OPM: D.C.-Area Feds Should Consider Leaving Office Early to Avoid Frigid Temperatures

A pedestrian Tuesday on Constitution Avenue in Washington, where temperatures plunged to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. A pedestrian Tuesday on Constitution Avenue in Washington, where temperatures plunged to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Luis M. Alvarez/AP

Federal agencies should allow their employees to telework or leave their offices early to avoid commuting during the most extreme temperatures today, the Office of Personnel Management said in a memorandum addressing the frigid weather blanketing the Washington, D.C. region on Tuesday.

The temperature dropped to single digits early in the Washington area Tuesday morning -- with the wind chill dipping below zero -- due to the “polar vortex,” a windy, cold weather pattern usually reserved for the Arctic.

“[OPM] reminds federal agencies of the workplace flexibilities available to employees, as an arctic air mass is projected to bring dangerously low temperatures and wind chill values into the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area over the next few days,” the memo from OPM Director Katherine Archuleta stated.

Several schools in the region were closed or delayed on Tuesday. Temperatures are expected to increase on Wednesday and return to normal later in the week. In the meantime, however, OPM is advising employees to take caution.

“As we prepare to experience the coldest temperatures since 1994, agencies should be proactive in protecting the health and well-being of our employees and take all available steps to ensure they are protected during potentially dangerous frigid weather conditions,” Archuleta said.

Employees with telework agreements should be able to work from home to “avoid frigid conditions” or address family needs, OPM said. Additionally, workers should be able to adjust arrival and departure times so they do not have to travel during the coldest times of the day. OPM suggested employees can take annual leave if they feel the weather threatens their welfare.

The freezing temperatures have spread from the Midwest to the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic, affecting nearly half the American population along the way. 

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