OPM and Defense Dept. Issue Guidelines for Civilian Employees on Coronavirus

President Donald Trump speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington March, 9.

President Donald Trump speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington March, 9. Carolyn Kaster/AP

New memos spell out expanded telework flexibilities, leave policies, alternative work schedules and more.

On Saturday, the Office of Personnel Management published updated guidelines for agency leaders giving federal employees needed flexibility to handle fallout from the spread of the highly-contagious novel coronavirus. The Defense Department followed suit Monday afternoon with risk-based guidance for military commanders in protecting the department’s 860,000 civilian employees. 

Critically, supervisors may allow employees to work from home during an emergency with a child or others in the home who need care, so long as employees document the hours they actually work and take appropriate leave for the time they aren’t working.

The guidance identifies authorities and best practices to help agencies minimize risk to civilian personnel and their families. OPM also provided answers to anticipated questions about the flexibilities. 

Supervisors may authorize work flexibilities at their discretion, including telework, alternative work schedules, weather and safety leave, sick leave and annual leave. 

The guidance noted that agencies should do the following:

  • Review continuity of operation plans, so essential functions continue regardless of how much the illness spreads.
  • Keep employees’ contact information up to date.
  • Update telework agreements, so employees can work during an emergency or when caring for a child or other person at home.
  • Communicate best health practices to employees.
  • Ensure that only personnel who are authorized to procure items such as masks and gloves do so.