OPM has told agencies to consistently inform employees, including those on telework, of operating status changes due to severe weather and other reasons.
In a memo, OPM said it “strongly encourages” agencies to review its policies on closing, late arrivals, early dismissals and other changes, which “reflect the principle that the federal government’s vital business must continue without compromising the safety of our employees or the general public.”
OPM makes decisions on changes in the national capital area, in consultation with local governments, transit agencies and other officials; elsewhere, such decisions commonly are made by field office heads of individual agencies, coordinated by regional Federal Executive Boards where they exist (in about two dozen major city areas).
Said OPM, “Although many federal employees are in a “maximum telework” posture due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still extremely important for agencies to communicate expectations to all employees prior to an emergency. Operating status announcements are most effective if each employee understands what the announcement means and how to react. Therefore, agencies are strongly encouraged to ensure that all employees are familiar with these procedures and the various operating status announcements and what options are available to them.”
“It is critical that all employees 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, 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 added.
It gave as an example the response to a recent snowstorm in the Washington, D.C. area in which OPM provided a two-hour delayed arrival with the option for unscheduled leave and unscheduled telework. Employees not designated as “emergency employees” but who reported to the worksite on the day of the announcement were permitted to arrive for work up to two hours later than they would be expected to normally arrive and were paid for that time under the weather and safety leave authority. However, teleworking employees were not eligible for that leave because they were not scheduled to report to the worksite, it said, nor were emergency employees who were expected to report to the worksite on time unless instructed otherwise.
OPM added that agencies “should be mindful that onsite contractors are also impacted” by a change in operating status, telling them to “consult with appropriate contracting officials to ensure contracts requiring onsite performance/access include contingency direction in the event of a federal dismissal or closure. To the extent practicable, such direction should address performance flexibilities including alternative worksites and/or telework.”