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:
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 (E.O.) 14043 on Requiring Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination for Federal Employees.
Employees who seek any non-required dose of FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine during work hours should be granted administrative leave (consistent with Safer Federal Workforce Task Force and OPM guidance) and not use duty time. This includes employees who are not required to be vaccinated due to the nationwide preliminary injunction on implementation and enforcement of E.O. 14043. For those employees who are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by their agency pursuant to agency-specific vaccination requirements, time spent receiving any required dose of FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine must be duty time.
Safer Federal Workforce Task Force guidance on other Federal agency safety protocols remains in effect. For answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) on compliance with the applicable preliminary nationwide injunction, see this guidance (Updated August 17, 2022; Originally Issued January 24, 2022; PDF, Download Adobe Reader).
UpdatedQ: Must an agency grant administrative leave to cover the period of time it takes an employee to receive a non-required dose of FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Yes. To promote the safety of the Federal workforce and the public they serve, agencies must grant leave-eligible employees up to 4 hours of administrative leave to receive any non-required dose of FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine. The administrative leave will cover the time it takes to travel to the vaccination site, receive the vaccine dose, and return to work.
If an employee needs to spend less time getting the vaccine 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 dose. Employees may not be credited with administrative leave or overtime work for time spent getting a vaccine dose outside their tour of duty.
UpdatedQ: Must agencies allow employees to undertake a required COVID-19 vaccination on duty time?
A: Yes. For those employees who are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by their agency pursuant to agency-specific vaccination requirements, agencies must allow employees to undertake required COVID-19 vaccine doses on duty time. In most circumstances, agencies should authorize employees to take up to 4 hours to travel to the vaccination site, receive a vaccine dose, and return to work—for example, up to 8 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 4 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 dose 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 dose 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.
UpdatedQ: 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 vaccine dose—regardless of whether that dose was required or not—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.
UpdatedQ: Should 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 vaccine dose?
A: Yes, to be consistent with Safer Federal Workforce Task Force guidance, an agency would need to grant administrative leave to any Federal employee who accompanies any family member who is receiving a COVID-19 vaccine dose. 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). Agencies would need to grant leave-eligible employees up to 4 hours of administrative leave per dose—for example, up to a total of 16 hours of leave for a family member receiving four 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 July 29, 2021.
Q: Will employees need to take sick leave while isolating because they have COVID-19 symptoms and are waiting for a test result, or because they have probable or confirmed COVID-19?
A: If an employee is isolating because they have COVID-19 symptoms and are waiting for a test result, or because they have probable or confirmed COVID-19 and is unable to or does not feel well enough to telework, then the employee may request sick leave, use accrued annual leave or other forms of earned paid time off (e.g., compensatory time off or credit hours), access a voluntary leave bank, or use unpaid leave in this situation, as appropriate. Weather and safety leave would be unavailable (see Office of Personnel Management, CPM 2020-02, February 7, 2020), but to mitigate exposure in the workplace, agencies may, on a limited basis, offer up to 1 day of administrative leave to employees who have COVID-19 symptoms and are isolating while actively seeking to be tested.
Q: What should agencies do if an employee attempts to report to the workplace while recommended to isolate?
A: If an employee who is recommended to isolate because they have COVID-19 symptoms and are waiting for a test result or to be tested, or because they have probable or confirmed COVID-19, attempts to report to the workplace, an agency may direct the employee to return home and telework. If the employee is unable to telework (because, for example, they are sick, ineligible to telework, do not have an applicable telework agreement, or are otherwise not able to telework based on their job duties), and the employee does not request to use sick leave, annual leave, or other forms of paid time off (e.g., compensatory time off or credit hours), an agency may elect to bar the employee from the workplace for the safety of others. Any decision to bar the employee should be made in consultation with the agency’s onsite security authority, human resources office, and legal counsel. 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 (e.g., enforced leave). If the agency elects to place the employee on enforced leave while isolating, the agency should follow appropriate processes for placing an employee on enforced leave (e.g., adverse action process). 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 leave if they have probable or confirmed COVID-19, while on official travel?
A: If, while on official travel (i.e., travel conducted under an official travel authorization), an employee has probable or confirmed COVID-19, then the employee should follow agency isolation protocols and delay their return travel (see Travel FAQs). The use of weather and safety leave would be unavailable (see Office of Personnel Management, CPM 2020-02, February 7, 2020). The employee may request sick leave, use accrued annual leave or other forms of earned paid time off (e.g., compensatory time off or credit hours), access a voluntary leave bank, or use unpaid leave in this situation, as appropriate.
Q: At this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, how should agencies be administering weather and safety leave?
A: Previously, when employees were subject to quarantine based on a close-contact exposure to COVID-19, Safer Federal Workforce Task Force and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) guidance advised agencies to grant weather and safety leave during the quarantine period for employees who were unable to telework. Current CDC guidance no longer recommends quarantine based on COVID-19 exposure or following travel, so granting weather and safety leave for purposes of quarantine is no longer necessary and appropriate.
To the extent agencies identify a need to continue to grant weather and safety leave for reasons related to COVID-19 other than quarantine, agencies should consult with the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force to assess whether continuing to grant weather and safety leave for such purposes would be necessary and appropriate.
Weather and safety leave should not be used when an employee has suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Employees who have COVID-19 symptoms and are waiting for a test result, or who have tested positive for COVID-19, are required to not enter a Federal facility or interact with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities, consistent with CDC guidance on isolation and agency isolation protocols. Such employees may request sick leave, use accrued annual leave or other forms of earned paid time off (e.g., compensatory time off or credit hours), access a voluntary leave bank, or use unpaid leave in this situation, as appropriate.