Why some feds could lose a vacation day in 2012

Thursday - 10/25/2012, 2:00am EDT

The column was updated at 12:21 p.m. Oct. 26 to clarify language of "use or lose" annual leave.

Thanks to a calendar quirk, tens of thousands of federal workers are in grave danger!

Call it the "2012 Curse."

Unless they do something, fast, some innocent, unsuspecting government workers will lose one day of annual leave this year. Those who fail to act will forfeit eight hours of time they could have otherwise used for vacationing, shopping or just resting.

Because it is government, it is complicated. If you are emotional and cry easily, you may want to skip what follows. Here's the deal...

No matter how much you love your spouse or significant other, every 11 years or so something happens to otherwise straight and narrow civil servants. Middle-aged feds (both men and women) or those with 15 or more years of service are the most susceptible. They are the most likely to show signs of confusion, frustration and the most likely to start questioning their options, their life choices and where they are going next.

This itch, this quirk of the calendar condition, which manifests itself as an almost uncontrollable urge to use-it-or-lose it, is most likely to show up in the months of October, November and December when most people notice it.

The "it' in question refers, of course, to vacation days known in government as "annual leave."

Feds earn "annual leave" at different rates. Full-timers with fewer than three years of service earn one-half day (four hours) for every two- week pay period. Those with more than three but fewer than 15 years of service earn six hours (3/4th day for each pay period "except 1 3/4 day (10 hours) in last pay period." Please don't ask me to explain that. Those with 15 or more years service earn one day (eight hours) for each pay period. Different accrual rates apply to part-timers, members of the Senior Executive Service and persons with "uncommon tours of duty." Again, don't ask!

Under federal use-it-or-lose it rules, most feds (except those in the SES) can carry over only 240 hours of annual leave from one leave year to another. In some agencies, the 2012 annual leave year for employees ends Jan. 8 of next year (2013). They are OK. But for many workers (check your HR office) the 2012 annual leave year ends Jan. 12. They are the ones with an itch to scratch.

For the latter group, who will celebrate a bureaucratic version of New Year's on Jan. 12, that means 27 pay periods. Those with between three and 15 years of service will accumulate an additional eight hours of annual leave before the end of their 2012 leave year. Those with 15 or more years will pick up an extra 10 hours of vacation time.

In a memo to Chief Human Capital Officers, the Office of Personnel Management advised agencies to tell their employees that they will accrue an additional four, six or eight hours of annual leave in the 2012 leave year and they must use any annual leave above the maximum ceiling — the "use or lose" ceiling — before the final day of the leave year so they don't lose it.

Because of federal laws and civil-service rules, the more they are explained (as they must, by law, be) the more complicated it becomes. In this case, the fact that many employees will have 27 pay periods doesn't mean they will have 27 pay days:

"Although most employees will have 27 pay periods, most employees will still have 26 pay days in calendar year 2012. Leave accrual is affected by the number of pay periods, not the number of pay days, in a calendar year. This means that any regular payments or payroll deductions that are made each pay day will also remain at 26 in 2012."
(OPM told Federal News Radio that federal employees with questions about annual leave should contact their individual HR offices.)

If you are caught up in the 11-year itch — 27 pay periods but only the usual 26 pay days — and don't act by Dec. 1, you could lose one day of annual leave.

Maybe this is the real curse of the Mayan calendar. Even if they were a few days off, the end is indeed near. Still, not bad for government (Mayan) work.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore