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Frequently Asked Questions Pandemic

Coronavirus

  • 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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  • 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 CDC or other health agency will provide information related to the length of time an individual remains contagious, as well as current recommendations for social distancing, etc. For information specific to COVID-19, please view CDC’s website. In the case of an epidemic or pandemic, agency personnel actions aimed at preventing the spread of a disease may be taken because of the guidance or directive of public health officials regarding the general danger to public health.

    Generally, an agency should not prohibit an employee from reporting to work unless it has evidence or a reasonable concern that an employee is physically unable to perform his or her job, or their presence in the workplace poses a risk of infection to others. Whenever possible, sick employees should be encouraged to take leave, such as sick leave, annual leave, advanced leave, other paid time off (e.g., earned compensatory time off, earned credit hours), or leave without pay. Excused absence (administrative leave) may be used if other options are not feasible and it is necessary to prevent an employee from being at the worksite and possibly putting other employees at risk. Excused absence is a paid, non-duty status that does not require the employee’s consent or request and does not trigger adverse action procedures. In addition, excused absence can provide time for the agency to seek appropriate evidence regarding the employee’s health. In other cases, such as when an employee refuses to take leave voluntarily, a supervisor may find it appropriate to enforce the employee’s use of leave. Supervisors should consult with appropriate HR staff and general counsel before taking such a step, because enforced leave is an adverse action that imposes procedural requirements (i.e., advance notice, an opportunity to reply, the right to representation, and an agency decision) before actually enforcing the use of leave. Enforced leave of 14 days or less may be subject to agency administrative grievance procedures or negotiated grievance procedures. In addition, enforced leave lasting longer than 14 days may be appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) or potentially grieved under any applicable negotiated grievance procedure. Supervisors need to consult with their HR office and legal counsel when deciding to enforce the use of leave, to ensure that the action is permissible and defensible before a third party.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • Yes. However, while sick leave may be advanced at an agency’s discretion, it is not an employee entitlement. The sick leave regulations allow an employee to be advanced sick leave for exposure to a quarantinable communicable disease, subject to the limitations below:

    • 240 hours (30 days) may be advanced if the employee would jeopardize the health of others by his or her presence on the job because of exposure to a quarantinable communicable disease;

    • 104 hours (13 days) may be advanced if the employee is providing care for a family member who would jeopardize the health of others by his or her presence in the community because of exposure to a quarantinable communicable disease. 
    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • No. An agency should not authorize weather and safety leave in this instance. An employee who is healthy and is caring for an asymptomatic family member may request annual leave, advanced annual leave, other paid time off (e.g., earned compensatory time off, earned credit hours), or leave without pay for the period of absence from his or her job.

    In addition, an employee who is caring for an asymptomatic family member who has been exposed to a quarantinable communicable disease and who is covered by a telework agreement may also request to telework pursuant to an ad hoc arrangement to the extent possible. (See Telework FAQs section, for more information.)

    If the employee's family member becomes symptomatic (ill) with a quarantinable communicable disease, such as COVID-19, sick leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition would be appropriate. (See Sick Leave and Other Time Off FAQs section, for more information.)

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • Agency policy and collective bargaining agreements may have provisions for requesting medical documentation from an employee. Accordingly, agencies should consult with their HR office and general counsel for guidance. An agency may grant sick leave only when supported by evidence administratively acceptable to the agency. For absences in excess of 3 days, or for a lesser period when determined necessary by the agency, an agency may require a medical certificate or other administratively acceptable evidence.

    Under current rules, management may require medical evaluation or screening only when the need for such evaluation is supported by the nature of the work (see 5 CFR 339.301). Attempts on the part of a supervisor to assume a particular medical diagnosis based on observable symptoms is very problematic and should be avoided. However, when a supervisor observes an employee exhibiting symptoms of illness, he or she may express 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. If the employee has no leave available, supervisors are authorized to approve requests for advanced leave or leave without pay in certain circumstances. Agencies should also note the provisions of 5 CFR 630.401(a)(5), which require the approval of requests for sick leave if an employee is determined by the health authorities having jurisdiction or by a health care provider, to “jeopardize the health of others by his or her presence on the job because of exposure to a communicable disease.” 

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020

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  • An agency that has a general bar on teleworking when there are young children or other persons requiring care and supervision may choose to adjust its policies to allow, as a special exception, telework in those circumstances in the case of an emergency, such as the COVID-19 situation. Under such an exception policy, a teleworking employee would be expected to account for work and non-work hours during his or her tour of duty and take appropriate leave (paid or unpaid) to account for time spent away from normal workrelated duties (e.g., to care for small children).

    Agencies should address in their telework policies potential situations that may prevent or impact an employee’s ability to effectively perform his or her duties at home. This includes policies regarding the conditions under which employees may telework, even if they have a young child or other person requiring the presence of a caregiver in the home. (For additional information please see OPM Guidance on Telework and Dependent Care). If an agency policy bars an employee from teleworking at his or her home when there is a child or elder care situation, then the home is not an approved location under OPM’s regulations. Since Federal offices remain OPEN, agencies may not authorize weather and safety leave to employees who cannot telework with children in the home. Employees should either report to their worksite or request annual leave or other paid time off if they are unable to report to the worksite.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that COVID-19 meets the definition for “severe acute respiratory syndromes” set forth in E.O. 13674. Therefore, this novel coronavirus is a “quarantinable communicable disease,” as defined by E.O. 13295, as amended by E.O.s 13375 and 13674. Additional information on quarantinable communicable diseases is available from the CDC website.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • Use of weather and safety leave would be subject to the normal conditions—for example, weather and safety leave may be granted only if an employee is not able to safely travel to or perform work at an approved location. Thus, an employee who is not a telework program participant would be granted weather/safety leave for quarantine periods under the direction of local or public health authorities. However, in the case of telework program participants, the employee’s home is generally an approved location. Thus, the employee would generally be expected to perform telework at home as long as the employee is asymptomatic. (See 5 CFR 630.1605.) If a telework program participant in these circumstances needs time off for personal reasons, then the employee would be expected to take other personal leave or paid time off (e.g., annual leave or sick leave to care for a family member).

    Last updated: 3/7/2020
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  • Information on worker’s compensation benefits for Federal employees related to COVID19 can be found on Department of Labor's Division of Federal Employees' Compensation page.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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