While the government has taken actions to protect federal employees in response to the Coronavirus, unions and numerous members of Congress continue to say that agencies should be more aggressive in closing buildings, approving telework requests, providing safety-related equipment and supplies, reducing travel, and in promptly informing employees if they may have been exposed.
There is no official number of confirmed cases of infection among federal employees although individual cases have been reported in a wide variety of agencies and locations.
In recent days, several agencies have cut back or suspended operations involving direct contact with the public—including for example the SSA, IRS, EEOC, USCIS and the MSPB—or have otherwise limited public access to their buildings.
However, even in some of those cases employees still must continue going to the office, where a risk of infection from co-workers continues. Also, some federal work by its nature requires face-to-face interactions with members of the public, such as TSA screeners and customs agents at airports.
Although the administration has issued several memos urging agencies to approve more telework, members of Congress have sent the White House and OPM a steady stream of messages calling stronger action.
One of the most recent, from a group of senators, asks that the administration “direct federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so for the effective operation of government.”
Federal unions have also continued to advocate for more telework—the NTEU additionally has called for closing all federal offices with more than 50 people in a workspace—and are seeking greater protections for employees down to basics such as making masks and hand sanitizers more available and better cleaning of work stations. Most recently, the AFGE raised specific concerns about DoD commissary workers, and joined with other unions representing VA health care employees pressing for stronger protections for them.
Also being raised are calls for approving hazardous duty pay (for GS employees) and environmental differential pay (for wage grade employees)—premium pay worth 25 percent of basic salary for exposure to environmental or physical dangers that are not part of regular duties.
The AFGE union told a House hearing that “employees exposed to unusual hazards are in immediate danger of exposure,” and that the pay should be approved for example for medical workers required to work and interface with individuals who have bene quarantined or diagnosed.
The union also is recommending to its locals that they propose in bargaining that employees be eligible in situations where the risk of exposure is heightened, even if protective equipment is provided.
There has been no publicly reported instance of such pay having been granted to date, however.
ask.FEDweek.com: Hazardous Duty Pay to Federal Workers