The latest guidance from OPM adds details to considerations touched on briefly in prior guidance regarding employees staying away from work or being dismissed due to suspected Coronavirus-related illness.
Prior guidance had said for example that employees should stay home if they have symptoms including a fever of 100.4° F or more and should stay away until they are symptom free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines such as cough suppressants.
The latest guidance clarifies that employees requesting sick leave of more than three days do not necessarily have to produce medical evidence of illness.
“An agency may consider an employee’s self-certification as to the reason for his or her absence as administratively acceptable evidence, regardless of the duration of the absence,” it says.
“Supervisors should use their best judgment and follow their agency’s internal practices for granting sick leave. Agencies should also be mindful about the burden and impact of requiring a medical certificate.”
Regarding dismissing employees, it says: “Attempts on the part of a supervisor to assume a particular medical diagnosis based on observable symptoms is very problematic and should be avoided. However, when a supervisor observes an employee exhibiting symptoms of illness, he or she may express concern regarding the employee’s health and remind the employee of his or her leave options for seeking medical attention, such as requesting sick or annual leave.”
If the employee has no leave available, supervisors are authorized to approve requests for advanced leave or leave without pay in certain circumstances, it adds, and “when these leave options are not practical, a viable alternative, when the employee is covered by a telework agreement, is for the employee to work from home for social distancing purposes pursuant to an ad hoc arrangement approved by the employee’s supervisor.”
Failing that, “agencies have the authority to place an employee on excused absence (administrative leave) and order him or her to stay at home or away from the workplace.” Although that would be paid time, the guidance adds that agency policies, any union contracts and other considerations would come into play.
It adds: “Supervisors may require an employee to take leave or stay away from the worksite based on objective evidence only (not suspicion). Supervisors should obtain assistance from HR staff or on-site employee health services (if available), as the action may require compliance with adverse action procedures.”
Regardless of whether employees stay home on their own initiative or are sent home, “The infected employee’s privacy should be protected to the greatest extent possible; therefore, his or her identity should not be disclosed . . . Managers should treat this as they would any other illness in the workplace and continue to protect employee privacy interests while providing sufficient information to all employees related to protecting themselves against the spread of illness,” it says.