OPM has issued additional guidance on federal workplace policies in response to the Coronavirus, including for the first time authorizing the use of “weather and safety leave” for a communicable disease.
The guidance follows an earlier memo in which OPM said it had created a working group on the virus, which is continuing to spread and trigger quarantines.
“OPM has determined that agencies may authorize weather and safety leave when an asymptomatic employee (i.e., healthy, not displaying symptoms of the given disease) is subject to movement restrictions (quarantine or isolation) under the direction of public health authorities due to a significant risk of exposure to a quarantinable communicable disease, such as 2019-nCoV,” OPM said, referring to the virus’s technical name. “This determination is based on the significant safety risks for other employees and the general public that would be incurred if such an employee were allowed to travel to and perform work at the employee’s normal worksite.”
Weather and safety leave is a form of paid time off that was authorized in 2018 to replace less well defined use of administrative leave for situations in which it is unsafe to travel to, or work at, a federal worksite.
Employees also may use sick leave for personal illness or invoke their entitlement to use up to 13 days of their sick leave to care for general family care or up to 12 weeks to care for a family member with a serious condition, OPM said. Also available are annual leave, unpaid leave including under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and use of donated leave.
Further, “telework is a critical tool during emergency situations,” OPM said, noting that it “has strongly encouraged agencies to maintain a viable telework-ready workforce . . . Agencies should maximize their telework capacity by entering into telework agreements with as many telework-eligible employees as possible and by conducting exercises to test employees’ ability to access agency networks from home.“
However, agencies including Agriculture, Education, EPA, HHS, SSA and others have cut back on teleworking recently under the administration’s executive orders to strengthen management powers and limit union roles in the federal workplace.
Agencies also may invoke special hiring authorities as needed for response to the virus, the OPM memo said.