Developments at OPM: On April 29, 2019, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management issued a final rule in the Federal Register concerning religious compensatory time.
OPM’s rulemaking has been in process for several years, and was previously analyzed in this blog. Prior to this rulemaking, inconsistencies existed between different federal agencies’ religious compensatory time rules and procedures due to the vagueness of the previous OPM regulations. Religious compensatory time is a mechanism that allows employees to accrue and to use compensatory time to permit employees to be absent from work in connection with religious observances. The employee must request the compensatory time off in advance of the leave, and the leave must be preapproved by management in order to be used. In the request, the employee identifies both the religious observance at issue and the time periods when the employee seeks to work additional time to accrue the compensatory time needed for the religious observance absence. The employee should work the necessary compensatory time work hours within 13 pay periods before or 13 pay periods after the date of the religious observance. If the employee does not earn the compensatory time hours within 13 pay periods after the religious observance, or if the employee leaves their employing agency with a negative balance, then the agency may take corrective action to resolve the negative balance, for example through charging annual leave, non-religious credit hours, non-religious compensatory time or time off awards. If no other time balances are available, the agency may retroactively convert the uncovered portion of the religious time off into leave without pay time, with possible debt recoupment. Under the new regulations, employees are not permitted to accrue more compensatory time than is needed to cover approved past and future religious observances for which religious compensatory time has been authorized. Employees who have accrued religious time off but are unable to use it as scheduled retain the positive compensatory time balance, but then cannot accrue additional compensatory time unless needed for a specific future approved religious observance. Employees who separate from federal service with a positive religious compensatory time balance receive a lump-sum payment for the accrued religious compensatory time balance. This payout is calculated using the employee’s historic hourly rates at the time the compensatory time was earned, not their rate at the time of separation. The new OPM rules do not apply to FAA or TSA employees, who are not subject to many OPM regulations.