An excused absence, sometimes generically called administrative leave, is an absence from duty administratively authorized without loss of pay and without charge to leave. Ordinarily, excused absences are authorized on an individual basis, except where an installation is closed or a group of employees is excused from work for certain purposes.
P.L. 114-328 of 2016 changed numerous policies regarding such absences, standardizing and putting legal authority behind practices that had built up over the years under general authority of agencies to control their operations. That law formally authorized administrative leave while specifying its allowable uses, and also created specific new categories of excused absences for situations that previously had fallen under the general practice of administrative leave. These are investigative leave, notice leave, and weather and safety leave. (Note: While final rules on weather and safety leave were issued in 2018, rules regarding the other policies were not formally finalized; however, agencies generally follow the practices described below.)
Administrative leave—An agency may place an employee on administrative leave for no more than 10 workdays in a calendar year. Allowable reasons include if the absence directly relates to the mission of the agency; is for an activity officially sponsored or sanctioned by the agency; or if the agency determines that the absence would be in the interest of the agency or the government as a whole.
Examples include attendance at a professional meeting, to perform volunteer work related to the agency’s mission, and participation in agency-sponsored blood donation drives, health promotion and similar events.
An agency may not provide a recurring entitlement to administrative leave, for example, on an employee’s birthday or on a day following a Thursday holiday. Nor may paid time off be granted as a performance recognition award or solely for an employee to participate in an event for his or her personal benefit or the benefit of an outside organization.
Investigative leave—Employees under investigation can be put on investigative leave no more than 10 work days a year, and only if the agency determined that the employee’s continued presence at work would represent a threat to other employees, property or other government interests. Also, the agency must consider assigning the employee to other duties, using unpaid leave, allowing the employee to use other forms of paid leave, or requiring the employee to telework.
Under limited circumstances, investigative leave can be extended in up to 30-day segments up to three times during an investigation. Afterward, the agency would have to return the employee to work or take disciplinary action. Employees receive notice rights, and placement on investigative leave for more than 70 days would be appealable as a form of retaliation under whistleblower protection law.
Notice leave—Paid notice leave is available for up to the period of the notice of a pending disciplinary action, within the same guidelines applying to grants of investigative leave.
Weather and safety leave—Weather and safety leave is permitted—at an agency’s discretion but subject to statutory and regulatory requirements, agency policies, and collective bargaining provisions—when an agency determines that employees cannot safely travel to and from, or perform work at, their normal worksite, a telework site, or other approved location because of severe weather or other emergency situations. This would include natural events such as pandemics, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, landslides, snowstorms, and avalanches, plus agency-specific emergencies such as a building fire, power outage, or burst water pipes. The leave generally is authorized in connection with an operating announcement made in such situations.
There is no cap on the number of hours that agencies may grant for such leave; the authority can be used if agencies close a facility in preparation for a potential disaster, as well as for evacuations related to such events; it cannot be used for situations such as breakdowns in mass transit systems that employees use for commuting; generally, an employee may not receive weather/safety leave for hours during which the employee already is on other preapproved leave (paid or unpaid) or paid time off; and in most cases if an employee requests annual leave in order to leave work before an announcement is made that the agency is granting such leave, the employee will remain on annual leave.
The leave is to be granted sparingly in the case of employees participating in telework, who generally will be expected to work. However, the authority does cover situations where working at an alternative worksite is itself unsafe.
Other policies—Excused absence also can be authorized administratively for situations including:
- Voting—Generally, where the polls are not open at least three hours either before or after an employee’s regular work hours, supervisors may grant a limited amount of excused absence that will permit the employee to report for work three hours after the polls open or leave from work three hours before the polls close, whichever requires the lesser amount of time off. An employee’s “regular work hours” are determined by reference to the time of day the employee normally arrives at and departs from work. If an employee’s voting place is beyond normal commuting distance and vote by absentee ballot is not permitted, the employing agency may grant excused absence (not to exceed one day) to allow the employee to make the trip to the voting place to cast a ballot. If more than one day is needed, the employee may request annual leave or leave without pay for the additional period of absence.
- Return from military duty—A November 14, 2003 presidential memorandum authorized five days of uncharged leave to returning federal employees who were called to serve on active duty in the continental United States or outside the continental United States under Executive Order 13223 and who spent at least 42 consecutive days on active duty. The excused absence typically is to be granted immediately, and all at once, prior to the employee’s resumption of civilian duties. The leave applies to each deployment, for those deployed more than once, although it may be used only once in any 12-month period beginning after use of the excused absence.
- Under Presidential order—Excused absence sometimes is granted by executive order the day before or after the Christmas Day holiday, for either the entire day or just a part, as well as in other special circumstances such as Inauguration Day (only for those working in the Washington, D.C. area, however).
- Vaccination against COVID-19—Agencies are to grant up to four hours of excused absence per dose for federal employees to personally receive vaccination against COVID-19 or to accompany certain family members to their vaccinations. Up to two workdays per dose also may be granted to employees suffering side effects. See www.saferfederalworkforce.gov.