Issue Briefs

Report Raises Age, Pregnancy Bias Concerns on Returns to Worksites

Following are the sections of a recent question-and-answer posting on the aspects of President Biden’s federal workplace safety order of the most direct impact on employees.


• Leave

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Q: Would it be appropriate for an agency to grant administrative leave to cover the period of time it takes an employee to receive a COVD-19 vaccination shot?

A: Yes. An agency head (or authorized designee) has discretionary authority to grant administrative leave in appropriate circumstances. To facilitate expeditious vaccination of the Federal workforce, agencies should offer leave-eligible employees a minimum of four hours of administrative leave per dose to use as needed—for a minimum total of eight hours of leave for employees receiving two doses. (If an employee needs to spend less time getting the vaccine, only the needed amount of administrative leave should be granted.) Agencies should also recognize that some employees may face extenuating circumstances warranting additional administrative leave as appropriate (e.g., they may need to travel long distances to get the vaccine). Teleworking employees should normally obtain advance approval from their supervisor before being permitted to use administrative leave for COVID-19 vaccination purposes. Employees may not be credited with administrative leave or overtime work for time spent getting a vaccination outside their tour of duty.

Q: Will personnel need to take personal leave / sick leave days for quarantining as a result of travel?

A: Employees should be aware that official or personal travel may result in a mandatory quarantine before they are allowed to return to the workplace.
If quarantine is required because of official travel or workplace exposure, agencies should provide weather and safety leave, or other administrative leave.
If quarantine is required because of personal travel, and the employee is otherwise expected to be present onsite, the employee may take personal leave while quarantining. If an employee refuses to quarantine or refuses to take personal leave while under mandatory quarantine after personal travel, an agency may elect to bar the employee from the workplace for the safety of others. If the agency bars the employee from the workplace, the employee must be placed on administrative leave until the agency determines what status the employee should be placed in while on quarantine. Agencies, however, should avoid placing an employee on extended administrative leave in this situation and should act quickly to determine the appropriate status for the employee.

Q: Will personnel need to take sick leave while quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19?

A: Yes, if an employee is subject to isolation due to being infected with COVID-19 and is unable to telework, the employee may request sick leave, as weather and safety leave would be unavailable. Employees may also request accrued annual leave and other forms of paid or unpaid leave in this situation as appropriate. See CPM 2020-02, February 7, 2020.

Q: At this stage of the COVID-19 national emergency, how should agencies be administering weather and safety leave?

A: The guidance OPM has provided on the use of weather and safety leave in connection with the COVID-19 is still applicable. In addition to identifying certain specific covered circumstances, OPM communicated the general principle that, subject to statutory and regulatory limitations, agencies should use available flexibilities to provide weather and safety leave in circumstances where allowing an employee to travel to or perform work at the normal worksite would pose significant safety risks for the employee, other employees, or the general public. (See March 19, 2020, OPM Fact Sheet.) OPM has advised that weather and safety leave should not be used when an employee was capable of teleworking (5 CFR 630.1605) or when the employee is sick with COVID-19 or otherwise in circumstances under which sick leave was appropriate.

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• Enforcement of Mask-Wearing Among Onsite Employees and Onsite Contractors

Q: Do agencies or the building’s Facility Security Committee (FSC) need to issue orders making the wearing of masks a condition of entry for those persons wishing to access the facility?

A: EO 13991 requires agencies to take steps to implement the policy established by the EO, and these steps include orders by the occupant agency or the relevant Facility Security Committee (FSC), or, for GSA-controlled facilities, GSA imposing requirements consistent with the EO. If the FSC would like to impose more restrictive measures than EO 13991 requires, then the FSC must vote to adopt such countermeasures. If the agency with jurisdiction, custody, or control over a facility has not already issued a policy making the wearing of masks a condition of entry to the facility and throughout common areas and shared workspaces, the occupant agency must implement the requirements of EO 13991 and distribute notice of the face covering requirement through written signage posted conspicuously at each public entrance on the property, and through other communications of internal policies and guidance directed to its employees and contractors. The FSC should meet to discuss operational considerations (including conspicuous posting of notices at entrances to facilities), enforcement protocols, and any other issues associated with implementation of the EO requirements that require cross-agency collaboration at the local level.

Q: If an employee comes to the worksite and refuses to wear a mask, what should the supervisor do?

A: When a supervisor observes an employee at the workplace not wearing a mask, the supervisor should remind the employee of the federal government-wide policy requiring mask-wearing in federal buildings. If the employee raises a disability or religious issue as the reason for not wearing a mask, the supervisor should follow the agency’s process to review and consider what, if any, reasonable accommodation should be offered (e.g., work from home or a different type of covering combined with appropriate social distancing). Employees who require a reasonable accommodation should contact the agency’s reasonable accommodations manager for information about lodging a request. Employees of contractors who require a reasonable accommodation should contact their supervisors and request that the supervisor discuss the need with the agency’s contracting officer.

If the employee is not eligible for an accommodation and does not comply with the mask requirement, the agency may pursue discipline. An agency may elect to bar the employee from the workplace for the safety of others until it determines the appropriate disciplinary action and any related proceedings are concluded. Any decision to bar the employee should occur in consultation with the agency’s onsite security authority (including any onsite security contractor), agency human resources office, and agency legal counsel. If the agency bars the employee from the workplace, the employee must be placed on paid administrative leave until the agency takes the disciplinary action. The agency must also follow normal processes to provide the required notice to the employee before implementing the disciplinary action. This could include, for example, possible placement of the employee on notice leave during the required period before effecting a suspension.

Q: Will GSA require its onsite service contractors (including custodial, operation and maintenance contractors) to wear face coverings throughout building common areas and agency-occupied space? Should agencies that hire onsite service contractors in other, non-GSA controlled facilities require these contractors to wear face coverings throughout building common areas and agency-occupied space?

A: Yes, GSA will require its service contractors in GSA-controlled facilities to wear masks throughout common areas and agency-occupied space. For agencies in non-GSA-controlled facilities, policies and procedures should be put in place by the agency to require onsite service contractors (including custodial contractors) to wear masks throughout common areas and agency-occupied space.

• Visitors

Q: Do public visitors who are entering agency space to conduct business with our agency need to wear a mask?

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A: Yes. While EO 13991 requires agencies to minimize the number of visitors to federal workplaces, some individuals will, of course, need to visit federal buildings. Visitors who require access to federal facilities must wear a mask to gain entry to the facility and must continue to wear a mask throughout their entire visit, unless covered by an exception as set forth in M-21-15 (COVID-19 Safe Federal Workplace: Agency Model Safety Principles). Agencies should implement alternative procedures that allow for persons unable to access an agency’s workspace to continue to obtain any federal government benefits or services to which the individual is entitled.

Q: What alternative procedures should agencies put in place for visitors unable to access workspaces due to the masking, screening, or other requirements in the “Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing” executive order?

A: All executive agencies must develop and implement alternative procedures that allow for persons denied access to a federal facility or otherwise unable to access an agency’s workspace to continue to obtain any federal government benefits or services to which the individual is entitled, such as monetary benefit payments or required adjudicative appointments or hearings.

Q: What should an agency do if there are visitors inside a facility who are not wearing a mask and who will not comply with reminders and requests to do so?

A: Agencies should first remind visitors of the requirement to wear masks. If they refuse to comply, the matter can be escalated to the agency’s security officer. If unable to resolve the issue, agencies should notify the responsible onsite security authority (e.g., their onsite security contractor or, if not available, the Department of Homeland Security-Federal Protective Service or the Department of Justice-U.S. Marshals Service) in the facility where the violations occurred. Where no onsite security is present, agencies in GSA-controlled facilities protected by FPS should call the FPS MegaCenter at 1-877-4FP-S411 to request law enforcement support.

• Symptom Screening

Q: Is symptom screening required before agency onsite employees, onsite contractors, and visitors come to the workplace?

A: If onsite federal employees, onsite contractors or visitors do not feel well, they should not come to the workplace. Onsite federal employees and onsite contractors who need to report to the workplace must complete symptom screening before they report each day. Agencies are encouraged to use mobile or web applications, or both, to facilitate the screening process, and may adapt the tool used by the CDC (PDF, Download Adobe Reader). Visitors must also complete this screening.

To implement symptom screening for onsite employees, onsite contractors, and visitors at entrances to GSA-controlled facilities, the FSC must vote to adopt screening criteria and procedures, and coordinate with the GSA building manager or lease administration manager, FPS, USMS, or other relevant federal security organization, as applicable.

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2021 Federal Employees Handbook

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