No snow days for teleworkers during the pandemic, OPM reminds feds

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Much of the federal workforce is still teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Office of Personnel Management is encouraging agencies to brush up on its weather and early dismissal and closure policies.

This winter has certainly been more active than past seasons in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and OPM had made several operating status announcements, including a few two-hour delays.

Most teleworking employees wouldn’t know the difference though, as they’re expected to put in a full day’s work no matter how much snow and ice is on the ground.

“Although many federal employees are in a ‘maximum telework’ posture due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still extremely important for agencies to communicate expectations to all employees prior to an emergency,” Kathleen McGettigan, OPM’s acting director, said Wednesday in new guidance to agencies. “Operating status announcements are most effective if each employee understands what the announcement means and how to react.”

During a recent snowstorm in the Washington, D.C. area, OPM announced a two-hour delay for federal employees in the region with the option for unscheduled leave or telework.

Teleworking employees continued with their normal hours on that day, McGettigan said, because they weren’t impacted by the weather or the road conditions. Those employees weren’t eligible for weather and safety leave.

“Emergency employees” weren’t eligible for weather or safety leave either, because their agencies expected employees to arrive on time for work.

But non-emergency employees who reported to work on the day of the storm were eligible for weather and safety leave, and they were allowed to arrive two hours later than usual, McGettigan said.

OPM works with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the National Weather Service, the D.C. government and other regional officials, as well as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, to make operating status decisions.

OPM will announce operating status changes on its website, social media and mobile app. As of this year, OPM is no longer sending out email alerts with operating status changes.

Those operating status decisions apply only to employees in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, but OPM’s broad policies on telework and weather and safety leave cover the entire federal workforce.

OPM last updated its governmentwide dismissal and closure policies back in 2018, which reflected a new change in the law. A 2016 law created weather and safety leave as a new type of paid time off.

“These procedures reflect the principle that the federal government’s vital business must continue without compromising the safety of our employees or the general public,” McGettigan said.

Agencies should also remember to keep contractors informed of operating status changes, McGettigan said.

“Agencies should consult with appropriate contracting officials to ensure contracts requiring onsite performance/access include contingency direction in the event of a federal dismissal or closure,” OPM said. “To the extent practicable, such direction should address performance flexibilities including alternative worksites and/or telework.”

OPM provided a five-page guide describing various operating status options with definitions for each.

Under nearly all scenarios, teleworking employees must continue to work remotely for a full day, use their own leave or a combination of both, even when federal office buildings are closed.

Teleworkers can, according to OPM, work with their supervisors to rearrange work hours if agencies have a delayed opening or close early.

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