Managing the maze of leave without pay


Leave without pay (LWOP) must be granted in some instances and is a matter of supervisory discretion in others.

Employees are entitled to LWOP in the following situations:

• Under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides covered employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for certain family and medical needs.

• Under the 1994 Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which requires LWOP for a period of military service.

• Under Executive Order 5396, from July 17, 1930, which requires LWOP for disabled veterans for necessary medical treatment.

A supervisor might also be willing to approve a request for LWOP for reasons such as enrollment in academic courses or training that would benefit the agency, personal reasons for which other types of leave aren’t available, or to protect the status and benefits of an employee who has applied for disability retirement or injury compensation.

Here is how LWOP affects the basic employment rights and creditable service of most employees:

• For career tenure purposes, the first 30 calendar days of each nonpay period are considered creditable service.

• During a probationary period following an initial appointment to a competitive service position, 22 workdays in a nonpay status is considered creditable service.

• There is no requirement for an agency to extend qualifying periods for General Schedule positions by the amount of time you are in a nonpay status. But you may have to meet training requirements or show your ability to perform on the job.

• All time in a nonpay status is considered creditable service in meeting the time-in-grade requirements for promotion.

• Calculation of creditable service for within-grade increases varies. If you are a General Schedule employee, an aggregate of no more than two workweeks in a nonpay status in a within-grade waiting period is considered to be creditable service to advance to steps 2, 3, and 4; four workweeks to advance to steps 5, 6, and 7; and six workweeks to advance to steps 8, 9, and 10.

If you are a prevailing rate employee under the WG, WL or WS schedules, an aggregate of one workweek in nonpay status is considered to be creditable service for advancement to Step 2; three workweeks for advancement to Step 3; and four workweeks for advancement to steps 4 and 5.

• In determining a service computation date, an aggregate of six months of nonpay status in a calendar year is considered creditable service. If you exceed six months a year in nonpay status, you’ll need to work longer to acquire the amount of service needed to qualify for a retirement benefit.

• Time in a nonpay status can affect accrual of annual and sick leave. For example, if you are a full-time employee with an 80-hour biweekly tour of duty and you accumulate 80 hours in a nonpay status from the beginning of the leave year, you won’t earn any annual or sick leave for the pay period during which you hit 80 hours. The same is true each time you accumulate 80 hours in a nonpay status. At year’s end, any nonpay hours that don’t add up to 80 are not counted against your annual and sick leave accrual and you start the next leave year with a clean slate. If you are a part-time employee, your leave accrual is prorated based on your hours in a pay status in each pay period.

• To meet qualifications for student loan repayments, the service completion date is extended by the amount of time you spend in nonpay status.

• For reduction-in-force purposes, an aggregate of six months in nonpay status in a calendar year is considered creditable service.

• Nonpay time is fully creditable for meeting the 12-month continuous employment period needed to qualify for severance pay. However, when calculating the amount of that severance pay, no more than six months in any calendar year can be used.

• If you have been called to active duty in the armed forces or have been placed in nonpay status because of an on-the-job injury with entitlement to workers’ compensation, you’ll get full credit for that time for seniority and length of service when you return to duty.


About Author

Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to

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