The Office of Personnel Management has issued revised dismissal and closure procedures for federal employees and agencies to be used in the event of emergencies, severe weather conditions, natural disasters, and other incidents or hazards that cause disruptions to Federal Government operations.
Dismissals and closures within the federal government are directed by operating status announcements. For federal employees in the Washington, DC area, these are issued by OPM and are available on the OPM website or via the OPM Alert mobile app.
Federal agencies are instructed to avoid taking independent action in cases of area wide work disruptions but to instead follow OPM’s operating status announcements to avoid creating chaos within the DC area on roads, mass transit, etc. which can be brought on by changing the commuting schedules of DC area federal employees.
For federal employees outside of the Washington, DC area, the process is different. They are instructed by OPM to follow operating status announcements issued by their agencies.
Telework During Federal Government Closures
A common occurrence is for the federal government to close agencies in the Washington, DC area in the winter for snow. During these situations, federal employees will often work from home.
The use of telework by federal employees has become increasingly common, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. In the new December 2022 Governmentwide Dismissal and Closure Procedures, OPM directs agencies to make liberal use of telework for these situations. Of note is that it creates the expectation that more federal employees should be able to telework going forward under the new procedures. OPM states, “…agencies should carefully review the eligibility of those employees who teleworked during the COVID-19 pandemic and whose position may have been deemed ineligible to telework in the past. This distinct group of employees should be permitted to sign written telework agreements if their position is now deemed to be eligible to telework following the maximum telework posture.”
OPM further states that federal employees’ participation in their agencies’ telework programs is voluntary, and agencies may not compel their employees to participate in a telework program, even if the employees’ duties can be performed at alternate worksites.
Agencies are also encouraged to allow their employees to perform unscheduled telework when possible to be prepared for using it in the event of weather related closures.
What is Telework?
Telework is an alternative work arrangement for federal employees of the U.S. government to have regularly scheduled days when they work outside of the office and regularly scheduled days when they work in their agency worksite.
As defined in federal law, 5 U.S.C. 6501(3):
The term “telework” or “teleworking” refers to a work flexibility arrangement under which an employee performs the duties and responsibilities of such employee’s position, and other authorized activities, from an approved worksite other than the location from which the employee would otherwise work.
Remote Work During Federal Government Closures
According to OPM’s revised dismissal and closure procedures, federal employees who perform remote work at their homes are generally not granted weather and safety leave when their parent offices are closed. Weather and safety leave may be appropriate if the employees cannot safely perform their work at their homes.
What is Remote Work?
Remote work is a formal arrangement under which federal employees perform their work at an alternate worksite (i.e. at their homes) and are not expected to perform their work at an agency worksite on a regular basis.
Weather and Safety Leave
OPM says that weather and safety leave can be granted to federal employees when they are prevented from safely traveling to or performing work at an approved location due to: (1) an act of God; (2) a terrorist attack; or (3) another condition that prevents them from safely traveling to or performing work at an approved location. Operating status announcements issued by agencies must use the term “weather and safety leave” when an agency is approving an absence without charge to leave or loss in pay due to severe weather and other qualifying emergency situations.
OPM says that federal employees who perform remote work or telework are generally not eligible for weather and safety leave.