OPM Issues Guidance for Agencies and Employees on Zika Virus

By on September 20, 2016 in Human Resources with 10 Comments

Image of a mosquito

The Office of Personnel Management has released a memo instructing federal agencies to “utilize all available human resources flexibilities” to help protect federal employees from the effects of the Zika virus.

The memo states:

As the Zika virus spreads into certain parts of the United States, we must remember that our Federal workforce is our most valuable resource and take steps to minimize the impact of the Zika virus on our employees while continuing to ensure continuity of operations. Agencies are strongly encouraged to utilize all available human resources flexibilities, along with providing workplace accommodations, if appropriate, to support employees who have a significant risk of a severe outcome due to contracting the Zika virus—for example, female employees who are pregnant.

The memo also contains three attachments with additional information from OPM, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

For example, the EEOC guidance details steps an employer must take in order to avoid discriminating against female employees who are or may become pregnant with regards to preventing the spread of the Zika virus. One example provided states, “An employer would have to allow a pregnant employee to take leave, to telework, or to work in a different job temporarily in order to avoid exposure to the Zika virus if the employer allows other employees to take leave, to telework, or to work in another job temporarily due to restrictions unrelated to pregnancy (such as injury or illness).”

Other scenarios are outlined in the EEOC guidance attachment.

The OSHA guidance says that federal agencies must train their employees about their risk of exposure to Zika, how to protect themselves, and to seek medical treatment if they have symptoms.

OPM also gave federal employees these tips on how to prevent getting the Zika virus:

  • Use insect repellant with Environmental Protection Agency-registered active ingredients
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants
  • Remove sources of standing water wherever possible

A copy of the memo is included below.

Friday, September 16, 2016
CPM 2016-13
From: BETH F. COBERT, ACTING DIRECTOR

The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus to be a “public health emergency of international concern”. President Obama has emphasized that “We all have to remain vigilant when it comes to combating the spread of diseases like Zika.” The Zika virus is spread primarily through the bites of infected mosquitoes—the same types of mosquitoes that spread other viruses like dengue and chikungunya. While most people have mild or no symptoms from a Zika infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established a link between Zika infection during pregnancy and serious birth defects and other poor pregnancy outcomes. We also know that there can be other serious neurological disorders for some people who are infected with Zika.

As the Zika virus spreads into certain parts of the United States, we must remember that our Federal workforce is our most valuable resource and take steps to minimize the impact of the Zika virus on our employees while continuing to ensure continuity of operations. Agencies are strongly encouraged to utilize all available human resources flexibilities, along with providing workplace accommodations, if appropriate, to support employees who have a significant risk of a severe outcome due to contracting the Zika virus—for example, female employees who are pregnant.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has convened a working group of agency representatives that will meet regularly to discuss the developing situation and support OPM efforts to provide agencies and employees with current information and guidance related to the Zika virus. As a first step, this interagency working group was involved in the drafting of this memorandum. The interagency working group will continue to monitor developments related to the Zika virus and support OPM in issuing additional guidance as necessary. OPM will also communicate with the Chief Human Capital Officers and national labor unions concerning the impact of the Zika virus on the Federal workforce.

This memorandum has three attachments providing information and/or guidance from OPM, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). They present current guidance on protecting workers from occupational exposure to the Zika virus and remind the Federal community of the various human resources flexibilities and authorities that may be available to help affected Federal employees. The attachments are as follows:

Attachment 1 – OPM Guidance on Workplace Flexibilities and Authorities for Dealing with the Zika Virus

This attachment provides information regarding the various workplace flexibilities and authorities available to assist Federal employees affected by the Zika virus, including leave and telework.

Attachment 2 – EEOC: The EEO Laws for Employees Affected by the Zika Virus

This resource document discusses workplace issues that may arise under the laws the EEOC enforces, particularly in situations where pregnant employees ask for accommodations to avoid exposure to the virus or employees ask for accommodations related to symptoms of the virus.

Attachment 3 – OSHA Zika Job Hazard Analysis for Federal Agencies

This attachment provides a template to help Federal agencies develop job hazard analyses and hazard control strategies to protect their workers from occupational exposure to the Zika virus.

While no Zika vaccine currently exists, there are several ways for Federal employees to protect themselves from mosquito bites, including using insect repellents with Environmental Protection Agency-registered active ingredients, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and removing sources of standing water whenever possible. For more prevention tips and the latest updates on Zika, please visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/zika/, OSHA’s website at www.osha.gov/zika/,andthe National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/zika/.

Finally, OPM would like to remind agencies considering work-related travel to Zika-affected areas to use appropriate flexibility to accomplish the necessary work using alternate means, such as teleconferencing, whenever possible. Supervisors should carefully consider requests from employees who wish to opt out of this travel, and/or solicit qualified volunteers if travel is necessary. For more information, please see OPM’s memorandum (CPM 2016-04) at https://www.chcoc.gov/content/notification-cdc-travel-alert-regarding-zika-virus.

Additional Information

Agency headquarters-level human resources offices may contact OPM at pay-leave-policy@opm.gov. Agency field offices should contact their appropriate headquarters-level agency human resources office. Individual employees should contact their agency human resources office.

Attachments (see three PDFs below)

© 2016 Ian Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ian Smith.

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce. Ian also has a background in web development and does the technical work for the FedSmith.com web site and its sibling sites.

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