Limiting the Use of Paid Leave
One of the federal government’s most criticized methods of dealing with employee discipline issues—paid administrative leave--has become the recent focus of a push by Republicans on Capitol Hill as well as the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Paid leave has long been a quick fix for managers dealing with employees who are under investigation. In an effort to preserve the integrity of the investigative process, many managers feel the best way is to remove the employee from the workplace environment. However, the drawback is that these employees are still collecting a salary, as well as accumulating vacation, sick days, and drawing closer to retirement.
In a recent memo, former OPM Director Katherine Archuleta laid out a directive to limit the use of paid leave and force agencies to use it more as a “temporary solution” and less of a catch-all problem solver. OPM’s actions come as a response to what is seen by some as abuse of the practice, which is meant to be given to employees not expected to be on paid leave for long. Instead, according to a GAO report in 2014, around 4,000 employees were on paid leave for three months to a year and several hundred for more than a year since 2010. The memo recommends that to cut down on paid leave, it should only be given to employees who pose a threat to the safety of themselves or others: for everyone else, those just awaiting the outcome of administrative investigations, other solutions can be found. These alternative solutions can include reassignment or indefinite suspension.
For federal managers, the OPM directives regarding paid leave could have a variety of potential consequences. First, the restrictions take a tool out of the supervisor’s arsenal. There are many situations in which an employee poses no threat safety-wise but their absence from the office is still necessitated. This can also be achieved by reassignment, but this too could be problematic. If the new guidelines lead to a sharp increase in reassignments of employees under investigation, more managers across the federal government will be forced to accept these employees into their workplaces. While these employees are to be presumed innocent of misconduct until it is proven, there is still the potential for an increase in workplace disruptions and a host of new challenges to managers that need to integrate these employees into their offices.
Another issue that supervisors will need to face is an increased oversight in regards to their decisions about putting employees on paid leave. Applying OPM’s directive when placing an employee on paid leave, managers should be 100% confident that the move to take this step is the right one, as they want to avoid future criticism that they were too quick to make that decision.
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For more information on your specific exposures now, how professional liability insurance protects, or how the FEDS program differs from other insurance programs, please visit the FEDS website and choose the Executive and Managers tab. For more articles like this one, read "Yesterday's Headlines, Today's Coverage" in the bottom left corner on the FEDS homepage.
Posted in Manager Matters