OPM has told agencies that they can reassign federal employees to other duties for purposes related to Coronavirus response by invoking emergency evacuation authorities.
“OPM’s regulations recognize that an evacuation from an employee’s normal worksite may be authorized in connection with a pandemic health crisis” and due to the World Health Organization declaration, “COVID-19 is a qualifying pandemic health crisis,” guidance says.
“In the context of a pandemic health crisis, the evacuation pay regulations allow an agency to direct employees to work at home (or an alternative location agreeable to the employee and the agency) without regard to whether the employee and the agency have a telework agreement in place. Also, an employee may be assigned to perform any work considered necessary without regard to the employee’s grade, level, or title,” it says.
“An agency does not need to evacuate an entire building to use this authority and instead could choose to evacuate certain employees or sections of an agency building at risk,” it adds.
The guidance builds on an OMB memo telling agencies to realign their activities toward their most mission-critical functions, including to “adjust employee and work units’ work assignments as necessary to higher-priority activities.”
During a period in which evacuation pay is authorized, an employee who continues working is entitled to the pay to which he or she would otherwise have been entitled; an additional allowance may be paid at the agency’s discretion to cover costs to the employee related to working from home or another approved location.
“An agency can assign the employee to perform work to the extent possible during the evacuation pay period. Failure or refusal to perform assigned work may be a basis for terminating evacuation payments or disciplinary action,” OPM said.
OPM encouraged to review their union contracts to determine bargaining obligations but added that the law provides that an agency may “take whatever actions may be necessary to carry out the agency mission during emergencies” and that any bargaining obligations might be fulfilled “on a post-implementation basis.”