Following is a recent OPM memo serving as the annual reminder to federal employees and agencies regarding work scheduling changes due to severe weather. While the associated guidebook applies specifically only to the Washington, D.C. area, it is used as the model for closing and dismissal decisions elsewhere, typically made by regional Federal Executive Boards.

As we begin the 2016-2017 winter season, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would like to take this opportunity to remind Federal departments and agencies of the Washington, DC, Area Dismissal and Closure Procedures (Procedures) guide.  These Procedures reflect the principle that the Federal Government’s vital business must continue without compromising the safety of our employees and the general public.  Although the Procedures are typically issued in the winter, the announcements are applicable for any emergency or significant event that causes a disruption inside the “Washington Capital Beltway.”

During the past few years, OPM has consulted with an interagency working group of human resources specialists, Chief Human Capital Officers, and national labor organizations to ensure that our Procedures reflect the needs of the human resources community.  OPM has also coordinated with Federal, State, and local emergency management and transportation officials to ensure that each announcement supports the needs of the emergency situation.

This year, OPM is not recommending changes to the Procedures or the operating status announcements, but would like to highlight important topics for both agencies and employees.  The 2015 Procedures can be found at  https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/reference-materials/handbooks/dcdismissal.pdf .

Telework Policies and Procedures

Telework has become a standard human resources tool in the Procedures that enables a greater number of Federal employees to work during emergency situations.  Agencies should continue to incorporate telework arrangements into their agency emergency planning so that employees will be able to telework during emergency situations, allowing the Federal Government to maintain productivity and ensure continuity of operations.  Given recent agency actions to improve cybersecurity practices, we strongly encourage agencies to take steps to ensure that telework-ready employees are prepared to effectively telework and access agency information technology systems and networks, as may be necessary, should an emergency or weather condition so warrant.

Communicating Expectations

Federal agencies and employees in the Washington, DC area must be prepared to respond immediately to an emergency situation.  OPM’s operating status announcements are only effective if each employee understands what the announcement means and how to react.  Every OPM announcement should be accompanied by specific agency procedures in continuity of operations plans, written telework agreements, and/or collective bargaining agreements, as consistent with law.  These agency procedures will allow employees to know what is expected of them when OPM changes the operating status.

Employees must understand which human resources flexibilities are available to them during specific agency operating procedures, such as unscheduled telework, unscheduled leave, leave without pay, alternative work schedule day off, etc.  In an emergency situation, timing is crucial.  Employees must be able to act under their own agency’s procedures when unscheduled telework or unscheduled leave are options, or when provisions in agency telework agreements requiring employees to telework when the Federal Government is closed have been triggered.

Importance of Following OPM Operating Status Announcements

In order to enhance safety and productivity, it is essential that covered Federal agencies and employees follow the Procedures for Government-wide emergencies or special events that create a disruption in the Washington metropolitan area.  The operating status announcements are intended to apply to employees working in all Executive agencies with offices located inside the “Washington Capital Beltway.”  In the event of an area-wide work disruption, agencies should avoid taking independent action because changes in the commuting hours of Federal employees can result in dramatic disruption of the highway and mass transit systems.  Following OPM’s operating status announcements and policies will allow for coordination with municipal and regional officials, and will reduce disruption of the highway and transit systems.  This will both reduce traffic congestion and ensure that affected employees are treated as consistently as possible.

Federal agencies and employees that are located outside of the “Washington Capital Beltway” must follow procedures established by their agency.  Employees should always check their agency’s operating status which includes the agency’s procedures concerning telework, arrival and departure times, and leave requests.