Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Explore options before taking leave from work

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If you must take leave from work because you are sick or need to care for a sick family member, you have a range of leave options that probably include:

• Accrued or advanced annual leave. You may be advanced as much annual leave as you would be expected to accrue throughout the rest of that leave year.

• Accrued or advanced sick leave. You may use up to 13 days of sick leave per leave year for bereavement or for caring for a sick family member who is not necessarily seriously ill; and up to 12 weeks of sick leave per leave year to provide psychological comfort or physical care to a seriously ill family member. You may be advanced up to 30 days of sick leave.

• Up to 12 weeks of leave without pay (LWOP) within any 12-month period under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Contrary to popular belief, you are not required to exhaust all of your annual and sick leave before taking FMLA leave.

FMLA also provides job protections, and health insurance is maintained under FMLA leave. In most cases, you may take FMLA leave in combination with whatever forms of paid leave are also available to you — including teleworking, credit hours, comp time, annual leave and sick leave — and thereby “stack” leave.

Some caveats: You are required to provide notice of your intent to take FMLA leave at least 30 days before the start date of that leave or, in emergencies, as soon as possible. Beware that you may not retroactively substitute any form of paid leave for FMLA leave. So be sure to inform your supervisor in writing or via email of your intention to take FMLA ahead of time, if possible, and remind him of your FMLA leave status when it begins.

A little-known fact: An agency may grant an employee LWOP outside of FMLA if, for example, an employee needs additional time to recover from an illness.

• Up to 24 hours of LWOP per leave year for school and early childhood educational activities; routine family medical purposes; and elderly relatives’ health or care needs.

If you’re debating which form of leave to use, consider:

• A supervisor generally cannot deny sick leave or FMLA leave to an employee who provides required medical certification. However, a supervisor may deny a request for annual leave if the employee is needed at work during the requested leave period.

A supervisor may also deny a request for LWOP outside of FMLA or the 24-hour LWOP option.

• FMLA leave may only be used to cover care for a parent, spouse, child or child of a same-sex domestic partner — but not a domestic partner. However, sick leave may be used to cover care for additional types of family members, including parents-in-law; siblings; grandparents; grandchildren; stepparents; stepchildren; foster parents; foster children; guardianship relationships; same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners; and any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship. The 24-hour LWOP option may be used to cover care for a same-sex domestic partner or the child of such a partner.

• You must be in pay status either the day before or the day after a holiday in order to get paid for that holiday. So if you use some form of unpaid leave in combination with some form of paid leave, time your dates for paid leave accordingly.

• Whenever you take paid leave, you continue to accrue annual and sick leave. But this is not so when you take LWOP: Once you accrue 80 hours of FMLA leave, you will not earn annual or sick leave during that pay period. If you take unpaid leave in combination with paid leave, you will accrue annual and sick leave prorated to the amount of paid leave you take.

Go to the Office of Personnel Management website for more information on leave.

Comments

  1. GS-11 Says:
    August 6th, 2012 at 8:11 am

    “In most cases, you may take FMLA leave in combination with whatever forms of paid leave are also available to you — including teleworking, credit hours…”

    Excuse me? Teleworking is not a form of leave. As a diligent teleworker I take offense to that blatant mischaracterization of me working from home. Stuff like this perpetuates the myth that telework is just fun and games.