About the 14-Hour Foreign Travel Rule

Not long ago, NTEU Chapter 254 represented two ORA investigators in a grievance related to the 14-hour rule stated in the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR), 41 CFR §301-10.125:

When may I use the 14-hour rule to travel other than coach-class (see § 301-10.123(b)(6))?

(a) You may use the 14-hour rule to travel via other than coach-class when:

(1) The origin and/or destination are OCONUS [Outside the Continental United States]; and

(2) The scheduled flight time, including non-overnight stopovers and change of planes, is in excess of 14 hours; and

(3) You are required to report to duty the following day or sooner.

(b) Scheduled flight time is the flight time between the originating departure point and the ultimate arrival point including scheduled non-overnight time spent at airports during plane changes. Scheduled non-overnight time does not include time spent at the originating or ultimate arrival airports.

(c) If other than coach-class accommodation is authorized based on the 14-hour rule then you will not be eligible for a rest stop en route or a rest period upon arrival at your duty site, in accordance with internal agency procedures pursuant to § 301-70.102(j).

The Union’s interpretation of this rule is that the Employer must give the Employee business class when the foreign trip is more than 14 hours long and the Employer requires the Employee to report to duty the following day or sooner per (a) above.

The Employer’s interpretation is that, per (c) above, the employee must fly coach if the trip includes a rest period en route or a rest period upon arrival at the duty site in accordance with internal agency procedures, which the Employer bargained with the Union in Article 42, Section 18, of the CBA, which reads, “A rest stop is a stopover of up to 24 hours taken at an intermediary point during travel or at the destination.” According to the Employer, an overnight stay in a hotel along the way or at the end, no matter how long or short, will keep the Employer from having to pay extra to provide business class travel to the Employee.

SOfficial travelince regulations trump collective bargaining agreements, 41 CFR §301-10.125 (a) trumps Article 42, Section 18, per Article 4 and Article 42, Section 1 A, of the CBA. So, I believe the Employer cannot ask the Employee to report to duty the day after a foreign trip that lasts more than 14 hours. However, the Employee must obey orders since the Employer has a statutory right to assign work per 5 USC § 7106 (a) (2) (B), though subject to the Union’s right to bargain over changes in working conditions per 5 USC § 7106 (b). The Union recommends that the Employee obeys orders first and grieve later per Article 45 of the CBA.

This grievance resulted in the Employer granting two days of administrative leave for each of the grievants to make up for the day of rest they were entitled to after their 15-hour trip to conduct foreign inspections. The Employer also granted that management would consider the grievants’ fatigue and jetlag when evaluating their performance and conduct during the first week in foreign travel status and would not use fatigue or jetlag to support any negative evaluation or disciplinary action against the grievants.

Most importantly, this grievance brought this issue to the attention of the Employer. The Union hopes that this awareness will improve this situation going forward. After all, no one wants exhausted FDA employees in a foreign country getting in an accident or sick, or performing poorly while conducting official business.

The Union understands that the Agency is currently operating under a restrictive Continuing Resolution budget. Therefore, the best way for the Agency to comply with the provisions of the 14-hour rule, and allow travelers to recover from an extensive flight in coach class, will most likely be to ensure they always provide a full day of rest after the trip ends and before reporting to duty.

I hope you find this information useful and welcome your feedback on this matter.

Author: chapterpresident

I have worked in the FDA since 1990 in a variety of positions. I currently serve as chapter president of NTEU Chapter 254, representing FDA employees in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah.