Federal pay and benefits have come under increased scrutiny. But just what are the basics of working for Uncle Sam? We spend the week examining what is provided to federal workers.

The federal government offers a variety of leave benefits, many of which stack up well against private sector practices.

Almost all federal employees are entitled to the standard 10 federal holidays a year; if they have to work on those days they get additional pay.

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 a year between years four and 15; and 26 days a 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, though usually it must be scheduled several weeks in advance and a time-off request can be denied based on the agency’s needs.

Employees generally can carry up to 30 days of annual leave from one year to the next — and any excess for the most part is “use or lose.” Higher limits apply in some situations. Employees who leave the government get a payment for the value of unused annual leave.

Agencies 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.

Agencies may advance sick leave, with policies and limits varying.

On retirement, employees can get either full or partial credit for unused sick leave in the calculation of their annuities.

Unpaid Leave

The federal government follows the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides up to 12 work weeks 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 for religious observations.

Other Policies

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.

Special leave provisions apply for employees who leave their jobs to serve on active military duty, for court duty, and in certain other special situations.

Also, agencies may grant time off as compensation for traveling on official business while on personal time, or in lieu of overtime pay, or as a form of performance reward.