Leave Years and Other Policies

Leave years

Leave years begin on the first day of the first full biweekly pay period in a calendar year. A leave year ends on the day immediately before the first day of the first full biweekly pay period in the following calendar year.

Employees may carry over to the next leave year a maximum amount of accrued annual leave (240 hours for most employees). “Use or lose” annual leave is the amount of accrued annual leave that is in excess of the employee’s maximum annual leave limitation for carry over into the next leave year. Employees generally must use their excess annual leave by the end of a leave year or they will forfeit it; an agency may restore forfeited leave under certain circumstances (see Annual Leave).

The beginning and ending dates of leave years in the accompanying chart apply to most employees. However, some agency payroll systems use a different pay period schedule. Contact your agency to verify the beginning and ending dates of a particular leave year.

Meal periods

A lunch or other meal period is an approved period of time in a nonpay and nonwork status that interrupts a basic workday or a period of overtime work for the purpose of permitting employees to eat or engage in permitted personal activities. The law does not provide employees with an explicit entitlement to a meal period. Each agency has the authority to establish its own requirements for meal periods.

When establishing or modifying policies for meal periods, an agency typically considers factors such as:

  • provisions in any applicable negotiated agreement;
  • the availability, convenience, and distance of eating establishments;
  • whether employees must be present at work to fulfill agency work requirements (for example, guards who cannot be excused); and
  • whether work must be performed on weekends, during overtime hours, or at night, etc.

An agency may require or permit unpaid meal periods during overtime hours, and the policy may be different from the one for the basic workweek. For example, an agency could permit employees to work eight overtime hours on a Saturday or Sunday without any requirement for a meal period. In exceptional circumstances, an agency may permit employees to eat their meals while working.

In most circumstances, an agency is prohibited from scheduling a break in working hours of more than one hour during a basic workday. This limitation applies to lunch and other meal periods. An agency may permit or require shorter meal periods.

A basic workday is usually eight hours, but the basic work requirement may be longer for certain days under alternative work schedules. The normal one-hour meal period limitation does not apply if an agency permits an employee who works under a flexible work schedule to elect to take a longer unpaid meal period.

Agencies establish policies stating whether meal periods will be required or permitted when part-time employees or employees who work under flexible work schedules have basic workdays that are less than eight hours long.

An agency may not extend a regularly scheduled lunch break by permitting an employee to take an authorized rest period (with pay) prior to or immediately following lunch, since a rest period is considered part of the employee’s compensable basic workday.

Unpaid meal periods must provide bona fide breaks in the workday. If an employee is not excused from job duties, or if he or she is recalled to job duties, the employee is entitled to pay for compensable work, including work that is not minimal in nature.

There is no authority to compensate employees for being placed on-call or being required to carry a pager or cell phone, however. Further, an agency may restrict employees to a limited area (such as a secure building or military installation) while in an on-call status during a meal period without creating an entitlement to pay for the meal period.

Certain exceptions apply for certain firefighters and law enforcement officers:

  • meal periods during 24-hour shifts are compensable hours of work for firefighters paid under 5 CFR 550, subpart M;
  • meal periods are hours of work for FLSA nonexempt employees engaged in law enforcement activities who receive annual premium pay for administratively uncontrollable overtime (AUO) work under 5 U.S.C. 5545(c)(2); and
  • bona fide meal periods are not actual hours of work for criminal investigators who receive law enforcement availability pay under 5 U.S.C. 5545a.

Military leave

Any full-time federal civilian employee whose appointment is not limited to one year is entitled to military leave at full pay for certain types of active or inactive duty in the National Guard or as a Reserve of the Armed Forces. An employee can carry over a maximum of 15 days into the next fiscal year.

Military leave entitlements are:

  • 5 U.S.C. 6323(a) provides 15 calendar days per fiscal year for active duty and active and inactive duty training. Military leave is prorated for part-time career employees.
  • 5 U.S.C. 6323 (b) provides 22 workdays per calendar year for emergency duty as ordered by the President or a State governor. This can be for law enforcement or the protection of life and property.
  • 5 U.S.C. 6323(c) provides unlimited military leave to members of the National Guard of the District of Columbia for certain types of duty ordered or authorized under title 10 of the District of Columbia Code.
  • 5 U.S.C. 6323(d) provides that Reserve and National Guard technicians only are entitled to 44 workdays of military leave for duties overseas under certain conditions.

Inactive duty training is authorized training performed by members of a Reserve component not on active duty and performed in connection with the prescribed activities of the Reserve component. It consists of regularly scheduled unit training periods, additional training periods, and equivalent training.

Agencies must count weekends and holidays occurring wholly within the period of military duty as days of military leave. Weekends at the start or end of military duty are not counted (assuming a Monday through Friday civilian workweek.)

An employee’s civilian pay remains the same for periods of military leave under 5 U.S.C. 6323(a) and (c), including any premium pay an employee would have received if not on military leave. For military leave under 5 U.S.C. 6323(b), employee’s civilian pay is reduced by the amount of military pay for the days of military leave. However, an employee may choose not to take military leave and instead take annual leave in order to retain both civilian and military pay.

Military Leave for Funeral Honors Duty

Section 563 of Public Law 107-107 permitted employees to use the 15 days of military leave provided under that section for “funeral honors duty” as described in section 12503 of Title 10 and section 115 of Title 32, United States Code. Each agency is responsible for administering the use of military leave for funeral honors duty for its employees.

Preventive Health Screening

A January 4, 2001 Presidential memo directed agencies to review their policies and make maximum use of existing work schedule and leave flexibilities to allow federal employees to take full advantage of health screening programs and other preventive health measures. Such flexibilities include promoting alternative work schedules (flexible and compressed work schedules), granting leave under the government’s sick and annual leave programs, and granting excused absence to employees to participate in agency-sponsored preventive health activities.

In addition, in the case of an employee with fewer than 80 hours (two weeks) of accrued sick leave, the President directed agencies to establish a policy that provides up to four hours of excused absence each year for participation in preventive health screenings. The four hours of excused absence may be used a portion at a time over more than one day during a leave year for preventive health screenings. The days on which excused absence is used do not have to be consecutive.

Examples of “preventive health screenings” include, but are not limited to, screening for prostate, cervical, colorectal, and breast cancer, and screening for sickle cell anemia, blood lead level, and blood cholesterol level. Other examples include screening for immunity system disorders such as HIV and blood sugar level testing for diabetes.

Agencies also may grant excused absence to employees to participate in agency-sponsored preventive health activities, such as smoking cessation, nutrition education, health promotion activities, and annual health fairs.