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Frequently Asked Questions Pandemic

If an employee comes to work and shows symptoms of illness, what should the supervisor do? May the employee be placed on excused absence (administrative leave), and if so, for how long? What is needed before the employee can return to work?

When a supervisor observes an employee at the workplace exhibiting medical symptoms, he or she can express general 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. Supervisors may refer to CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businessesand Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) for some tips on how to handle employees showing symptoms of acute respiratory illness. However, supervisors of federal employees should consider this guidance in conjunction with OPM guidance for the federal workforce.

If the employee has no leave available, supervisors are authorized to approve requests for advanced leave or leave without pay in certain circumstances. 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. Of course, the feasibility of working from home is dependent on several factors, including the nature of the employee’s duties, the availability of any necessary equipment (personal computer, etc.), and computer and communication connectivity.

If none of the above options are possible, 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. The duration of any such excused absence (administrative leave) is dependent on the specific circumstances but is typically a short period. Placing an employee on excused absence (administrative leave) is fully within an agency’s discretion and does not require the consent or request of the employee. Supervisors should not place an employee on excused absence (administrative leave) without first consulting with their human resources (HR) staff and general counsel to review agency policy, collective bargaining agreements, and applicable law with respect to any applicable collective bargaining provisions.

An employee who is quarantined under the direction of health care authorities should not be reporting to the normal worksite. The employee’s supervisor should offer the quarantined employee the option of ad hoc telework to the maximum extent possible. The quarantined employee may be granted advanced sick leave for the quarantine period, at the employee’s request. Other options include annual leave, advanced annual leave, or donated annual leave.

Before an employee returns to work, the employee’s supervisor should consult with HR and general counsel regarding procedures for requesting administratively acceptable medical documentation in accordance with applicable policies, collective bargaining agreements, and laws.

Last Updated:  3/7/2020

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