Expanded Sick Leave Would Cover Swine Flu Caretakers

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 27, 2009

The government may soon extend new leave policies to federal employees actively caring for family members stricken by communicable diseases, including swine flu. Similar proposals call for extending, to up to 26 weeks, unpaid leave to employees providing care to a spouse or family member stricken by injury or illness while serving in the military.

Under a regulation proposed Wednesday in the Federal Register by the Office of Personnel Management, federal employees would be eligible to use accrued or accumulated sick leave if a doctor or other health official determined that a caretaker's presence in the workplace might jeopardize the health of co-workers.

Employees must be providing daily care for the affected family member, the proposal states, and may request up to 104 hours of sick leave before doctors determine the family member has contracted a communicable disease. At that point, employees could use as much as 12 weeks of sick leave each year to care for the family member.

Jerry Mikowicz, OPM deputy associate director for pay and leave administration, said Wednesday that the proposed regulation should help clear up potential confusion for federal agency managers and employees. Though the new proposals could help federal agencies bar potentially infected employees from reporting for work, Mikowicz stressed that a doctor or other health professional would have to determine whether an employee's presence would put co-workers at risk.

The rule applies only to serious communicable diseases for which federal quarantine or isolation rules apply, including cholera, plague, yellow fever or pandemic flu. The OPM is seeking guidance on whether it should add other diseases to the list.

The OPM has also proposed granting 26 weeks of unpaid leave per year to employees actively caring for service members with injuries or illnesses suffered in the line of duty. The regulation would apply when an employee needs to provide care for a current member of the armed forces undergoing medical treatment, recuperation or therapy on an inpatient or outpatient basis, as well as those on the temporary disability-retired list. The proposal allows employees to use annual or sick leave for any of those 26 weeks.

The latest proposed regulation related to military families follows the OPM's decision to grant federal agencies optional direct-hiring authority for the spouses of service members. That rule applies to the spouses of military personnel relocating for a new assignment, some physically disabled spouses, and those whose husband or wife was killed in the line of duty.

Comments about the new proposed regulations are due to the OPM by Oct. 26.

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