OPM Issues Final Rule on Compensatory Time Off for Religious Holidays

In a rule released on April 29, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) clarified how agencies should handle religious holidays and compensation for employees when the holidays do not coincide with a federal holiday. Under the rule, federal employees will be able to take paid time off for religious holidays as long as they work overtime at their normal pay rate to compensate for the time missed.

According to the OPM rule, federal employees can accrue time for religious observance in the 13 pay periods before or after the holiday they wish to observe, giving them a one-year window to make up for the time missed.

In order to qualify for the time off, an employee must notify their supervisor in writing of their intention to take the day off, including a description of the holiday they are observing and how they plan to make up the time. If an employee provides verbal notice to the supervisor, the supervisor is instructed to put the information in writing immediately.

The rule notes, “The exact nature of the observance does not need to be described if there are religious prohibitions on doing so, as long as the request provides enough information for the agency to verify that it meets the requisite requirements.”

The rule also clarifies that agencies cannot deny an employee’s request unless it “interferes with the efficient accomplishment of an agency’s mission” and prevents agencies from questioning the validity of a request.

In the event that a request is denied, agencies must provide justification.

OPM Acting Director Margaret Weichert furthers in a memo enumerating key features of the rule, “Agency officials are not charged with determining whether an employee’s belief is the correct interpretation of a religious creed. It is sufficient that the employee’s sincerely held personal religious beliefs cause the employee to feel an obligation that he or she should be absent from work for a religious purpose.”

The initial rule proposed in 2013 suggested a 26 pay period window before and after a holiday for an employee to work their mandated overtime.

According to the Federal Register, agencies expressed concerns of potential abuse with such a large window for compensation time. The agencies commenting on the rule expressed a desire for a shorter window, which OPM granted.

The rule will take effect on May 29, 2019.

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