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As the summer months approach and the latest CDC guidance rolls out, many Americans are heading out to get their COVID vaccinations. According to the CDC, there has been a total of 274 million doses given leading to 124 million, or 37.7%, of people in the United States being fully vaccinated as of May 16. For federal employees looking to get vaccinated, you may be eligible for paid leave after receiving your vaccines. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has recently come out with more details on the new Emergency Paid Leave program, which was launched as part of President Biden’s $570 million COVID-19 American Rescue Plan.
In March 2021, Congress passed the Emergency Paid Leave (EPL) Section of the American Rescue Plan. The purpose of the Plan is to provide temporary paid leave and encourage federal employees to become vaccinated. Currently, federal employees are allowed to take up to four (4) hours of administrative leave to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination. Agencies will also allow for up to two (2) business days of administrative leave for recovery if the employee experiences an adverse reaction to the vaccine.
Since the creation of EPL, OPM has released new guidance on who qualifies for the emergency paid leave and how agencies will be able to grant these requests. Below are a few of the reasons an employee can request access to this additional type of leave:
• Subject to COVID-19 governmental quarantine or isolation order/advisory;
• Advised by health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
• Caring for an individual subject to (1) such order/advisory or (2) such advice;
• Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and actively seeking (i.e., taking immediate steps to obtain) a medical diagnosis;
• Caring for a child when required because, due to COVID-19 precautions, the child’s school or place of care has been closed, or the child is participating in virtual learning instruction, or the child’s care provider is unavailable;
• Experiencing any other substantially similar condition (as approved by OPM);
• Caring for a family member (i) who has a “mental or physical disability”* or who is 55 years of age or older and (ii) who is “incapable of self-care”*, without regard to whether another individual other than the employee is available to care for such family member, if the place of care for such family member is closed or the direct care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19 (* as those terms are defined in OPM guidance), and
• Obtaining immunization related to COVID-19 or recovering from any injury, disability, illness, or condition related to such immunization (after using any administrative leave provided by the employing agency).
Once an employee gets the approval from their agency, they can use the allotted time immediately. After the employee returns, agencies will then have to submit for reimbursement from the OPM. The EPL funds will be available until September 30, 2021, or until the $570 million runs out. According to OPM, they are tracking the remaining funds and staying in touch with the agencies as to how much money remains available.
There are some exceptions to note however when requesting additional time off. When taking this time, expect to be compensated at the same rate as you otherwise would be on annual leave but capped at $1,400 per week. Furthermore, this time cannot account for overtime or accrue additional vacation for getting a vaccine during normal working hours. For those who have already received their vaccinations, OPM suggests asking individually on whether or not you will receive any time off retroactively for getting vaccinated.
Many federal agencies are eligible to receive EPL funding. However, agencies such as TSA, FAA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, are covered by other leave systems not administered by OPM. Employees of these agencies should contact their agency directly on how to access their funds.
For more information on EPL, OPM’s guidance, and forms to complete to request EPL, you can gain access by viewing the latest memo sent to Executive Departments and Agencies.
Michael C. Fallings is a Partner working in Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Austin, TX office, where he focuses his practice on federal sector labor and employment law. Mike has extensive experience litigating cases on behalf of employees at the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and in both state and federal courts. He also has experience negotiating settlement agreements on behalf of federal employees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (512)225-2800.