May 11, 2021- The National Office has sent the attached letter to Kathleen McGettigan, Acting Director of the Office of Personnel Management requesting clarification on their guidelines for EFEL Qualifying Circumstance #5.
According to the OPM guidance, a covered employee is eligible for EPL if the employee certifies “that he or she is unable to work because of a qualifying circumstance.” One qualifying circumstance is “(5) Caring for employee’s child when required because, due to COVID-19 precautions, the child’s school or place of care has been closed, or the child is participating in virtual learning instruction, or the child’s care provider is unavailable.” The guidance goes on to state that “[t]his circumstance applies only when an employee needs to, and actually is, caring for the employee’s son or daughter and if the employee is unable to work (including telework) as a result of providing care.” Finally, the guidance directs federal agencies, including the Postal Service, “[t]o confirm eligibility for EPL based on qualifying circumstance (5)” by requiring “an employee [to] provide to the agency— (1) the name of the son or daughter being cared for; (2) the name of the school, place of care, or child care provider and a brief description of the situation (i.e., closure, use of on-line instruction, unavailability of the child care provider); and (3) a written explanation regarding why the employee’s circumstances (e.g., ages of children, number of children, special needs of children, lack of other adults in the home) make the employee unable to work (including telework) during the requested hours of leave.”
After OPM guidance was issued, management at the Postal Service issued frequently asked questions (FAQs) to cover postal employees, including mail handlers. Those FAQs included in number 8 the following question and answer:
I work a tour that does not directly conflict with my child’s hours of virtual/hybrid schooling or my need to provide childcare as a result of the childcare provider’s unavailability. Am I eligible for EFEL under qualifying reason 5?
No. EFEL under qualifying reason 5 is available only for hours that an employee actually is providing childcare because of the qualifying reason.
As made clear by the Postal Service’s answer to this FAQ, postal management has taken the position that an employee is eligible only if the employee “actually is” providing childcare during the hours that the employee is scheduled to work. The NPMHU believes that this restriction is a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of OPM’s guidance, which simply states that to be eligible the employee “actually is” caring for a child and because the employee is providing such childcare the employee is “unable to work.” The NPMHU does not believe that the OPM guidance requires an absolute match between the hours providing childcare and the hours required or scheduled to work.
Please contact the Contract Administration Department if you have any questions.