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Leave without pay


Leave without pay (LWOP) is an approved temporary absence from duty in a nonpay status re-quested by an employee. The term does not cover a suspension, furlough, an absence for which leave has not been approved, or nonpay status during hours or days for which an employee would be compensated on an overtime basis.

Extended LWOP is a period of LWOP exceeding 30 calendar days. 

Absence without official leave (AWOL) is a period of absence without pay for which the employee did not obtain approval or for which a request for leave is denied. AWOL is based on the supervisor's determination that no form of leave (annual, sick, LWOP, etc.) has been or should be approved for the absence based on existing evidence. AWOL can be converted to appropriate leave when a supervisor receives and is satisfied with documentation justifying the absence. AWOL is not disciplinary in nature, but may be the basis for disciplinary action.

Basic Premises

The authorization of LWOP is a matter of administrative discretion and may not be demanded by an employee, except that: 

  • Disabled veterans are entitled to LWOP, if requested, for medical treatment;
  • Members of the armed forces reserves and National Guard are entitled to LWOP, if requested, when ordered to military training duties if the absence is not covered by military leave; and
  • Employees are entitled to12 administrative workweeks of LWOP under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), if supported by administratively acceptable evidence. 

LWOP must be charged in increments of an hour unless an operating unit has a policy which permits leave to be charged in 15 minute increments. 

LWOP will not ordinarily be granted to enable an employee to engage in other employment. However, employees may be granted LWOP in the unusual circumstance where there is a temporarily reduced need for their services and it is expected that they will return to duty. An employee requesting LWOP to engage in outside employment must comply with applicable restrictions related to employee conduct and should be encouraged to seek advice from his or her agency ethics official.

Extended LWOP

LWOP may be authorized for 12 months, and in some instances more, for: 

  • Educational purposes when the studies will enhance the employee's value upon his or her return to the job;
  • Service with a non-Federal public or private enterprise when the job is of a temporary character (not to exceed one year), and the service to be performed is in the interests of the Department;
  • Furtherance of a program of official interest to the Government (e.g., volunteer service in the Peace Corps or VISTA, participation in the President's Executive Exchange Program, assignments under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, international competition as a member of the U.S. Olympic team, etc.);
  • Recovery from illness or disability not of a permanent nature, when continued employment or immediate return to employment might impair the employee's health or the health of other employees;
  • Protection of an employee's status during any period pending final action by the OPM on a claim for disability retirement, after sick and annual leave have been exhausted; or pending a determination by the Department of Labor on a claim for disability compensation resulting from employment-connected injury or disease. If the disability or disease is one for which the employee is being compensated by the Department of Labor under 5 U.S.C. Chapter 81, LWOP in excess of one year may be granted in increments appropriate to the employee's prospects for recovery; and
  • Protection of an employee's status and benefits for a limited period (e.g., 90 days) when the employee has reasonable hope of obtaining another civil service position within the agreed period of time. 

Each request for extended LWOP should be examined closely to assure that the value to the Government or serious needs of the employee are sufficient to offset the costs and administrative inconveniences involved, including encumbrance of a position, loss of needed services, complication of retention registers for reduction in force, obligation to provide employment at the end of the period of leave, and credit for six months of each year of absence toward retirement (or full credit for those in receipt of disability compensation).

As a basic condition for approval of extended LWOP, there should be reasonable expectation that the employee will return to work at the end of the approved absence. An employee requesting LWOP may be required to first exhaust annual leave when the absence is primarily for the personal convenience of the employee.

Generally, LWOP may not be substituted retroactively for annual or sick leave (58 Comp. Gen. 661).

An employee in a pay status for the last hour of the workday immediately before or the first hour of the workday immediately following a holiday is entitled to regular pay for the holiday regardless of whether he or she is in a leave without pay status or absent without authorized leave immediately succeeding or preceding the holiday (56 Comp. Gen. 393).

An employee in a nonpay status for the last hour of the workday immediately before and the first hour of the workday immediately following a holiday is not entitled to regular pay for the holiday (16 Comp. Gen. 807 and 23 Comp. Gen. 960). 

Unpaid Leave for Family Friendly Purposes

Unpaid leave for family friendly purposes is LWOP which may be granted to an employee to help balance the demands of family and work. An employee may schedule and be granted up to 24 hours of LWOP in a leave year to:

  • Attend school and early childhood educational activities that are directly related to the educational advancement of a child. This includes, but is not limited to, parent-teacher conferences, meetings with child-care providers, interviews for a new school or child-care facility, participation in volunteer activities which support a child’s educational advancement, or school-sponsored activities. Employees who do not have children may request LWOP under this heading for participation in school activities deemed important to the educational advancement of a child, such as tutoring or attendance at school board meetings. School in these instances refers to elementary and secondary schools, Head Start programs, or child-care facilities;
  • Accompany children to routine medical or dental appointments, such as annual checkups or vaccinations. LWOP for these purposes is in addition to an employee’s entitlement to sick leave for general family care; and
  • Accompany elderly relatives to routine medical or dental appointments or other professional services that are directly related to the care of the elderly relative. This includes, but is not limited to, making arrangements for housing, meals, phone services, banking services, and other such activities. Elderly relatives refers to an individual related by blood or marriage to the employee. LWOP for these purposes is in addition to an employee’s entitlement to sick leave for general family care and LWOP under the FMLA.

LWOP for general family care purposes differs from LWOP under the FMLA in that it is not a positive employee entitlement and may not be demanded by an employee. In addition, there is no employee right to substitute paid leave for unpaid leave used. 

Applications for LWOP 

LWOP for 30 calendar days or less may be requested by SF-71. The employee's time and attendance reports will show the exact dates of LWOP.

For LWOP in excess of 30 calendar days or requests for extension of LWOP which in total would exceed 30 calendar days, the supervisor must pro-vide the HRO an SF-52, Request for Personnel Action. If the LWOP request is made for health reasons, the employee may be requested to furnish a statement from the physician or other licensed health care practitioner indicating the need for the absence and the prognosis of the employee's ability to return to work at the end of the period of LWOP.

An employee's absence on extended LWOP and subsequent return to duty must be recorded in the Official Personnel Folder. The employing office must process a personnel action for each instance of extended LWOP.

Absence Without Official Leave (AWOL)

When a supervisor determines that an employee's absence from duty has not been authorized and should not be charged as approved leave or excused absence, the employee's forfeiture of pay for the period of absence is not a disciplinary action, because the decision to be absent was made by the employee rather than by the supervisor. However, such periods of absence may be the basis for disciplinary action. A supervisor must consult with his or her HRO when proposing disciplinary action.

Updated October 2000.