Agencies should utilize telework and remote work consistent with the principles set forth in OMB Memorandum M-21-25 and agency plans for reentry and post-reentry.
Q: What is EPL?
A: EPL stands for “Emergency Paid Leave.” This is a new, temporary paid leave program established in the American Rescue Plan intended to help federal employees who are impacted by COVID.
Q: What makes EPL different from other leave programs?
A: Unlike other leave programs, EPL is set up as a fund. Employees will be able to request leave from their employing agencies. If the employee is eligible, the employing agency can conditionally grant this leave and submit a request for reimbursement to the agency that administers the fund.
Q: Why did the American Rescue Plan create EPL?
A: EPL advances several important public policy goals. First, it helps provide a way for federal employees experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or subject to quarantine or isolation orders to stay home to avoid putting others at risk. Second, it recognizes the challenges that federal employees have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic with caring for children, elderly family members, and family members with disabilities—when their normal school, childcare, and caregiving options are not available because of COVID. Third, to the extent that agencies do not provide administrative leave for COVID vaccination purposes, EPL is available to cover periods of time when an employee is getting vaccinated, thereby facilitating employees in obtaining COVID vaccines.
Q: What does it mean for EPL to be a “temporary” leave program?
A: EPL is available until September 30, 2021, unless the applicable fund is exhausted before then.
Q: Are all federal employees covered by the same fund?
A: No. The ARP created four distinct funds. OPM administers a $570 million fund that covers most of the federal government. There are separate funds for TSA, FAA, and VA employees, who are covered by other leave systems not administered by OPM. Employees of these agencies should direct questions about how to access their funds to their agency.
FOR EMPLOYEES COVERED BY THE OPM-ADMINISTERED FUND
Below are FAQs to help employees understand how to access EPL.
Q: When did EPL become available?
A: Federal employees became eligible for EPL when the American Rescue Plan was signed into law on March 11, 2021. EPL may not be used for periods of time before March 11, 2021.
Q: Under what circumstances may an employee use EPL?
A: If an employee is covered by the EPL fund, the employee may use EPL if unable to work because the employee is:
- Subject to COVID-19 governmental quarantine or isolation order/advisory;
- Self-quarantining due to COVID-19 concerns on the advice of a health care provider;
- 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; and/or
- 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).
Q: What is the maximum amount of leave can federal employees receive under EPL?
A: Full-time employees experiencing qualifying circumstances can receive a maximum of 600 hours (15 weeks) of EPL. For part-time employees, the total hours are prorated based on the employee’s tour of duty, e.g., a half-time employee can get up to 300 hours.
Q: How much are federal employees paid under EPL?
A: Federal employees will receive the same pay for EPL hours they would receive if they were on annual leave.
Q: Is there limit on how many hours of EPL an employee can use in a biweekly pay period?
A: Yes, there is a biweekly limit. An employee may be granted EPL hours only to the extent that the value of those EPL hours in a biweekly pay period does not exceed $2,800 for a full-time employee or an equivalent limit for a part-time employee (e.g., $1,400 for a half-time employee).
Q: An employee previously submitted a leave request and now wants to change it to EPL. What should they do?
A: Employees can ask their agency to retroactively convert other categories of leave they may have taken to EPL, if they meet the eligibility requirements.
Q: How do employees put in a claim in for EPL?
A: Each agency will provide employees with a form (modeled after an OPM template) to request EPL. Employees should check with their human resources office on the procedures for claiming EPL.
Q: What does it mean that EPL is approved “conditionally?”
A: EPL is available until September 30, unless the $570 million fund is exhausted before then. If the fund becomes exhausted, any EPL that was conditionally approved and cannot be paid for out of the fund will have to be canceled, and other leave substituted for it.
Q: Should employees take EPL or administrative leave to get their vaccine?
A: OPM has encouraged agencies to offer up to four hours of administrative leave per dose to cover time spent getting a vaccine dose, plus additional time if reasonably necessary, instead of having employees use EPL. This will maximize the availability of EPL for other circumstances that might affect an employee.
Q: What is the impact of EPL on an employee’s retirement?
A: The law provides that an employee’s total service used in computing their retirement annuity must be reduced by the amount of EPL used. EPL is treated like other paid leave for all other retirement purposes. For example, EPL time is creditable service for establishing annuity entitlement, computing the high-3 average salary, and applying retirement deductions and agency contributions.
Q: What documentation will an employee need to provide to their employing agency?
A: Documentation requirements vary depending on the qualifying circumstance. The leave request form will describe generally required documentation. Employees will need to make certain certifications and may need to provide explanations in certain circumstances. An agency may request supplemental information, explanations, or certifications, if it believes it is necessary.
Below are FAQs that agencies covered by the OPM leave fund can use to understand how to grant leave and access reimbursement.
Q: How do agencies submit a claim for EPL reimbursement to OPM?
A: Agencies should follow the instructions contained in OPM’s Benefits Administration Letter (BAL) 21-303.
Q: How long will it take agencies to get reimbursed by OPM from the fund?
A: OPM will make every attempt to process agency reimbursement requests promptly, but we cannot provide a guarantee on the timing of payments.
Q: How should agencies handle employees’ retroactive claims for EPL?
A: Please ask employees to submit any retroactive claims for EPL as soon as possible and submit them to OPM right away so that we can accurately track expenditures against the fund.
Q: How will agencies know when the fund is exhausted?
A: OPM will be monitoring the fund on a regular basis and will notify agencies as it gets close to exhaustion. Agencies can also monitor a dashboard that will be set up at https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/ARPA to track overall fund usage. This dashboard will reflect data reported to OPM by agencies through the reimbursement process.
Q: How will OPM prioritize agency reimbursement requests if the fund is exhausted?
A: OPM will be processing agency reimbursement requests on a first-come/first-served basis based on the date/time of receipt by OPM. (See OPM guidance for details.) An agency reimbursement request (or set of agency requests with the same receipt date/time) that exhausts the Fund will result in a partial reimbursement to the agency (or agencies) under rules established by OPM. When an agency receives a partial reimbursement, it will need to determine how to allocate available funds to cover (i.e., give final approval of) affected individual employee EPL claims that were conditionally granted.
To ensure compliance with an applicable preliminary nationwide injunction, which may be supplemented, modified, or vacated, depending on the course of ongoing litigation, the Federal Government will take no action to implement or enforce the COVID-19 vaccination requirement pursuant to Executive Order 14043 on Requiring Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination for Federal Employees.
Accordingly, effective January 21, 2022, while the preliminary injunction is in place, employees who are not otherwise required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by their agency and who seek any authorized dose of a COVID-19 vaccination during work hours (including primary series doses, authorized boosters, and authorized additional doses) should be granted administrative leave and not use duty time. Agencies should grant up to four hours administrative leave for any non-required primary series COVID-19 vaccination dose consistent with the guidance below for boosters and authorized additional doses.
Safer Federal Workforce Task Force guidance on other Federal agency safety protocols based on vaccination status—including guidance on protocols related to masking, distancing, travel, testing, and quarantine—remains in effect. For answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) on compliance with the applicable preliminary nationwide injunction, see this guidance (Issued January 24, 2022; PDF, Download Adobe Reader).
Q: Must an agency grant administrative leave to cover the period of time it takes an employee to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot or for an immunocompromised employee to receive an additional dose?
Yes. To promote the safety of the Federal workforce and the public they serve, agencies must grant leave-eligible employees up to four hours of administrative leave to receive any authorized COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, if they are eligible to receive such a booster shot. Similarly, agencies must grant leave-eligible employees up to four hours of administrative leave to receive any authorized additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The administrative leave will cover the time it takes to travel to the vaccination site, receive the vaccination dose, and return to work. Because there is currently no requirement for Federal employees to receive a vaccine booster shot or additional dose, granting duty time is not allowable in these instances.
If an employee needs to spend less time getting the vaccine booster shot or additional dose, only the needed amount of administrative leave should be granted. Employees should obtain advance approval from their supervisor before using administrative leave for purposes of obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot or additional dose. Employees may not be credited with administrative leave or overtime work for time spent getting a booster vaccine shot or additional dose outside their tour of duty.
In the case of booster shots, this policy may be applied retroactively to the time when authorized booster shots became available (i.e., no earlier than September 22, 2021, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to allow for the use of a single booster dose). In the case of additional doses, this policy may be applied retroactively to the time when authorized additional doses became available (i.e., no earlier than August 12, 2021, when the FDA amended the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to allow for the use of an additional dose in certain immunocompromised individuals).
For more information on booster shots, go to the CDC web page on COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.
For more information on additional doses, go the CDC web page on immunocompromised patients & COVID-19 vaccine.
Q: Must agencies allow employees to undertake a required COVID-19 vaccination on duty time?
A: Yes. To facilitate expeditious vaccination of the federal workforce, agencies must allow employees to undertake required COVID-19 vaccination doses on duty time. In most circumstances, agencies should authorize employees to take up to four hours to travel to the vaccination site, complete a vaccination dose, and return to work—for example, up to eight hours of duty time for employees receiving two doses. (If an employee needs to spend less time getting the vaccine, only the needed amount of duty time should be granted.)
Agencies should require employees taking longer than four hours to document the reasons for the additional time (e.g., they may need to travel long distances to get the vaccine). If, due to unforeseen circumstances, the employee is unable to obtain the vaccine during basic tour of duty hours, the normal overtime hours of work rules apply.
Reasonable transportation costs that are incurred as a result of obtaining the vaccine from a site preapproved by the agency should be handled the same way as local travel or temporary duty (TDY) cost reimbursement is handled based on agency policy and the Federal Travel Regulation.
Q: What type of leave should agencies grant to employees to cover post-vaccination recovery?
A: An agency should grant up to 2 workdays of administrative leave if an employee has an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccination dose that prevents the employee from working (i.e., no more than 2 workdays for reactions associated with a single dose). If an employee requests more than 2 workdays to recover, the agency may make a determination to grant emergency paid leave under the American Rescue Plan Act —if available—or the employee may take other appropriate leave (e.g. sick leave) to cover any additional absence. This policy on granting administrative leave is specific to the current COVID-19 pandemic situation and is designed to support agencies’ missions by promoting the health and safety of the Federal workforce. Facilitating vaccination will minimize the administrative burdens of addressing noncompliance with the vaccine requirement.
Q: Must an agency grant administrative leave to cover the period of time it takes an employee to accompany a family member who is receiving a COVID-19 vaccination?
A: Yes, an agency must grant administrative leave to federal employees who accompany any family member who is receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.
Based on President Biden’s direction that the Federal Government should work aggressively to maximize the number of people receiving the COVID-19 vaccination, the Administration has determined that, going forward, agencies must grant administrative leave to federal employees who accompany their family members who are receiving any dose of a COVID-19 vaccination. For this purpose, a “family member” is an individual who meets the definition of that term in OPM’s leave regulations (see 5 CFR 630.201).
Under this policy, agencies must grant leave-eligible employees up to four hours of administrative leave per dose—for example, up to a total of twelve hours of leave for a family member receiving three doses—for each family member the employee accompanies. (If an employee needs to spend less time accompanying a family member who is receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, only the needed amount of administrative leave should be granted.) Employees should obtain advance approval from their supervisor before being permitted to use administrative leave for COVID-19 vaccination purposes. Employees may not be credited with administrative leave or overtime work for time spent outside their tour of duty helping a family member get vaccinated. This policy applies to covered vaccinations received after posting of this FAQ on July 29, 2021.
Q: Will personnel need to take personal leave / sick leave days for quarantining as a result of travel?
A: Employees should be aware that official or personal travel may result in a mandatory quarantine before they are allowed to return to the workplace.
If quarantine is required because of official travel or workplace exposure, agencies should provide weather and safety leave, or other administrative leave.
If quarantine is required because of personal travel, and the employee is otherwise expected to be present onsite, the employee may take personal leave while quarantining. If an employee refuses to quarantine or refuses to take personal leave while under mandatory quarantine after personal travel, an agency may elect to bar the employee from the workplace for the safety of others. If the agency bars the employee from the workplace, the employee must be placed on administrative leave until the agency determines what status the employee should be placed in while on quarantine. Agencies, however, should avoid placing an employee on extended administrative leave in this situation and should act quickly to determine the appropriate status for the employee.
Q: Will employees need to take sick leave while isolating for probable or confirmed COVID-19?
A: If an employee is required to isolate for probable or confirmed COVID-19 and is unable to telework, the employee may request sick leave, accrued annual leave, or other forms of earned paid time off (e.g., compensatory time off or credit hours) or unpaid leave in this situation, as appropriate. Weather and safety leave would generally be unavailable, but to mitigate close contacts in the workplace, agencies may on a limited basis offer up to 3 days of administrative leave to employees who have COVID-19 symptoms and are isolating while actively seeking to be tested. See CPM 2020-02, February 7, 2020.
Q: Will employees need to take leave while quarantining after coming into close contact with an individual with COVID-19?
A: If quarantine of an employee is required after official travel or a close contact, and if an employee is unable to telework, agencies should provide weather and safety leave while the employee is quarantined. However, if an employee has probable or confirmed COVID-19, the employee should isolate, and use of weather and safety leave would be unavailable.
Q: What should agencies do if an employee attempts to report to the workplace while in an isolation or quarantine status?
If an employee with probable or confirmed COVID-19 attempts to report to the workplace when in isolation status, an agency may elect to bar the employee from the workplace for the safety of others. If the agency bars the employee from the workplace, the employee should be placed on administrative leave until the agency determines what status the employee should be placed in while isolating. Agencies, however, should avoid placing an employee on extended administrative leave in this situation and should act quickly to determine the appropriate status for the employee.
If an employee who is required to quarantine attempts to report to the workplace, an agency may direct the employee to return home and telework or, if the employee is unable to telework, use weather and safety leave.
Q: At this stage of the COVID-19 national emergency, how should agencies be administering weather and safety leave?
A: The guidance OPM has provided on the use of weather and safety leave in connection with the COVID-19 is still applicable. In addition to identifying certain specific covered circumstances, OPM communicated the general principle that, subject to statutory and regulatory limitations, agencies should use available flexibilities to provide weather and safety leave in circumstances where allowing an employee to travel to or perform work at the normal worksite would pose significant safety risks for the employee, other employees, or the general public. (See March 19, 2020, OPM Fact Sheet.) OPM has advised that weather and safety leave should not be used when an employee was capable of teleworking (5 CFR 630.1605) or when the employee is sick with COVID-19 or otherwise in circumstances under which sick leave was appropriate.