New Bill Seeks to Safeguard Federal Workers’ Annual Leave

October 5, 2020 by Sara Wilkerson
Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., at a recent meeting of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. (Photo by Dan McCue)

Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and his House colleagues recently introduced the Federal Worker Leave Fairness Act of 2020, legislation that will allow all federal workers to carry over their earned annual leave received during the coronavirus pandemic. Approximately 2 million federal employees would benefit from the bill’s passage. 

According to a press release from Kilmer’s office, federal workers who accumulate over 240 hours, or 30 days, of annual leave are mandated to either lose the hours they collected above the cap threshold, or use their hours of leave before the end of the year. 

However, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of leave hours has been near impossible since most federal workers provide critical services to the nation, including but not limited to social security services, postal work, and more. 

If passed into law, the bill’s text states that any leave that is lost by a federal employee during a pandemic that is declared to be a nationwide public health emergency under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act will be restored to the employee. 

As to how long the annual leave rollover would last, Andrew Wright, the communications director for Rep. Kilmer, told The Well News that, “The leave will be rolled over into the next calendar year, so if the pandemic is still declared during 2021, the leave would then roll over into 2022.” 

Wright went on to say that the bill’s effects would last until the public health emergency is declared to be over by the Centers for Disease Control. 

Federal workers have not only taken on their pre-pandemic roles, but they have also helped in the need to limit exposure to COVID-19 on state and local levels. 

“Federal workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard have been working tirelessly throughout this pandemic to maintain the Navy’s readiness to respond to national security threats and have avoided unnecessary travel to minimize health risks that could threaten this important work,” said Kilmer.

“They shouldn’t have to sacrifice the paid leave benefits they’ve earned because they chose to prioritize national service,” he added. 

“With COVID-19 travel restrictions still in place across the country, taking time off to spend with family or visit loved ones is not an option for many federal employees across Virginia right now,” said Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., who introduced the bill alongside Kilmer. 

“Pandemics don’t line up with benefit years. That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation that would allow all of our federal workers to rollover their ‘use it or lose it’ time off at the end of this unprecedented year. They deserve to have their hard-earned benefits protected, particularly as many continue to serve on the frontlines of our government’s response to this crisis,” continued Wexton. 

The Federal Worker Leave Fairness Act was also introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, and several of her Senate colleagues, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. and others. 

“Thousands of dedicated federal workers have been tirelessly responding to the coronavirus pandemic, including U.S. Postal Service employees, Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration workers, and National Institutes of Health researchers,” Hirono said in a statement. 

Hirono continued, “Our nation has leaned on them as they deliver medicines and Social Security checks, assist Americans with filing their taxes, develop a vaccine, and provide other vital services. 

“This bill makes sure that no federal worker loses their leave because of this or any future pandemic.” 

The bill has been endorsed by a number of organizations and unions such as the National Treasury Employees Union, the Federal Managers Association, the National Federation of Federal Employees as well as the American Federation of Government Employees. 

“Too many of our nation’s civil servants, through no fault of their own, stand to lose paid time-off that they have rightfully earned, and we are pleased that Sen. Hirono and Reps. Kilmer and Wexton, with the Federal Worker Leave Fairness Act, have crafted a common-sense solution,” said Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union. 

Reardon continued saying, “We urge Congress to move swiftly on the Federal Worker Leave Fairness Act and help federal workers keep the leave they have earned serving the nation’s taxpayers.” 

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