As part of new guidance on agency closings due to severe weather or other safety concerns, OPM has reminded agencies of their responsibility to have clear policies and to communicate them to their employees.
“Federal agencies and employees must be prepared to respond immediately to an emergency situation. Operating status announcements are most effective if each employee understands what the announcement means and how to react. Therefore, agencies should take steps to familiarize each employee with the various operating status announcements,” it says. “Each agency should have in place specific procedures that are applied in conjunction with the various operating status announcements. Those specific agency procedures should address agency policies and procedures related to leave, telework, and work schedules. The agency procedures will help employees know what is expected of them when an operating status is changed.”
“Employees must understand which human resources flexibilities are available to them during each type of operating status, 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 teleworking during office closures,” it says.
OPM also stressed that agencies should promote and incorporate telework into their agency emergency planning, “thereby allowing the federal government to maintain productivity and support their agency mission. In addition, given recent agency actions to improve cybersecurity practices, we strongly encourage agencies to take steps to foster appropriate preparation by telework-ready employees so they are able to effectively telework and have access to agency IT systems and networks, as may be necessary, should an emergency or weather condition so warrant.”
Agencies are to ensure that telework agreements and collective bargaining agreements reflect the new guidance, it said.
While closing decisions generally are made by agency field office heads, in the national capital area OPM makes that call, it added, and “agencies should avoid taking independent action because changes in the commuting hours of federal employees can result in a 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 result in treating affected employees as consistently as possible.”