee may use some sick leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition or for purposes related to the adoption of a child.

Each agency has its own policy for approving sick leave. For absences longer than three days, an agency may require a medical certificate or other evidence.

An agency may advance sick leave to an employee with a medical emergency.

Unpaid Leave

The federal government follows the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for purposes such as childbirth or a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to work. On return, an employee must be returned to the same or an equivalent position.

Leave without pay can be granted at an agency's discretion for various medical or personal reasons such as when an employee exhausts other types of leave. It also can be granted, within restrictions, for performing military service, adoption-related purposes, meeting family obligations, performing volunteer activities and religious observations.

Leave Sharing

Agencies operate programs in which employees who have used up their leave entitlements for medical emergencies or other hardships can receive paid leave donated to them by other employees. This is known as "leave transfer" and is a popular program in many agencies because it allows employees to help co-workers in need.

Similarly, many agencies operate "leave bank" programs that employees donate annual leave into and may draw from in the future for similar reasons.


Federal employees get the following holidays:

• New Year's Day, January 1

• Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday, 3rd Monday in January

• Presidents Day, 3rd Monday in February

• Memorial Day, last Monday in May

• Independence Day, July 4

• Labor Day, 1st Monday in September

• Columbus Day, 2nd Monday in October

• Veterans Day, November 11

•Thanksgiving Day, 4th Thursday in November

• Christmas Day, December 25

Employees required to work on a holiday get additional pay for that day.

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