The Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has come with massive ramifications at every level. The decision enacted “trigger laws” in 23 states that introduce different restrictions on abortion. This means that many federal employees who might have wanted or needed an abortion may no longer be able to receive one in their home states.
In response to this development and the uncertainty it could bring, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released a new fact sheet on sick leave. So, what does this mean for the women, or their family members, who might now need to travel across state lines for medical care?
Sick leave can cover travel for medical care
The OPM’s fact sheet asked and answered six questions about sick leave for federal employees. The first and most noteworthy of these was whether employees could claim sick leave to travel for medical care. The OPM did not openly address the idea of abortion, but as many news reports suggested, the timing and question of crossing state lines made the OPM’s intentions clear.
The answer? Yes. Employees may use sick leave to travel for their medical care and to help their family members receive medical care. The OPM further clarified that employees should expect “such travel will generally be short distances.” You shouldn’t make a habit of long travels for medical care. However, in such cases when an employee must travel farther, “including out of state,” they can use their sick leave.
Still, the fact sheet did more than clarify employees could use sick leave for travel. It also addressed several other notable concerns:
- When employees have used their available sick leave, agencies may let them use advance sick leave
- Employees can use advanced sick leave for the same purposes as standard sick leave
- Employees should remember to request sick leave according to their agencies’ guidelines
- Employees may need to provide medical certification or other evidence when their sick leave runs past three business days (or whatever alternate duration the agency previously set forth)
- Employees may ask for additional sick leave through an agency’s Voluntary Leave Transfer Program (VLTP) if that sick leave is for a “medical emergency”
- Employees can also take time away from work to address health issues under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
In short, the OPM’s fact sheet reminds us that federal employees have a range of options to address their medical needs. If they need to travel to find the medical care they need, they can do so.
Agencies cannot punish employees for seeking medical care
The OPM’s fact sheet clarifies the government’s high-level policy. You should expect your agency and manager to respect it. However, the truth is that agencies and officials often fail to live up to their expectations. They sometimes let their personal biases cloud their judgment, and few matters have proven as politically charged as abortion and a woman’s ability to choose.
Given this fact, it seems likely that some women may face sudden, unexpected discipline after using their sick leave to travel. Accordingly, it may be wise to consider the risk ahead of time. This doesn’t mean choosing not to get the necessary medical treatment. It means collecting the evidence about your performance and interactions that could help illustrate any sudden changes in your work.
Agencies cannot punish you for getting the medical care you need. But they might anyway. When they do, you have the right to fight back.