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Frequently Asked Questions Pandemic

Coronavirus

  • Yes. An agency may order an employee to work from home (or an alternative location mutually agreeable to the agency and the employee) without regard to whether the agency and the employee have a telework agreement in place at the time the order to evacuate is issued. Agencies should consult with offices of human resources and general counsel to determine appropriate collective bargaining obligations where bargaining unit employees are impacted.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • No. OPM’s regulations define exposure to “virulent biologicals” 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.” (See Appendix A to subpart I of part 550 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations.) Agencies may pay a hazard pay differential to a General Schedule employee for exposure to “virulent biologicals” only when the risk of exposure is directly associated with the performance of assigned duties. An employee may not receive a hazard pay differential under the “virulent biologicals” category if exposure to a qualifying virus was not triggered by the performance of assigned duties. The hazard pay differential cannot be paid to an employee who may come in contact with the virus or another similar virus through incidental exposure to the public or other employees who are ill rather than being exposed to the virus during the performance of assigned duties (e.g., as in the case of a poultry handler or health care worker). Also, the virus must be determined to be likely to cause serious disease or fatality for which protective devices do not afford complete protection.

    Federal Wage System (FWS) employees may not receive an environmental differential for incidental exposure to the pandemic COVID-19. The environmental differential for FWS employees is additional pay for job-related exposure to hazards, physical hardships, or working conditions of an unusually severe nature which cannot be eliminated or significantly reduced by preventive measures. The environmental differential is not intended to compensate employees for exposure to a safety risk unrelated to their assigned duties.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • For an employee covered by a telework agreement, ad hoc telework arrangements can be used as a flexibility to promote social distancing and can be an alternative to the use of sick leave for exposure to a quarantinable communicable disease for an employee who is asymptomatic or caring for a family member who is asymptomatic. An employee’s request to telework from home while responsible for such a family member may be approved for the length of time the employee is free from care duties and has work to perform to effectively contribute to the agency’s mission. The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 requires agencies to incorporate telework into their continuity of operations plan. Agencies should have written telework agreements in place with as many employees who are willing to participate and communicate expectations for telework in emergency situations.

    It is important for an agency to have a solid technology infrastructure established to support a high level and volume of connectivity, so employees can work seamlessly from their alternate locations (e.g., home) and maintain established records and security requirements. Managers, employees, and organizations must remain flexible and adapt to the changing environment.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • Yes. The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 states that “each executive agency shall incorporate telework into the continuity of operations plan of that agency.” Employees participating in an agency telework program can be leveraged during a COOP activation. If an agency COOP plan is in operation, that plan “shall supersede any telework policy,” (see 5 U.S.C. 6504(d)(2)) and allow greater flexibility to expand telework to a larger segment of the workforce in support of agency operations) so that as many employees as possible are working during a COOP activation. 

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published guidance and recommended measures to help prevent occupational exposure to COVID-19 in Federal workplaces. See OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance. See also CDC's COVID-19 guidance

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • Supervisors may require an employee to take leave or stay away from the worksite based on objective evidence only (not suspicion). Supervisors should obtain assistance from HR staff or on-site employee health services (if available), as the action may require compliance with adverse action procedures.

    Objective evidence will depend on the facts of each case. Objective evidence could consist of a statement from the health authorities having jurisdiction or from a health care provider that the employee is physically unable to work or poses a danger to other employees or knowledge the employee resides in an area that has been quarantined. Consultation with public health officials may be appropriate. Less definitive, but potentially sufficient, evidence would be the employee making specific comments about being exposed to pandemic influenza or to a quarantinable communicable disease such as COVID-19 (e.g., taking care of a sick relative or friend). If such comments are made, supervisors should consult with HR and general counsel to assess whether a determination from a public health official is appropriate and necessary.

    Human resources offices and agency legal counsel should be contacted to determine the best course of action based on objective evidence. Employee relations specialists and agency legal counsel have the necessary knowledge to assist supervisors and managers with options, such as telework, and appropriate actions arising from an outbreak of a quarantinable communicable disease or pandemic influenza. HR staff should check OPM’s website (www.opm.gov) and the CDC website (www.cdc.gov) on a regular basis to stay current.

    While consideration may be given to directing the employee to leave the workplace and either placing him or her on enforced leave or effecting an indefinite suspension after appropriate adverse action procedural requirements are satisfied, the human resources office and agency legal counsel should be contacted to ensure these types of adverse actions are permissible and defensible under the circumstances, and if appropriate, how to implement these types of actions. Excused absence (administrative leave) may be used if other options are exhausted and if it is necessary to prevent an employee from being at the worksite and putting other employees at risk before a supervisor can appropriately place an employee on enforced leave or indefinite suspension.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • No. OPM regulations permit this authority to be utilized in connection with communicable diseases only in the context of a declared pandemic health crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) makes the determination of when a pandemic is occurring.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
     
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  • For General Schedule (GS) employees, hazardous duty pay differentials are established under 5 CFR 550, Appendix A to subpart I. For Federal Wage System employees, pay administration rules for environmental differentials are found in 5 CFR 532.511. Environmental differential pay categories are listed in Appendix A to subpart E of 5 CFR part 532.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • Yes. During an agency closure due to COVID-19, when an agency Continuity of Operation Plan (COOP) has not been initiated and the World Health Organization has NOT declared a pandemic, telework program participants will generally be expected to continue working from home. All telework program participants will be ineligible for weather and safety leave during a closure except in rare circumstances when one of the exceptions under 5 CFR 630.1605(a)(2) applies. They must telework for the entire workday, take other leave (paid or unpaid) or other time off, or use a combination of telework and leave or other paid time off. (Note: A telework program participant may also be referred to as a “telework-ready” employee.) For more information, please see OPM's Governmentwide Dismissal and Closure Procedures.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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  • Yes. 5 CFR 550.409(a) allows an agency to order its employees to evacuate their regular worksites and work from home (or an alternative location mutually agreeable to the agency and the employee) during a pandemic health crisis.

    Last Updated:  3/7/2020
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