House Legislation Would Protect Feds’ Unused Leave During Coronavirus Pandemic

Rep. Jennifer Wexton

Rep. Jennifer Wexton J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., has introduced a bill that would ensure that federal workers who are unable to take a vacation due to the COVID-19 outbreak will not lose their paid leave.

A new bill in the House would ensure that federal workers who cannot take vacation this year due to the coronavirus pandemic and end up exceeding annual limits on how much time off can carry over from year to year. would not lose their paid leave. 

Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., on Wednesday introduced the Federal Frontline Worker Leave Protection Act (H.R. 6733) along with Reps. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.; Don Beyer, D-Va.; and Jamie Raskin, D-Md.; and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. The bill would allow federal employees whose work is part of the COVID-19 response effort to roll over all of their unused leave to 2021.

Currently, most federal workers are only allowed to roll over 240 hours, or 30 days, of paid annual leave per year. If an employee has more than that available at the end of a calendar year, the leave exceeding that cap is gone for good.

Exceptions to the law include employees whose work in a year has been primarily overseas or more broadly required extended travel or because “exigencies of the public business” forced workers to cancel previously scheduled leave.

Wexton’s bill effectively would codify that the coronavirus pandemic constitutes and "exigency of the public business," and it would apply that exception regardless of whether the federal employee had previously scheduled time off.

“The service of an employee responding to the COVID-19 pandemic shall be deemed to be an exigency of the public business, and any leave that, by reason of such service, is lost by the employee by operation of this section (regardless of whether such leave was scheduled) shall be restored to the employee and credited and available,” the bill states.

In a statement, Wexton said it would be unfair to apply ordinary leave rollover standards to employees who either cannot take time off due to their position or cannot travel because of the pandemic.

“During the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, our federal workers are stepping up and working tirelessly to help Americans weather this crisis,” Wexton said. “It’s all hands on deck right now and taking time off is not an option for many federal employees. Federal workers should not be forced to lose their benefits while they carry out the essential work of government. We owe it to them to protect what they’ve earned.”

The Defense Department last month issued similar guidance, increasing the cap on the amount of leave service members can carry over from year to year from 60 to 120 days.