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Family Leave Act Expanded for Federal Workers

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 1999 – Federal workers soon will be able to use up to 12 weeks of accrued sick leave annually to care for ill family members.

The change is an extension of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Under that act, federal workers were allowed to use up to 13 days of sick leave to care for family members and up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The extension, announced May 23, allows workers who need as many as 12 weeks per year to use them without losing pay in the process.

Diane Disney, DoD's deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, was quick to point out, however, that the act does not provide additional sick leave for employees.

"Employees accrue sick leave at the rate of four hours per pay period, or 13 days per year," she said. "So if someone needed to use 12 weeks of paid sick leave, that represents four and a half years of accrued leave. It's got to be on the books in order to use it."

Disney said the change in policy is the result of changing demographics researched and reported by the National Economic Council. For example, Disney said the number of employees in the work force with small children has increased greatly in the past two years.

"We also now have what we call the 'sandwich generation,' in which people have small children, but also have parents they are taking care of who are elderly or ill," Disney said. "So the stresses and strains are much more profound in some ways than they were on families in previous generations. It was clear from these demographic factors that we had to find ways to help people balance their work and family responsibilities without devastating their income base."

She said both workers and DoD come out on top with the program's expansion. For example, she said quality workers are more likely to be attracted to and stay with the federal government. And, she said, employee performance will improve in the long run.

"If someone is at work knowing there is a sick child at home, the child isn't getting the adequate care and the work isn't getting adequate attention," Disney said. "It's much better for the department to encourage employees to take the sick leave. Then they can come back and focus on the work they're getting paid to do."

The Office of Personnel Management is working on the federal regulations for the program's expansion. Those are expected to be published in the next two months. In the meantime, employees who have questions about the program should contact their local civilian personnel managers or offices.

"This is a tremendous benefit for all," Disney said. "It's very important for all in the workplace to realize that people's lives run 24 hours a day, even though they may be at work for eight, 10 or 12 hours. If we want employees to be effective during the times they are at work, we have to find creative ways to help them take care of the remaining hours. This program does that."

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