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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Hurricane Help

Hurricane season is well under way and with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting above-normal storm activity, the Office of Personnel Management is reminding federal agencies of pay and benefits policies during emergencies.

In a June 30 memorandum to chief human capital officers, OPM Director John Berry wrote that government offers a "wide range of human resources policies and flexibilities" to address agency and employee needs during hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Pay and Leave: According to OPM guidance, federal employees affected by severe weather conditions or other emergency situations could be eligible for financial assistance. Agencies can authorize advance loans to workers required to evacuate, as well as evacuation payments -- under which employees could be required to work remotely -- and funding for travel expenses incurred during an evacuation.

During an emergency, agencies also can require employees to work overtime without any limitations on the number of days or hours on duty, or ask them to work seven days a week for an "indefinite period." Employees may be eligible for premium pay to cover overtime, as well as work performed on Sundays, nights or holidays. Such bonuses are limited by a pay cap equal to GS-15, Step 10, or Level V of the Executive Schedule, however.

Employees who cannot work due to severe weather or other emergencies can request annual leave or sick leave, advance annual or sick leave, or donated leave from their agency's voluntary leave transfer or leave bank program. Agencies also can implement alternative work schedules or grant excused absences to employees without penalizing pay or leave.

Consistent Benefits: According to the memo, benefits available to federal workers and eligible family members are not affected during emergency situations. Employees and annuitants will continue to have access to health, long-term care and life insurance, annuity payments and flexible spending accounts. OPM cautions that some retirement checks or reimbursement claims might be delayed.

Promoting Telework: Agencies can require employees with telework agreements to continue as normal during government closures, whether or not they are designated as emergency personnel. OPM has promoted incorporating telework into agency plans for continuing essential services during natural disasters or other emergencies.

Extra Help: According to Berry, federal agencies have a number of hiring tools at their disposal to fill gaps created by emergency situations. For example, officials can make 30-day excepted service appointments, which can be extended for additional 30 days, for senior-level critical-needs positions. They also have direct-hire authority for certain jobs, including medical officers, nurses, diagnostic radiologic technicians, pharmacists, information technology managers and veterinary medical officers. Employees in these categories are eligible for competitive service career, career-conditional, term or temporary appointments.

Agencies also can rehire federal annuitants for appointments lasting one year or less, though these employees can work only 1,040 hours during any 12-month period and require special permission if they left government service under a buyout. Senior Executive Service limited term appointments, temporary contracts with private sector organizations and 120-day competitive service appointments also are available to agencies with emergency staffing needs.

Donation Drive: OPM can grant agencies permission to solicit donations -- outside of annual Combined Federal Campaign efforts -- to support federal workers affected by emergency situations. Agencies must submit in writing requests that outline where and when the fundraising will take place and identify which charity will receive the donations, the memo stated.

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