NIH Leave Flexibilities and Workplace Resources during COVID-19


The Office of Human Resources understands that NIH staff are experiencing various changes in their current work environment.  We recognize that it is important to keep the community informed about resources and options.  This document provides an overview of current flexibilities, leave options, and other workplace resources, to support staff as they navigate the options available to them.  

Workplace Flexibilities 

Alternative Work Schedules such as a compressed work schedule or maxiflex allows employees to work longer hours in a workday in exchange for shorter workdays or 1-2 days off per pay period.  Additionally, maxiflex allows employees to split their schedule up to three times within a workday to complete their work. Employees wishing to use an alternative work schedule would need approval from their supervisor and request it in ITAS.  Maxiflex is the only alternative work schedule where the institute or center (IC) needs a policy and training from OHR prior to using.  Please partner with your supervisor to determine if maxiflex is offered in your IC.  

Telework is a flexibility that we have used consistently throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  It is a flexible work arrangement for employees with portable work to perform their job duties at an approved alternate worksite.  Employees should discuss telework eligibility and arrangements with their supervisor and contact their IC Telework Coordinator for IC specific guidance. 

Leave Options

Sick Leave can be used by employees to care for themselves or a family member who is ill or experiencing a health condition.  While there is no cap on the amount of sick leave employees can use for themselves, please note there is a cap on how much sick leave employees can use to care for a family member.  If it is for general family care, employees would only be able to use up to 104 hours of their sick leave.  If it is to care for a family member with a serious health condition, employees would be able to use up to 480 hours of their accrued sick leave.  Additionally, an employee’s supervisor may require the submission of medical documentation to support their absence.  

Annual Leave that is accrued by employees may be requested and used as needed.  Please note that annual leave must be approved by the employee’s leave approving official prior to use.  

Family Medical Leave Act provides an eligible employee with an entitlement of up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave without pay (LWOP) to care for themselves or a family member with a serious health condition.  Employees can also combine LWOP with annual and/or sick leave to remain in a paid status.  

Leave Sharing Programs such as the Voluntary Leave Transfer Program (VLTP) and the NIH Leave Bank can assist employees who may need leave to care for themselves or a family member with a serious health condition, but have no annual and sick leave of their own to supplement their absence.  If employees are interested in using VLTP, they need to partner with their supervisor and administrative officer for additional assistance. 

Excused Absence is a flexibility that may be offered to employees if they are unable to complete their tour of duty due to dependent care issues related to COVID-19, if they have concerns returning to work due to being high risk or living with someone who is high risk,  if they wish to receive/accompany a family member to receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine during normal tour hours and/or they or the accompanied family member have adverse reactions after receiving the vaccine.  Excused absence is a form of administrative leave that provides employees paid time off without charge to their own annual and/or sick leave balances. Please note that excused absence is not an entitlement and is granted at the sole discretion of an employee’s supervisor. Excused absence should be considered after other flexibilities have been explored and is not meant to be a long-term continuous resolution. Please click for information on how to enter excused absence for COVID-19 purposes in ITAS. Note: annual and sick leave do not need to be exhausted before utilizing excused absence.

Emergency Paid Leave (EPL) is a new, temporary paid leave program established as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.  It provides up to 15 weeks (600 hours) of paid leave to covered Federal employees impacted by COVID-19 between March 11, 2021 – September 30,2021. Eligibility for this leave requires meeting certain COVID-19-related qualifying circumstances. EPL is funded by a $570 million Emergency Federal Employee Leave Fund, administered by OPM. Once this funding is exhausted, no more EPL can be granted. Due to this, all requests for EPL will be granted on a conditional basis. Employees may request EPL by following the instructions and steps in this interactive tool

For questions related to the Workplace Flexibilities and Leave options, please contact

Additional Workplace Resources

NIH Leave Flexibilities and Workplace Resources During COVID-19 VideoCast
The Office of Human Resources (OHR) and the Office of Research Services (ORS), have partnered to create a
pre-recorded presentation to demystify leave options and resources that are currently available to the NIH workforce.

Return to Physical Workspaces
If employees have questions regarding specific IC guidance on returning to work, they should partner with their supervisor.  For general return to work guidance and information, please visit the NIH Employee Intranet - Coronavirus, and the NIH Safety Guidance for Return to Physical Workspace.

Occupational Medical Services & Coronavirus Exposure
If an employee (FTE, contractor, trainee, etc.) believes they have  been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 in the past 14 days or have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, please visit the Occupational Medical Service (OMS) website to complete a screening questionnaire.  If an employee is actively experiencing symptoms, they should stay home – or go home immediately if they are at work – and call their healthcare provider for medical advice and complete the OMS screening tool.

Asymptomatic Surveillance Testing
The NIH Clinical Center has established a voluntary surveillance program available to all staff for asymptomatic testing for SARS-CoV-2.  For more information, please visit the NIH Guidance for Staff on Coronavirus. Registration information can be found at the Clinical Center Testing System.

COVID-19 Vaccination
Employees are required to notify their supervisor if they are getting a COVID-19 vaccination during normal tour hours. Once notified, managers should allow up to 4 hours of excused absence to employees for travel and vaccination for each individual dose of the COVID-19 vaccine through NIH or their own medical providers or outside organizations. If an employee needs more than 4 hours of excused absence for travel and receiving a dose of the vaccine, the employee should request sick and/or annual leave to cover their excess absence, or work with their supervisor to discuss other flexibilities such as alternative work schedules. See instructions for requesting excused absence in ITAS. Additionally, managers should allow up to 2 workdays of excused absence if an employee has an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccination or needs additional recovery time (effective for leave taken on or following March 11, 2021).  If an employee needs more than 2 workdays to recover from an adverse reaction to the vaccination, they should request sick leave, or may qualify for emergency paid leave.

Reasonable Accommodation
If employees have questions regarding their medical condition and  would like guidance on how to determine if it qualifies as a disability under Reasonable Accommodation, they should contact the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and speak to an Accessibility Consultant.   

NIH Workers’ Compensation Program
This program is responsible for paying benefits to employees who are injured on the job.  This includes traumatic injuries and occupational diseases such as the contraction of COVID-19.  If an employee believes they have experienced an injury or occupational disease at work, please visit the NIH Workers’ Compensation page for information filing a claim. 

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
If employees need emotional support or assistance as they make necessary but difficult decisions, please visit the NIH Employee Assistance Program website and contact them directly for assistance. 

NIH Civil Program
If requests to return to the physical workspace include comments or conduct that could reasonably be perceived as disruptive, disrespectful, offensive, inappropriate or otherwise unsafe, please contact the Civil Program.  

NIH Office of the Ombudsman
If employees need an informal, confidential, independent, and impartial resources to discuss challenges they may be experiencing in having difficult conversations with their supervisor surrounding the various flexibility options, we encourage employees to contact Office of the Ombudsman for assistance. 

Office of Intramural Training and Education
If you are a trainee and need information on what flexibilities may be available to you, please contact the Office of Intramural Training and Education.

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