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The Office of Personnel Management said Monday that federal employees can use existing paid sick leave policies to travel across state lines for medical care. Although the OPM did not specifically state this, this could include travel for an abortion or other reproductive health services following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers live in states where pre-deer abortion bans remain on the books, which have passed so-called “trigger laws” that were designed to automatically go into effect when the 49-year-old precedent was overturned, or in states where authorities have sworn to act quickly to enact new bans following court action.
Federal employees were already in an unusual position in the American workforce. Unlike most employer-sponsored health insurance plans, the federal employee health benefits program does not cover abortion services, due to the Hyde Amendment, a long-standing provision of bills. annual appropriations law prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion.
Monday, OPM posted an FAQ emphasizing that travel associated with obtaining “medical care” must be authorized in response to a request for sick leave to obtain medical care. Although the document does not mention abortion, reproductive health services or Roe v. Wade, the White House touted the document as an example of federal agencies affirming their “commitment to reproductive health care.”
“An agency must grant sick leave to an employee so that he or she may undergo medical examination or treatment,” the document states. “Access to such medical examination or treatment generally involves travel, and such travel may be covered by sick leave to the extent that the travel time occurs during the employee’s tour of duty established at holiday billing purposes. Although these trips are usually short distances – for example, to and from a doctor’s office or a local hospital – an employee may find it necessary to travel longer distances, including out of state, to obtain medical care.
Additionally, agencies must authorize sick leave in cases where a federal employee accompanies a family member to receive medical treatment, including travel time. And agencies can grant advance sick leave in cases where an employee hasn’t accrued enough time off to meet their needs or those of a family member.
However, traveling long distances to obtain medical treatment, such as crossing state lines to reach a jurisdiction where abortions and other reproductive health services remain legal, could impose additional steps in the licensing process. leave.
“For an absence of more than three business days (or lesser period if the agency deems it necessary), an agency may require the employee to provide a medical certificate or other administratively acceptable evidence,” said writes OPM. “A medical certificate simply means a written statement signed by a physician or other practitioner certifying that the employee has received an examination or treatment; it need not contain details of the medical examination or treatment.
Federal employees who do not have enough sick leave to cover the time it takes to travel and receive treatment can also use other forms of leave, including an agency’s voluntary leave transfer program. or the Voluntary Leave Bank Program, provided they or a family member experiences a “Medical Emergency.” And they must exhaust all relevant paid time off and spend at least 24 hours on unpaid leave in order to qualify for these leave programs.
But the OPM memo falls short of the proposal advocated by a growing number of federal employee groups, including the American Federation of Government Employees. These groups have urged the Biden administration to allow paid administrative leave, separate from sick leave, for federal workers in states that have severe abortion restrictions or outright bans so that these employees can more easily cross state lines to receive care.
Administration officials reportedly suggested such a policy could still be considered, pending an opinion from the Justice Department that it would not violate the Hyde Amendment.