fedweek.com: sec covid march dismissed Washington DC, March 2020: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) became the first US federal agency to direct employees to work from home to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. As of March 10 there were 761 confirmed cases in the US with 27 deaths. Image: SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

As the Coronavirus continues to spread, more attention is focusing on the availability—or lack of it—of telework for federal employees.

The newest guidance from OPM stops short of urging agencies to immediately expand telework, instead telling agencies to “review their current telework policies and ensure that written telework agreements are in place for as many employees as possible.”


“Agencies are strongly encouraged to sign situational (ad hoc) telework agreements with all telework eligible employees currently without a signed telework agreement. Further, agencies should reassess their factors for determining telework eligibility to determine if additional categories of employees may be classified as telework eligible,” it adds.

OPM also encouraged agencies “to take steps to prepare all telework-ready employees to effectively telework and have access to agency IT systems and networks, as may be necessary” if they should need to close offices and invoke their continuity of operations plans.

While office closings have not been common yet, that has been done in at least two cases—last week at the USCIS Seattle are office and this week at SEC headquarters—due to employees having been exposed. In both cases, the closings are indefinite and employees have been told to telework to the extent possible.

Several agencies have issued their own guidance with the same theme of OPM’s—to prepare to expand telework but not to do it yet. For example, DoD, the largest agency, this week told components to “review all civilian positions to determine if they are eligible to telework, update telework agreements, and conduct tests to determine technology and processes are in place for effective telework.”

Federal unions and some members of Congress have been urging OPM to go beyond encouraging preparations. Said a letter from eight senators involved with civil service issues, “we urge you to also direct agencies to take a generous and public health-facing position on expanding telework availability before agencies need to implement” continuity of operations plans.

They also asked that OPM tell agencies to be generous in approving unscheduled leave for employees who fall sick or who need to care for someone else.

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