What is Leave Without Pay?
Simply put, leave without pay is an approved absence from duty requested by an employee. There are multiple forms of leave without pay, each with different restrictions and benefits. LWOP can be granted by your agency for 12 months, and in some instances more, for multiple reasons including protection of your status while you are waiting for a decision from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on your Federal Disability Retirement case.
Another form of LWOP, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), provides covered employees with a total of up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. These 12 weeks can be taken sequentially or one day at a time depending on the type of medical need. Federal workers’ compensation is also a form of leave available to federal workers who are injured while on the job, however, time receiving wage loss is classified as LWOP through your agency. If leave without pay is not granted and an employee takes an unapproved leave of absence, this is referred to as AWOL or absent without leave. Luckily, leave without pay can be used for many reasons and ends up being very helpful to disabled federal employees who are no longer able to continue working full time.
Do I still get sick leave?
Leave without pay can be used whether an employee has additional sick or annual leave or not. LWOP can be taken in conjunction with sick or annual leave as well.
For example, if you only need to be out for two hours for a doctor’s appointment, and your agency only allows full days of sick leave, you can request LWOP for those two hours that you will be away.
You can also use LWOP if you do not have enough sick leave to cover your entire absence. If you take more than 80 hours of leave without pay, however, your paid time off could be reduced. Keep in mind that sick and annual leave can potentially be added on as creditable years of service or paid out as a lump sum. As a rule, a total of 6 months of non-pay status in a calendar year still counts as creditable service.
Do Health and Life Insurance continue in LWOP?
Health and life insurance coverage continue while in LWOP status but are subject to specific cutoff requirements when an employee has accumulated a year of LWOP status. Employees who want to continue their health insurance must pay their premiums directly to their agency or incur a debt to be withheld from their future salary or annuity payments. The good news is your health and life insurance will be reinstated if you are approved for Federal Disability Retirement.
Can you still apply for Federal Disability Retirement while using leave without pay?
Utilizing leave without pay while applying for Federal Disability Retirement can actually be supportive evidence for your case. To qualify for Federal Disability Retirement, you must have medical evidence from a doctor supporting your claim that you are unable to perform at least one essential function of your job due to a disability, for at least 12 months.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will take into consideration the fact that you have already been approved for LWOP when making a decision on your disability retirement application. This is because being granted LWOP status generally means that your federal agency has already determined that you have a service deficiency– which is great for your OPM application.
The OPM looks for service deficiencies when considering Federal Disability Retirement applications and taking leave without pay, even if it is approved, counts as an attendance deficiency. Remember, the more supportive medical evidence of your disability that you can provide to the OPM, the better.
Will I get paid for the time I was in LWOP?
Yes! If you are approved for Federal Disability Retirement, you will receive back pay from the last day you were paid. Remember, this date can change if you return to work, receive a bonus, or receive workers’ compensation.
It is understandable to want to make money while waiting for your application to be approved but receiving backpay can help lessen that stress. Check out our article on back pay to learn more.
Taking advantage of unpaid leave may be beneficial to your Federal Disability Retirement case and, in the end, help you secure the future you deserve.
As you can see, there are many things to consider before taking LWOP if you plan on applying for Federal Disability Retirement. If you are stressed about not being able to work due to your disability and are worried about the amount of leave you have had to take, schedule a FREE consultation with us today! Our experienced team will be able to help you navigate the process and ensure that your application is as strong as possible.