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Family leave policy

The Department of Commerce is committed to providing family friendly leave programs that strive to improve the quality of life by helping employees balance their indisputably linked work and family lives. The Department’s goal to ensure a family friendly workplace begins by acknowledging our diverse, talented, and productive workforce, and by creating a work environment that recognizes the importance of employer involvement in maintaining strong, healthy families. To this end, the following Family Friendly benefits are available:

Childbirth/Pregnancy, Adoption, and Foster Care. A summary of leave benefits for pregnancy/child birth, adoption, and foster care can be found by clicking on the link.

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:

  • Spouse
  • Parents
  • Spouse’s parents
  • Children, including stepchildren and adopted children, and their spouses;
  • Brothers and sisters, and their spouses
  • Anyone related by blood or affinity whose close relationship with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.

Limitation on 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. Part time employees or those with an uncommon tour of duty must maintain a sick leave balance equal to twice the average number of hours in the 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 Section 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.

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.

Unpaid Leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, Public Law 103-3 ("the Act") is intended to promote the interests of the workplace and the family by providing unpaid leave with job protection to employees in certain specified instances so that they may address their own health needs or the needs of children or seriously ill or injured family members who require emotional, medical, and other types of support. FMLA leave differs from LWOP in that an employee who establishes eligibility may not be denied FMLA leave. It is a positive entitlement.

Leave Transfer Program

The Federal Employees Leave Sharing Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-566), the Federal Employees Leave Sharing Amendments Act of 1993 (Public law 103-103) (5 U.S.C. 6331-6340 and 6373), and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regulations provide for a leave transfer program in which Department employees may voluntarily donate annual leave to other employees to cover periods of absence caused by medical emergencies.

Last Updated: 9/8/05 2:34 PM