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Frequently Asked Questions Pandemic

Coronavirus

  • General Schedule (GS) employees may receive additional pay for the performance of hazardous duty or duty involving physical hardship. (5 U.S.C. 5545(d) and 5 CFR part 550, subpart I). Appendix A to subpart I of part 550 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations, contains a list of approved hazard pay differentials. For example, a 25 percent hazard pay differential is authorized for employee exposure to “virulent biologicals, “ which is defined as ‘work with or in close proximity to…[m]aterials of micro-organic nature which when introduced into the body are likely to cause serious disease or fatality and for which protective devices do not afford complete protection.’ 

    To be eligible for the hazard pay differential, the agency must determine that the employee is exposed to a qualifying hazard through the performance of his or her assigned duties and that the hazardous duty has not been taken into account in the classification of the employee’s position. A hazard pay differential is not payable if safety precautions have reduced the element of hazard to a less than significant level of risk, consistent with generally accepted standards that may be applicable. (See 5 CFR 550.904-550.906 for further information and exceptions.) OPM does not determine when hazard pay differentials must be paid; agencies have the responsibility and are in the best position to determine whether duties performed by employees meet the regulatory requirements for hazard pay. Thus, agency managers, in consultation with occupational safety and health experts, must determine whether an employee is entitled to hazard pay on a case-by-case basis.

    Prevailing rate (wage) employees may receive an environmental differential when exposed to a working condition, physical hardship, or hazard of an unusually severe nature. (See 5 U.S.C. 5343(c)(4) and 5 CFR 532.511.) A list of approved differentials is contained in Appendix A to subpart E of part 532, of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations. As with hazard pay differentials, determinations as to whether an employee qualifies for an approved environmental differential must be made by agencies on a case-by-case basis. 

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020

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  • No. There is no authority within the hazardous duty pay or environmental differential statutes to pay for potential exposure. To pay hazardous duty pay or environmental differential pay for an unusual physical hardship or hazard covered under the regulations, a local installation must find that there is credible evidence that an employee was actually exposed.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • An agency may authorize weather and safety leave to an employee exposed to COVID19, even if asymptomatic, if a local health authority determines the employee would jeopardize the health of others if allowed to return to work. Employees should refer to CDC guidance on how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure. (See Telework FAQ section, for more information regarding general restrictions on the use of weather and safety leave for telework program participants.)

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • No. Sick leave would be used to cover such a period of sickness, as provided in 5 CFR 630.401(a)(2). Agencies must grant sick leave when an illness, such as COVID-19, prevents an employee from performing work. 

    Last Updated  3/7/2020
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  • An employee, covered by a telework agreement, may request to telework with the permission of the supervisor. Agencies could also consider expanding telework to any telework eligible employees to provide additional flexibility for employees. For employees who are not currently covered by a telework agreement, agencies may also consider whether an employee has some portable duties (e.g., reading reports; analyzing documents and studies; preparing written letters, memorandums, reports and other correspondence; setting up conference calls, or other tasks that do not require the employee to be physically present), that would allow him/her to telework on a situational basis. An ad-hoc telework agreement should be signed to cover the period the employee is permitted to work from the approved alternate location (e.g., home). An employee may also request to take annual leave, advanced annual leave, other paid time off (e.g., earned compensatory time off, earned credit hours), or leave without pay. An agency may not authorize weather and safety leave to an employee under this scenario. The use of sick leave would be limited to circumstances where an employee has become symptomatic (ill) due to a quarantinable communicable disease, such as COVID-19. 

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • Not necessarily. Under OPM’s regulations (5 CFR 630.405(a)), an agency may grant sick leave only when the need for sick leave is supported by administratively acceptable evidence. An agency may consider an employee’s self-certification as to the reason for his or her absence as administratively acceptable evidence, regardless of the duration of the absence. An agency may also require a medical certificate or other administratively acceptable evidence as to the reason for an absence for any of the purposes for which sick leave is granted for an absence in excess of 3 workdays, or for a lesser period when the agency determines it is necessary. Supervisors should use their best judgment and follow their agency’s internal practices for granting sick leave. Agencies should also be mindful about the burden and impact of requiring a medical certificate. 

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • An employee must always have a sufficient amount of work to perform throughout the workday when he or she teleworks. An employee performing telework who does not have enough work must notify his or her supervisor and receive additional work or discuss leave options such as annual leave, advanced annual leave, other paid time off (e.g., earned compensatory time off, earned credit hours), or leave without pay. 

    Last Updated  3/7/2020
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  • 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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  • The infected employee’s privacy should be protected to the greatest extent possible; therefore, his or her identity should not be disclosed. In an outbreak of quarantinable communicable disease or COVID-19, management should share only that information determined to be necessary to protect the health of the employees in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Supervisors should consult with their agency general counsel to determine what information is releasable. Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.

    If social distancing, information sharing, or other precautions to assist employees in recognizing symptoms or reducing the spread of the illness can be taken without disclosing information related to a specific employee, that is the preferred approach.

    Managers should work with their workplace safety contacts and local health officials to stay apprised of information regarding transmission of the illness and precautions that should be taken to reduce the spread of influenza or any other contagious disease in the workplace. Managers should treat this as they would any other illness in the workplace and continue to protect employee privacy interests while providing sufficient information to all employees related to protecting themselves against the spread of illness.


    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • The agency head, in his or her sole and exclusive discretion, may grant special allowance payments, based on a case-by-case analysis, to offset the direct added expenses incidental to performing work from home (or an alternative location mutually agreeable to the agency and the employee) during a pandemic health crisis. (See 5 CFR 550.409(b).) An employee is not entitled to special allowance payments for increased costs during an evacuation unless specifically approved by the agency head.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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