Federal employees who exhaust their sick leave for reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic could receive additional paid leave if those problems continue to prevent them from working, under a bill to be considered in a U.S. House committee on Friday.
Employees who meet certain eligibility criteria could receive as much as 600 hours—15 work weeks—of extra leave time to be paid from a $570 million fund that the bill would create. The fund would apply to all agencies, including the semi-corporate U.S. Postal Service, and would operate through Sept. 30.
Under the proposal, federal employees would have to use up their regular sick leave before drawing from the fund. Full-time workers accrue 13 sick leave days per year with no limit on carrying unused leave year to year. Part-time workers get proportionate amounts of sick leave and would be eligible for a proportionate additional amount from the fund.
The additional leave would be available to those who are “unable to work” because they are subject to a quarantine order or have been medically advised to self-quarantine; or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, and are seeking a medical diagnosis; or for getting vaccinated or recovering from side effects of a vaccination.
It further would apply to those unable to work because they are caring for a family member who is in quarantine under an order or medical advice; or one who has a disability or is age 65 or older and incapable of self-care, if the regular source of care is unavailable due to the pandemic; or for a child whose regular day care is unavailable or whose school is less than fully open.
The provision is among those to be considered by the House Oversight and Reform Committee as part of an economic stimulus and pandemic response bill being drafted this week for planned voting in the House in upcoming weeks. The committee’s portion also includes $350 billion for state and local governments and $117 million for oversight of that spending.
Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the subcommittee on government operations, said that some federal employees already have exhausted their paid sick leave due to the pandemic.
“We get information about people who are really struggling because they had serious bouts of COVID-19 or someone in the family has. … You can be out of work for months and then you could have lingering effects,” he said in a phone interview.
“There are all kinds of lingering effects that may require time off. Maybe not the full 15 weeks that we address in this bill, but this pandemic may require chunks of time that sick leave simply doesn’t cover,” he said.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the ranking Republican on the committee, though, said in a statement it is “unfair to the American people to provide an additional 600 hours of paid leave on top of regular paid leave to federal workers who already enjoy many work perks. The Democrats’ priorities are incredibly distorted given that many small businesses are struggling and millions of Americans are unemployed.”
The proposal is the latest of a recent series of bids to enhance federal employee leave benefits, both directly related to the pandemic and not.
Democratic leaders of the committee recently introduced a bill to substitute paid leave for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act for federal employees needing time off for personal or family medical reasons. That would expand an existing policy allowing them to use paid time rather than unpaid for parental purposes under the FMLA law. The limit of 12 weeks within any 12-month period would remain, with use of paid time for one reason reducing how much could be used for another.
Also, a group of Democrats representing Washington, D.C.-area districts recently asked the Office of Personnel Management to allow federal employees paid time off for getting vaccinated.