Changes in federal workers' leave benefits extended to heterosexual partners, grandparents

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010; B03

Federal workers may use sick leave or funeral leave in cases of ailing or deceased domestic partners starting July 14, the Office of Personnel Management said Monday.

Unlike other recent changes to federal personnel policies that apply only to same-sex partners, the new orders also apply to opposite-sex domestic partners.

The policy change, published in Monday's Federal Register, is part of reforms ordered last year by President Obama when he extended fringe benefits to the same-sex partners of gay federal workers. The fringe benefits were not extended to opposite-sex partners because, the administration said, heterosexual couples can obtain them through marriage.

The change announced Monday adds opposite-sex and same-sex partners, stepparents, stepchildren, grandparents and grandchildren to the list of relationships that permit a federal worker to take leave.

The changes do not apply to the Family and Medical Leave Act, a law that requires all public and private employers to give up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for newborns or sick relatives. Congress would have to change that law.

OPM added stepparents, stepchildren, grandparents and grandchildren at the request of agencies and workers concerned that the personnel policy did not explicitly list them. Monday's notice in the Federal Register also reminded workers that they can take leave for sick or dying relatives who are not explicitly listed in the notice.

"The fact that a specific relationship is not expressly included in these definitions is not meant to diminish the familial bond, or to imply that leave may not be used to care for a person with that relationship," OPM said in the Register.

"Although we agree that any of the suggested relationships may be considered a close association with the employee that is equivalent to a family relationship, not every employee's relationship will have this close association. For example, some employees may have been raised by an aunt, while others may have never had the opportunity to meet their aunt."

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, hailed the changes, saying that "this action reflects the structure of today's families. These changes are additional important steps in helping ensure fairness in the federal workplace."

OPM declined to extend the leave policy to pet owners who want to stay home with sick or dying animals, saying that workers would have to use annual leave or leave without pay in those circumstances.

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