U.S. Department of Commerce - Office of the Secretary U.S. Department of commerce seal


   
 
HR Practitioners banner

Home > HR Practitioners > Compensation & Leave

Sick Leave

Printable View

Purpose

Sick leave is a period of approved absence with pay from official duties. Sick leave is authorized when an employee:

  • Is incapacitated for duty as a result of physical or mental illness; injury, pregnancy or childbirth;
  • Receives medical, dental, or optical examinations or treatment;
  • Would endanger the rest of the workforce by being present on the job after exposure to a contagious disease as determined by a health care provider or public health authorities;
  • Makes arrangements necessitated by the death of a family member or arranges for the funeral of a family member, including ceremonies up to one year after the death;
  • Provides care for a family member (1) who is incapacitated as a result of mental or physical conditions, including pregnancy, childbirth and before/after care of the mother; (2) who requires assistance to medical, optical, dental examinations or treatments; or (3) with a serious health condition;
  • Must be absent from duty for purposes relating to his/her adoption of a child, including appointments with adoption agencies, social workers, and attorneys; court proceedings; required travel; and any other activities necessary to allow the adoption to proceed;
  • Participates in a drug or alcohol counseling program, or other counseling program which is under the auspices of a licensed practitioner and which has been prescribed as treatment by a licensed practitioner; or
  • Requires time to replace or repair a prosthetic device, or train in the use of an aid, e.g., a seeing eye dog.

General Family Care or Bereavement

Basic entitlement. A full-time employee may use up to 104 hours (or 13 days) of sick leave in any leave year for the general care of a family member or for bereavement. A part-time employee or an employee with an uncommon tour may use leave in an amount equal to number of hours of sick leave he/she normally accrues during a leave year.

Family member. A family member includes the employee’s: 1) spouse, parents, and spouse’s parents; 2) children, including stepchildren and adopted children, and their spouses; 3) brothers and sisters, and their spouses; and 4) anyone related by blood or affinity whose close relationship with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.

Advanced leave. A supervisor may advance a maximum of 30 days of sick leave to a full-time employee at the beginning of a leave year, or at any time thereafter, when required by the exigencies of the situation for a serious disability or ailment of the employee or a family member or for purposes relating to the adoption of a child. A maximum of 13 days of sick leave per leave year may be advanced to a full-time employee for general family care or bereavement purposes. A part-time employee or an employee on an uncommon tour of duty may be advanced sick leave prorated based on the number of hours in the employee's regularly scheduled administrative workweek.

Expanded Family Care for a Serious Health Condition

Basic entitlement. A full-time employee may use up to 12 weeks (or 480 hours) of sick leave in any leave year for care of a family member with a serious health condition. A part-time employee or an employee with an uncommon tour may use sick leave in an amount equal to 12 times the average number of hours of work in the employee’s scheduled tour of duty each week. Any portion of the 13-day maximum limit of sick leave used for general family care or bereavement in a leave year must be deducted from the 12-week entitlement for expanded family care.

Serious health condition. A serious health condition has the same meaning used under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993. This includes conditions such as cancer, heart attacks, heart bypass or valve operations, strokes, severe injuries, kidney dialysis, Alzheimer’s disease, clinical depression, mental conditions that require impatient care or continuing treatments, pregnancy and childbirth. Sick leave may not be used under this heading for bonding or to care for a healthy newborn and is only granted for the period of the mother’s incapacitation. Serious health conditions do not cover short-term conditions for which treatment and recovery are very brief nor conditions such as the flu, common cold, earaches, routine dental or orthodontia problems, etc., unless complications arise.

No accumulation. The amount of accrued sick leave which can be authorized for general family care and bereavement or for expanded family care is the same in any leave year. Sick leave which is not used for these purposes in one leave year does not increase the amount available for the same purposes in the following leave year.

Sick leave and FMLA. An employee may substitute sick leave for a period of unpaid leave under the FMLA for the purposes and in the amounts that it would otherwise be available under this heading. When sick leave is substituted under FMLA, it does not extend the employee's leave entitlement or change any management or employee right or responsibility regarding documentation of leave, medical certification, notice and approval for use of leave, etc. An employee may use up to 12 weeks of accrued sick leave for care of a family member with a serious health condition and then also invoke entitlement to 12 weeks of unpaid absence (LWOP) under the FMLA to care for a spouse, son or daughter, or parent with a serious health condition.

Sick leave and the Leave Transfer Program. Before being credited with donated annual leave, employees who have requested leave donations to cover personal illness must use all their own annual and sick leave and have unpaid absence of at least 24 hours. By comparison, effective June 20, 2000, full-time employees who request leave donations to care for a family member with a serious health condition must first exhaust sick leave equal to their "basic entitlement" (i.e., 12 weeks for a full time employee or their available sick leave up to 12 weeks) before receiving donated annual leave. Furthermore, they must use all annual leave to their credit and have unpaid absence of at least 24 hours before receiving donated leave.

Contagious Diseases

"Contagious disease" means a disease requiring isolation, quarantine, or restriction of movement of the patient for a specified period as prescribed or certified by a physician or local health regulations (36 Comp. Gen. 183).

Entitlement. Sick leave may be granted consistent with the quarantine or isolation period required by the attending physician or local health authorities without regard to the employee-care giver's "basic entitlement" or maximum limitation under this policy when:

  • An employee is required to care for family member who is afflicted with a contagious disease; or
  • An employee would jeopardize the health of others by his or her presence at the workplace because of exposure to a contagious disease.

A residence does not actually have to be quarantined before sick leave may be granted to an employee who is taking care of a family member afflicted with a contagious disease. Rather, if the health regulations or authorities or a physician recognizes a limitation of freedom of the patient, then the disease is to be regarded as contagious and quarantinable.

If the health authorities, do not specify how long a patient should be isolated or movement restricted, then a certificate from a physician as to the period of isolation or restriction of movement will be sufficient to support a grant of sick leave to an employee. The determination as to whether a disease is considered contagious may not be made by a day care giver.

Sick Leave for Adoption

Sick leave may be used for any of the processes connected with legal adoption of a child. These may include travel; home visits of the adoption agency; appointments with attorneys, courts, and adoption agency officials; and any period in which one or both parents must stay at home with an adoptive child as required by rules of the adoption agency. Both parents have an equal entitlement. Sick leave may not be used for custody hearings or for bonding with the child unless the bonding is ordered by the court.

Entitlement. The amount of sick leave which an employee may use in the adoption process is limited only by the amount of accrued sick leave available to the adoptive parent and the hours which can be supported as adoption-related. A supervisor may, at his or her discretion, advance up to 240 hours of sick leave for this purpose, and may, at his or her discretion, require administratively acceptable evidence of eligibility before approving a sick leave request under this heading.

Requesting Sick Leave

Except in an emergency situation, sick leave should be requested and approved in advance. The Leave/Premium Pay Request function in webTA or an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Form 71, Request for Leave or Approved Absence (or the SF-71, Application for Leave, if excess copies are being used), should be used to document an advance of leave and, except as indicated below, is recommended but optional for documenting an employee's request and the supervisor's approval of accrued sick leave. Submission of a leave request via webTA and the certifying supervisor’s approval of the request and the webTA T&A Summary are acceptable documentation of the employee's use of leave, including unplanned or emergency sick leave. Similarly, a certifying supervisor’s approval of an OPM-71 and the webTA T&A Summary are acceptable documentation.

Requesting sick leave for general family care, bereavement or expanded family care. Employees must use the Leave/Premium Pay Request function in webTA or an OPM-71 to request the use of sick leave for general family care, bereavement, or expanded family care, to ensure that sick leave used does not exceed the maximum limitations. The webTA leave request or the OPM-71 should be marked to indicate sick leave or advanced sick leave. The purpose of the leave, e.g., "general care/mother," "bereavement/mother," "expanded care/sister " should be selected in webTA or shown in the "Remarks" section of the OPM-71.

Evidence of Entitlement

A supervisor may grant sick leave only when supported by evidence administratively acceptable. Regardless of the duration of the absence, a supervisor may consider an employee’s certification as to the reason for his or her absence as evidence administratively acceptable. However, for an absence in excess of 3 workdays, or for a lesser period when determined necessary by a supervisor, the supervisor may also require a medical certificate or other administratively acceptable evidence as to the reason for an absence.

In all cases of sick leave used, the supervisor may require medical certification (in addition to the leave request made via webTA or the OPM-71) as acceptable evidence supporting the absence. Supervisors may also request medical certification about a family member’s need for personal care and/or psychological comfort. In these instances, the heath care provider must certify that: (1) the family member requires physical and/or psychological care; (2) the family member would benefit from the employee’s care or presence; and (3) the period of incapacitation the employee is needed to care for the family member. Unless otherwise indicated by a local collective bargaining or partnership agreement, the employee must provide all requested medical certification within 15 calendar days after the date the supervisor requests such certification. If it is not practicable under the particular circumstances to provide the requested evidence or medical certification within 15 calendar days after the date requested despite the employee's diligent, good faith efforts, the employee must provide the evidence or medical certification within a reasonable period of time, but no later than 30 calendar days after the date of the request. An employee who does not provide the required evidence or medical certification within the specified time period is not entitled to sick leave. In all instances, it is incumbent upon leave-approving officials to determine that the circumstances of the absence justify a grant of sick leave.

Accrual and Accumulation of Sick Leave

Sick leave accruals shall be credited at the beginning of each pay period. Sick leave which is not used during the year in which it accrues shall accumulate without limitation and be available for use in succeeding years (see transfer and recredit of sick leave.)

Full-time employees on a common tour of duty. All full-time employees assigned to an 80 hour tour of duty shall earn sick leave at the rate of one-half day (4 hours) for each full biweekly pay period for a total of 13 days (104 hours) per leave year.

Full-time employees on an un-common tour of duty. All full-time employees assigned to a 72-hour workweek and receiving pay under 5 U.S.C. 5545 (c)(1) shall earn sick leave at the rate of 7 hours for the first 25/26 pay periods and 12 hours for the last pay period of each leave year.

All full-time employees as-signed to a 56-hour workweek and receiving pay under 5 U.S.C. 5545 (c)(1) shall earn sick leave at the rate of 5 hours for the first 25/26 pay periods and 21 hours for the last pay period of each leave year.

Part-time employees. Part-time employees earn sick leave at the rate of one hour for each 20 hours in a pay status. The formula to calculate a part-time employee's leave accruals considers the current pay period base time hours and overtime hours, as well as unapplied hours from the previous pay period. However, any hours in a pay status during a pay period in excess of the Department's basic work requirement (80 hours) or in excess of 40 hours in a workweek shall be excluded in the computation of earned leave.

For additional information, see the part-time leave accrual formula and chart.

Changes between full-time, part-time and intermittent positions. An employee who is changed from a full-time to a part-time position, or vice versa, during a biweekly pay period without a break in service accrues leave based on the number of hours as a part-time employee and application of the pro rata leave table.

Similarly, an employee on a mixed tour who is changed from a full-time or part-time to an intermittent position, or vice versa, during a biweekly pay period without a break in service accrues leave based on either the number of hours as a part-time employee or the pro rata leave accrual table for the number of days worked as a full-time employee.

With the exception of a mixed tour employee involved in a continuing program whose unapplied hours are held in abeyance, any unapplied hours remaining to the credit of a part-time employee moving to a full-time or intermittent position are forfeited. The forfeited unapplied hours must be manually removed from the Department’s automated personnel/payroll system.

Temporary employees. All temporary employees, including those appointed to serve for less than 90 days, are entitled to earn and use sick leave.

Less than full biweekly pay period. Employees do not accrue sick leave for any pay period of employment which is less than a full biweekly pay period, except where:

  • A transfer occurs between positions with different pay periods (biweekly, monthly, etc.);
  • Continuity of employment is interrupted by a non-leave earning period and the employee will return to a leave earning status;
  • The employee enters on duty on the first workday following a holiday which falls on the first workday of the pay period; or
  • A transfer occurs during the pay period.

Loss of leave accrual based on nonpay status. A full-time employee does not accrue leave whenever he or she amasses enough hours of absence in a nonpay status during one leave year to equal the number of base pay hours in one pay period (e.g., 80 hours). Additional absences without pay have the same effect if they again add up to 80 hours before the end of the leave year. Hours in a nonpay status which are not sufficient to require a loss of leave accruals are dropped at the end of the leave year. The loss of leave accrual must equal 4 hours.

Pay period other than biweekly. Employees who are paid on other than a biweekly pay period basis earn and are credited with leave on a pro rata basis for a full pay period. (See the pro rata leave accrual table).

Charging Sick Leave

Minimum charge for leave. Unless an operating unit has established a policy or negotiated an agreement to charge sick leave in quarter-hour increments, the minimum charge for sick leave is one hour. Additional leave will be charged in corresponding units. Where the leave charge exceeds the period of absence, the employee will not be required to work for the period between the time of actual absence and the time charged to leave.

Holidays and nonworkdays. Sick leave may not be charged for absence on holidays or regular nonworkdays or during periods when overtime has been scheduled.

Per diem and per hour employees. Leave is charged only for absences occurring during the first 40 hours of the workweek for which compensation is paid at straight-time rates, or for only the first eight hours of any day if the employee is entitled to payment for overtime after the eight-hour duty period. Leave will not be charged for absence during periods when overtime has been scheduled.

Part-time employees. Leave is charged for absences from regularly scheduled duty.

Employees on mobility assignments, Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) assignments or sabbaticals. Leave is charged for all sick leave absences. For employees on an IPA or sabbatical at an institute of higher education, this includes sick leave used during short absences from school and for periods of school closure such as semester or vacation breaks. While on assignment, supervisors continue to have the discretion to decide when and in what amount leave may be approved and all established procedures for requesting and reporting leave usage remain in effect.

Granting Advanced Sick Leave

Unless it is otherwise restricted, employees may be advanced sick leave in addition to the sick leave to their credit regardless of whether they have annual leave to their credit.

By law, the amount advanced to a full-time employee who has completed a probationary or trial period in the Federal Government may not exceed 240 hours. Advances for general family care or bereavement are limited to 104 hours per leave year. Part-time employees or those with uncommon tours of duty are advanced sick leave on a pro rata basis.

Supervisors are advised not to advance sick leave in excess of 13 days (104 hours) to probationary employees or to advance sick leave to temporary employees in excess of the amount which they will earn during the period of temporary employment. An employee must request sick leave via the Leave/Premium Pay Request function in webTA or by submission of an OPM-71, Application for Leave, annotated to show "advanced sick leave." Supervisors authorized to approve advanced leave should have reasonable assurance that the employee will be in duty status long enough to repay or liquidate the advanced leave granted. When it is known at the time advanced leave is requested that the employee will not be returning to duty, advanced sick leave may not be granted (23 Comp. Gen. 837 and 25 Comp. Gen. 874). Sick leave must not be advanced to an employee who has filed application for disability, inasmuch as payment for such leave is not recoverable upon the employee's subsequent separation from the service.

When an employee has been granted the maximum amount of advanced sick leave he or she is eligible to receive, further grants of advanced sick leave cannot be approved. In cases where an employee is subsequently required to be absent from duty and other types of leave are not appropriate for the absence, the employee may be granted leave without pay for the duration of an approved absence. However, when an employee's advanced sick leave balance is subsequently reduced (e.g., by sick leave accruals), an advance of sick leave may again be granted. Sick leave may be advanced only in an amount that will not cause the employee's balance to exceed 240 hours for a full-time employee .

Liquidation of advanced sick leave. When an advance of sick leave is granted, the employee must be advised that, if such leave is not liquidated by subsequent accruals or a cash payment (to be arranged by and with the consent of the agency), upon separation the employee must either refund the amount paid for the period representing the indebtedness or have deducted that amount from any pay due. A refund is not required when an employee: dies; retires for disability; resigns or is separated because of disability which is the basis of the separation as determined by the agency, and supported by acceptable medical evidence. Additionally, no refund is required when an employee enters active military duty with a right of restoration.

Advanced sick leave may be liquidated by a charge against annual leave provided this action is not for the sole purpose of avoiding a forfeiture of annual leave at the end of the leave year.

Unless specifically mentioned, the retroactive substitution of annual leave for regular sick leave is not authorized other than for the liquidation of advanced sick leave indebted-ness (38 Comp. Gen. 354).

Compensatory time granted in lieu of overtime earned subsequent to the advance of sick leave may not be credited toward reducing the balance of advanced sick leave owed by the employee (45 Comp. Gen. 243).

Special Leave Procedures

When an employee appears to be using sick leave improperly, the employee may be required to comply with special leave procedures more stringent than those applied to other employees. For example, the employee may be required to call the leave approving official daily while on sick leave or provide evidence to substantiate brief periods of illness. An employee who is being placed on special leave procedures must be notified in writing, in advance, of the procedures and their duration, and the possible results of noncompliance. A supervisor considering leave restriction is encouraged to consult with his or her servicing HRO before taking such action.

Substitution of Sick Leave for Annual Leave

Whenever circumstances within a period of annual leave would clearly justify the granting of sick leave rather than annual leave, sick leave may be granted by the leave-approving official and the charge against annual leave reduced accordingly.

Application for substitution must be made not later than two workdays after the employee returns to duty and must be supported by such evidence as may be specified by the supervisor.

In instances where absences due to sickness are charged to annual leave at the employee's request, the employee may not thereafter have sick leave retroactively substituted for the annual leave (54 Comp. Gen. 1086). However, when an employee retires or dies during the same year in which the leave is taken, and a timely request is made, an agency may allow retroactive leave substitution of sick for annual leave depending upon the circumstances of the case (57 Comp. Gen. 535).

Leave for Treatment of Disabled Veterans

Executive Order 5396, dated July, 17, 1930 provides that supervisors must grant to a disabled veteran such annual or sick leave as may be permitted by law and such leave without pay as may be necessary to permit the veteran to receive medical treatment. This includes time for the employee to take a physical examination in connection with a disability pension, to have a prosthetic device fitted, etc. The veteran must present an official statement from a medical officer of a Government hospital specifying that such treatment is necessary. Granting such leave shall be contingent upon the veteran's giving prior notice of definite days and hours of absence required for medical treatment so that arrangements can be made for handling work during the employee's absence.

Sick Leave for Employees Stationed Outside the United States

The sick leave regulations apply equally to U.S. citizen employees stationed outside the United States. An operating unit may adopt local prevailing practices with respect to granting sick leave to aliens and national employees where it is considered administratively desirable. Alien employees may not be granted sick leave in excess of the amount allowable to citizen employees.

Sick Leave While on Official Travel

Subject to supervisory approval, employees may use sick leave while traveling on official Departmental business. Per diem will be allowed, not to exceed the maximum rate for the location, for a reasonable period, normally not to exceed 14 calendar days (including fractional days) for any one period of absence.

Sick Leave Buy Back

An employee may buy back sick leave used during a period of disability while employed at the Department that is later determined to be covered under the Workers’ Compensation Program. Sick leave repurchased by the employee is not subject to any leave ceiling.

Sick Leave for Computation of an Annuity

All sick leave to the credit of an employee at the date of retirement (or death) and used towards the computation of an annuity is considered used. The sick leave may not be subsequently used, transferred, or recredited.




A - Z HR Policy Library for HR Practitioners