The terms Administrative Leave and Authorized Absence are essentially synonymous (we will use the term Administrative Leave for the purposes of this post). Further, we distinguish that for the purpose of this article, we are not addressing such leave used by union representatives for official time related to union activities. These are common terms that refer to the granting of an absence from duty without charge to leave or any loss in pay. Recently, these terms have come to the forefront due largely in part to the Veterans Administration and Internal Revenue Service scandals. The placement of a federal employee into an administrative leave status is not a disciplinary or adverse action under law (1) (2). Note, also, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) has traditionally considered the term “excused absence,” appearing in agency regulations and/or collective bargaining agreements, as reference to administrative leave cited above. Social Security Administration, San Juan Teleservice Center, 101 FLRR 1-1012 , 56 FLRA 776 (FLRA 2001).
Update: In 2016, a reform of Administrative Leave was approved by The House.
As senior employee and labor relations practitioners, we rely on administrative leave in a variety of sensitive matters. Many employees may be familiar with the granting of administrative leave for inclement weather (also known as “excused absence”). The most familiar however, is likely the placement of an employee into an administrative leave status pending investigative results, or some other type of personnel action. However, in all situations in which administrative leave is granted, a prevailing concern (interest) is both the agency and the employee. Compare that with a somewhat comical, if not sad, application of administrative leave, and perhaps an indication of significantly inadequate management personnel, when the Department of Veterans Affairs committed an Unfair Labor Practice Complaint (ULP) where it unilaterally ended the practice of granting employees four hours of administrative leave on their birthdays (yes, you read that right). DVA Medical Center, Asheville, N.C., 96 FLRR 1-1068 ,51 FLRA 1572 (FLRA 1996). In this case, you have to really place blame on poor management as well as a union that really is not in touch with reality.
The negotiability of administrative leave is somewhat all over the place unless such provisions are stipulated in the Master Agreement or through some other form of agreement, whether localized or at the national level (think MOU’s). What is abundantly clear, is that management officials have often been very generous, probably due to their lack of knowledge concerning assignment of work, which administrative leave clearly falls under (3). For example, management has not only agreed to administrative leave for such known reasons as blood donations, they have also agreed to administrative leave for employee birthdays, employee appreciation days, volunteer (non agency) activities, in lieu of sick leave when pending a reasonable accommodation determination, holiday shutdowns, participation in counseling and treatment sessions related to an agency drug testing program, and fitness activities. However, even the FLRA seems to draw a line sooner or later. For example, in Environmental Protection Agency, 104 LRP 35923 , 60 FLRA 112 (FLRA 2004), the FLRA held that employees scheduled to work at alternative sites are not entitled to excused absences merely because the agency closes its official duty site and grants excused absences to employees scheduled to work at another site. Yes, you read that right. In that case, the union (AFGE Local 3911) essentially argued if one site is shut down, employees at the alternative sites (such as those on telework or flexiplace) should be permitted to go home, or also be excused from duty, on authorized absence. And you wonder why Republicans hate federal employees?
Keep in mind, this article does not address the issue of agencies that document union official time as either administrative leave or excused absence. That is an entirely different issue.
(1) An adverse action is defined as a removal or suspension of more than 14 calendar days, furlough without pay for up to 30 calendar days, or reduction in grade or pay.
(2) A disciplinary action is defined as corrective action taken in response to specific misconduct. Some agencies may vary their definition of what specific actions constitute discipline. However, nearly all include written reprimands, suspensions from duty without pay, and involuntary reductions in grade or pay. None include the placement of an employee on administrative leave.
(3) Proposals to grant administrative leave that deprive the agency of the discretion to deny leave are nonnegotiable because they directly interfere with the right to assign work. Patent and Trademark Office, 97 FLRR 1-1123 , 53 FLRA 539 (FLRA 1997)