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Pay & Leave Pay and Leave Flexibilities for Recruitment and Retention

Agencies have considerable discretionary authority to provide additional compensation and leave benefits to support their employee recruitment, relocation, and retention efforts. Agency headquarters-level human resources staff may contact pay-leave-policy@opm.gov for additional assistance on any of the pay and leave flexibilities listed below. Additional information on human resources authorities and flexibilities may be found in the Human Resources Flexibilities and Authorities in the Federal Government handbook.

Special Rates

OPM may establish higher rates of basic pay for a group or category of General Schedule (GS) positions in one or more geographic areas.

  • To address significant or likely significant handicaps in recruiting or retaining well-qualified employees.
  • Special rates may be established by occupational series, specialty, grade-level, and/or geographic area.
  • Special rate supplements are applied to the base General Schedule.
    • The minimum special rate established for a grade may not exceed the maximum rate of basic pay (excluding locality pay) for the grade by more than 30 percent, and
    • No rate may be established in excess of the rate of basic pay payable for level IV of the Executive Schedule.
  • 5 U.S.C. 5305 and 5 CFR part 530, subpart C.
  • A similar special rates authority exists for Federal Wage System employees.

See the Special Rates main page for more information.

The Executive Schedule can be found at the Salaries and Wages homepage.

Critical Position Pay

At an agency head’s request, OPM may, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget, grant authority to fix the rate of basic pay for one or more positions at a higher rate than would otherwise be payable for the position.

  • The position under consideration must require an extremely high level of expertise in a scientific, technical, professional, or administrative field that is critical to the successful accomplishment of an important agency mission.
  • Up to 800 positions may be covered Governmentwide.
  • Allows pay up to the rate for level II of the Executive Schedule, level I of the Executive Schedule if an agency demonstrates exceptional circumstances, or greater than the rate for level I of the Executive Schedule in rare circumstances.
  • 5 U.S.C. 5377 and 5 CFR part 535.

See the Critical Position Pay fact sheet for more information.

The Executive Schedule can be found at the Salaries and Wages homepage.

Maximum Payable Rate Rule

An agency may use the maximum payable rate rule to set pay for a GS employee at a rate above the rate that would be established using normal rules (up to step 10), based on a higher rate of pay the employee previously received in another Federal job. 5 CFR 531.221-223.

See the Maximum Payable Rate Rule fact sheet for more information.

Recruitment Incentive

An agency may pay a recruitment incentive to a newly-appointed employee if the agency has determined that the position is likely to be difficult to fill in the absence of an incentive.

  • A recruitment incentive may be as much as 25 percent of the employee’s annual rate of basic pay in effect at the beginning of the service period multiplied by the number of years in the service period (up to 4 years) (i.e., as much as 100 percent of basic pay). With OPM approval, this cap may be increased to 50 percent (based on a critical agency need), as long as the total incentive does not exceed 100 percent of the employee’s annual rate of basic pay at the beginning of the service period.
  • 5 U.S.C. 5753 and 5 CFR part 575, subpart A.

See the Recruitment Incentive fact sheet for more information.

Relocation Incentive

An agency may pay a relocation incentive to a current employee who must relocate to accept a position in a different geographic area if the agency determines that the position is likely to be difficult to fill in the absence of an incentive.

  • Relocation incentives have the same payment limitations as recruitment incentives.
  • 5 U.S.C. 5753 and 5 CFR part 575, subpart B.

See the Relocation Incentive fact sheet for more information.

Retention Incentive—Groups of Employees

An agency may pay a retention incentive to a group or category of current employees if the agency determines that the unusually high or unique qualifications of the employees or a special need of the agency for the employees’ services makes it essential to retain the employees in the group and that there is a high risk that a significant number of employees in the targeted group would be likely to leave the Federal service in the absence of a retention incentive.

  • An agency must establish a single retention incentive rate for each group of employees, expressed as a percentage of the employee’s rate of basic pay, up to 10 percent. With OPM approval, this cap may be increased to 50 percent (based on a critical agency need).
  • 5 U.S.C. 5754 and 5 CFR part 575, subpart C.

See the Group Retention Incentive fact sheet for more information.

Federal Student Loan Repayment Program

The Federal Student Loan Repayment Program permits agencies to repay Federally-insured student loans as a recruitment or retention incentive for candidates or current employees of the agency.

  • Agencies may make payments to the loan holder of up to a maximum of $10,000 for an employee in a calendar year.
  • Agencies may pay a total of up to $60,000 (lifetime maximum) for any one employee.
  • 3-year service agreement is required.
  • Employee must reimburse the paying agency for all benefits received if he or she is separated voluntarily or separated involuntarily for misconduct, unacceptable performance, or a negative suitability determination.
  • 5 U.S.C. 5379 and 5 CFR part 537

See the Student Loan Repayment fact sheet for more information.

Creditable Service for Annual Leave Accrual for Non-Federal Work Experience and Experience in the Uniformed Service

An agency may provide service credit that otherwise would not be creditable for the purpose of determining the annual leave accrual rate to—

  • A newly-appointed or reappointed employee with a break of at least 90 calendar days after his or her last period of civilian employment in the civil service; or
  • A retired member of the active duty uniformed service as defined by 38 U.S.C. 4303.

The agency must determine that the skills and experience the employee possesses are—

  • Essential to the new position and were acquired through performance in a non-Federal or active duty uniformed service position having duties which directly relate to the duties of the position to which he or she is being appointed; and
  • Necessary to achieve an important agency mission or performance goal.

The amount of service credited may be up to the actual amount of service during which the employee performed duties directly related to the position to which he or she is being appointed. Once an employee is permanently credited with a period of non-Federal service or active duty uniformed service (after completion of 1 full continuous year with the appointing agency), that period of service may not be considered for further credit if the employee has a future break in service. 

  • 5 U.S.C. 2101(1), 5 U.S.C. 6303(e), and 5 CFR 630.205

See the Creditable Service fact sheet for more information.

Extension of the Higher Annual Leave Accrual Rate to SES and SL/ST Equivalent Pay Systems

Members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and employees in senior-level (SL) and scientific or professional (ST) positions accrue annual leave at the rate of 1 day (8 hours) per biweekly pay period without regard to their length of service.  An agency may request that OPM authorize this same annual leave accrual rate for additional categories of employees if it meets all three of the following conditions—

  • Pay rates are established under an administratively determined (AD) pay system that was created under a separate statutory authority;
    • If the position has a single rate of pay, that single rate (excluding locality pay) must be higher than the rate for GS-15, step 10 (excluding locality pay).
    • If the position is paid within a rate range established under an authority outside of 5 U.S.C. chapters 51 and 53, the minimum rate of the rate range (excluding locality pay) must be at least equal to the minimum rate for the SES and SL/ST pay systems (120 percent of the rate for GS-15, step 1, excluding locality pay), and the maximum rate of the rate range (excluding locality pay) must be at least equal to the rate for level IV of the Executive Schedule.
  • The positions are equivalent to an SES, SL, or ST position; and
  • The positions are subject to a performance appraisal system established under 5 U.S.C. chapter 43 and 5 CFR part 430, subparts B and C, or other applicable legal authority, for planning, monitoring, developing, evaluating, and rewarding employee performance.
  • 5 U.S.C. 6303(f) and 5 CFR 630.301(a) - (d)

See the Extension of Higher Annual Leave Accrual Rate fact sheet for more information.

Telework

Telework is a work arrangement that allows an employee to perform work at an approved alternative worksite. Generally, there are two types of telework:

  • Routine telework in which telework occurs as part of an ongoing, regular schedule.
  • Situational telework that is approved on a case-by-case basis, where the hours worked were not part of a previously approved, ongoing and regular telework schedule.

See the Telework website for more information.

Alternative Work Schedules

An agency may establish programs that allow the use of alternative work schedules (AWS) different from the 40-hour basic workweek.  AWS programs have the potential to enable managers and supervisors to meet their program goals while, at the same time, allowing employees to be more flexible in scheduling their activities.  As employees gain greater control over their time, they can, for example, balance work and family responsibilities more easily, become involved in volunteer activities, and take advantage of educational opportunities.  The employee benefits provided by AWS programs also are useful recruitment and retention tools.

  • An agency may determine the general policy, guidelines, instructions, and procedures providing for the establishment of AWS programs in its headquarters and field activities, subject to the obligation to negotiate with representatives of exclusive bargaining units.
  • Flexible work schedules allow employees to determine their own schedule within parameters set by the agency.  Compressed work schedules are fixed work schedules, with no employee flexibility, having an 80-hour biweekly basic work requirement (less for part-time employees) that is scheduled for less than 10 workdays.
  • 5 U.S.C. 6120–6133 and 5 CFR 610.401–610.408.

See OPM’s guidance on alternative work schedules in the Handbook on Alternative Work Schedules and the webpage on Negotiating Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules.  Also see the fact sheets on Flexible Work SchedulesCompressed Work Schedules, and Credit Hours Under Flexible Work Schedules.

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