Advocate urges careful roll-out of policy requiring remote workers to remain on the job during inclement weather.
The Office of Personnel Management’s new policy governing weather and safety leave will bring the handling of snow days for employees who work remotely in line with private sector trends, an observer said. But she warned that in order for the initiative to be successful, agencies will need to be flexible in how they enforce the new rule.
The rule, announced earlier this month, establishes that in the event of a weather or safety-related agency office closure, feds with telework agreements that allow them to work from home will be expected to do so.
“It is particularly noteworthy that, under the new statute, an agency will be unable, in most circumstances, to grant weather and safety leave to an employee who is a telework program participant and able to safely perform telework at the employee’s home,” wrote OPM Director Jeff Pon in a memo to agencies. “This new provision will apply regardless of what is stated (or not stated) in the employee’s telework agreement and in agency policies and agreements.”
The memo contains exemptions for people who work remotely at a telework site outside the home and recommends agencies use “discretion” in cases when the closure could not be reasonably anticipated or other circumstances, such as a power outage, preclude employees from being able to work.
In an email to Government Executive, an OPM spokesperson said an employee with a work-from-home telework agreement would be expected to perform their duties regardless of whether they have already exhausted their available telework hours for a given pay cycle.
“Agencies generally will not grant weather and safety leave to employees who are telework program participants, since they can safely perform work at home,” OPM stated. “Such employees who are not granted weather and safety leave may perform telework or use other leave (e.g., annual leave).”
Brie Reynolds, a senior career specialist with FlexJobs, an online job board for positions that allow for telework, part time positions and other flexible work schedules, said OPM’s rule is “completely in line” with how the private sector has adopted telework.
“Companies with telework or remote work policies tend to operate with this same policy, where people who are already able to work from home are expected to do so if the office ‘closes’ for weather reasons,” she said in an email. “In fact, one of the benefits companies have seen with remote work has to do with the continuity of their operations even during extreme or emergency situations like these.”
Reynolds described the move as the “natural progression of remote working” as a practice. But she said agencies must be understanding with employees as they move to implement the new policy, and managers should be flexible with workers who unexpectedly must work from home.
“It’s important for the agencies to take steps to make this transition easier, especially for teleworkers who haven’t experienced this type of policy before,” Reynolds said. “Most private companies with a similar policy will tell employees that they can work a more flexible schedule or shift their hours as needed on those days. For example, during inclement weather, working parents may have kids at home, and even though a company expects people to work, they tend to offer flexibility to accommodate [employees] on these unusual days.”