OPM to clarify language on federal closures

Workers hauled sandbags in front of the Justice Department to prepare for Sandy in October.  The department closed for two days during the storm. Workers hauled sandbags in front of the Justice Department to prepare for Sandy in October. The department closed for two days during the storm. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The government will clarify its language on federal office closures to prevent confusion among employees, according to a report from Federal News Radio.

The Office of Personnel Management, which decides the operating status of the government during inclement weather and other emergencies, will attempt to be more straightforward about what’s expected of federal employees when agencies close. The new line will be “Federal offices are closed. Federal employees required to work should follow their agency’s policies,” according to Federal News Radio.

Washington-area agencies were closed Oct. 29 and Oct. 30 when megastorm Sandy walloped the East Coast. Although the Washington area was not hit as hard as was expected, OPM decided late on Oct. 28 to close federal offices. But apparently there was some confusion over the wording the agency used to inform employees of their work status. This is the text of the closure announcement OPM posted regarding Sandy and the Washington-area for the affected days:

Nonemergency employees (including employees on pre-approved paid leave) will be granted excused absence (administrative leave) for the number of hours they were scheduled to work unless they are:
  • Required to telework
  • On official travel outside of the Washington, D.C., area
  • On leave without pay
  • On an alternative work schedule (AWS) day off
Telework-ready employees who are scheduled to perform telework on the day of the announcement or who are required to perform unscheduled telework on a day when federal offices are closed to the public must telework the entire workday or request leave, or a combination of both, in accordance with their agencies' policies and procedures, subject to any applicable collective bargaining requirements. Emergency employees are expected to report to their worksites unless otherwise directed by their agencies.

According to Federal News Radio, OPM announced the change Tuesday at an open meeting of the government’s chief human capital officers. Presumably, it’s the language in the last paragraph announcing the closure of federal offices that the agency will tweak. Confusion stemmed from the sentence: “Telework-ready employees who are scheduled to perform telework on the day of the announcement or who are required to perform unscheduled telework on a day when federal offices are closed to the public [emphasis added] must telework the entire workday or request leave, or a combination of both, in accordance with their agencies' policies and procedures, subject to any applicable collective bargaining requirements.”

OPM would not confirm the change in language, or the story in Federal News Radio in response to questions from Government Executive, despite the fact the announcement occurred during an open meeting of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council. “We expect to have a snow briefing for members of the press sometime soon and will provide all official information at that time,” an OPM spokeswoman wrote in an email.

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