Sailors could lose time off they earned during the COVID-19 pandemic under the Navy’s special leave accrual policy — if they don’t use it before the end of September.

That’s because the Navy is altering its policy so sailors can keep only 90 days of leave in their special leave accrual, or SLA, balance, rather than 120 days.

The policy shift is expected to impact more than 300 sailors, Lt. Sarah Niles, a spokeswoman for the Chief of Naval Personnel, told Navy Times. It is a result of policy changes included in the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

“Service Members will lose any SLA leave in excess of 90 days (vice 120 days) on September 30, 2023 unless they had more than 90 days of SLA leave on the books on December 31, 2022,” a new naval administrative message said.

“Other anticipated changes are that SLA leave will only be held for up to two years (vice three years) and that the first flag officer in the chain of command will need to approve SLA leave accrual in most cases,” the NAVADMIN said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pentagon modified policies so service members could carry over up to 120 days of leave.

The Navy expanded that policy in 2021, allowing all leave accrued during all of fiscal year 2021 to go toward a sailor’s special leave accrual balance.

The Navy also extended the amount of time sailors may carryover a leave balance greater than 60 days by an additional year, from September 2023 to September 2024.

Unlike normal leave, special leave accrual accumulates when a sailor is unable to take leave — such as when he or she is deployed.

Enlisted sailors can “sell back” any leave they have that exceeds 90 days — but sailors may only do this once in their entire career. Officers are not permitted to sell back excess leave.

“This notice is intended to allow affected Service Members time to use the leave they have earned,” the NAVADMIN said. “Unit commanders should continue to minimize the loss of leave within the constraints of operational requirements.”

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