- By Milt x_Zall
- Apr 17, 2000
The Office of Personnel Management wants to give feds a break. OPM in February
issued proposed regulations that would permit full-time federal employees
to use up to 12 administrative work weeks of sick leave each year to care
for a family member with a serious health condition.
Current regulations permit federal employees to use 13 days of sick
leave each year to care for a family member who is incapacitated or for
the funeral of a family member. The limitation has forced many employees
to take extended leave without pay.
Federal employees and agencies have expressed full support for the use
of sick leave for family care or bereavement purposes. Agencies believe
the program fosters good will and creates a more compassionate, family-friendly
An OPM survey showed concern that the 13-day limitation was inadequate
for employees affected by long-term, catastrophic illnesses of family members.
Under the proposed regulations, those who would benefit would include mothers
and fathers caring for their children, grandparents who are raising their
grandchildren, and employees caring for other family members, including
mothers- and fathers-in-law.
The new benefit also would address the dilemma that parents of children
with special needs face. Allowing an employee to use up to 12 weeks of accrued
sick leave each year would reduce the need for extended periods of leave
without pay, which negatively affects an employee's pay and benefits, such
as within-grade increases and health benefits.
Under OPM's proposed regulations, the term "serious health condition"
would have the same meaning as found in the Family and Medical Leave Act
of 1993. That definition includes cancer, heart attack, stroke, severe injuries,
Alzheimer's disease, pregnancy and childbirth. A "family member" would include
the following relatives of the employee: spouse and their parents; children,
including adopted children, and their spouses; parents; brothers and sisters,
and their spouses; and any individual related by blood or affinity whose
close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.
Under the regulations, the entitlement to use sick leave to care for
a sick family member would be prorated for part-time employees or employees
with an uncommon tour of duty. For those employees, the amount of sick leave
available to care for a family member with a serious health condition would
be equal to 12 times the average number of hours in the employee's regularly
scheduled administrative work week.
The regulations appear to be "fed friendly," and whoever came up with
this idea should be congratulated. Care will have to be taken to appropriately
balance an employee's own need for sick leave with the need to use sick
leave to care for a family member. Perhaps feds should be given a new category
of leave for this purpose. Of course, that will cost money, but the government
is running at a surplus, so why not?
—Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week.