OPM Highlights 'Evacuation Pay' Authority As a Way Agencies Can Expedite Telework

The Office of Personnel Management on Thursday clarified a number of issues for both agencies and federal employees as they respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Office of Personnel Management on Thursday highlighted agencies’ ability to use evacuation pay authorities to implement measures to protect both federal workers and members of the public more effectively.

In recent days, federal workers have reported that implementation of administration guidance urging agencies to maximize the availability of telework has been a mixed bag, with several organizations continuing to resist allowing employees to work remotely. The Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday issued its strongest memo yet, ordering agencies to “minimize face-to-face contact,” maximize telework, and reprioritize non-mission critical services.

OPM on Thursday wrote that agencies can more quickly implement mass telework by formally evacuating employees’ worksites in connection with a pandemic. By using evacuation pay authority, agencies can mandate that federal employees use telework, regardless of whether they already have a telework agreement.

“This evacuation pay authority provides agencies with an additional option in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak,” OPM wrote. “In particular, in the context of a pandemic health crisis, the evacuation pay regulations allow an agency to direct employees to work at home (or an alternative location agreeable to the employee and the agency) without regard to whether the employee and the agency have a telework agreement in place. Also, an employee may be assigned to perform any work considered necessary without regard to the employee’s grade, level or title.”

Officials noted that agencies do not need to evacuate an entire building to authorize evacuation pay. Agencies “instead could choose to evacuate certain employees or sections of an agency building at risk,” OPM wrote. “An agency could choose to evacuate any employee considered to be at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 as defined by CDC . . . However, an agency could, alternatively, determine that all employees (except those who are performing mission-critical functions that cannot be performed remotely) at a worksite be evacuated to effectuate social distancing of employees and continuity of operations.”

Under evacuation pay, employees would receive the same pay as they would in normal circumstances. In a post answering frequently asked questions about evacuation pay, OPM noted that under this authority, agencies may waive rules aimed at preventing federal workers from caring for their children while on the clock, given the prevalence of school closures, although they are not required to.

“OPM evacuation payment regulations do not prohibit an evacuated employee from working from home during a pandemic health crisis with children in the home,” officials wrote. “An agency may direct an evacuated employee to either telework or request personal leave (e.g, annual leave, sick leave if applicable, or leave without pay) as necessary.”

OPM also noted that all of the standard forms of leave, including annual, sick and weather and safety leave, remain available to employees who cannot perform their work shift for whatever reason while they are operating under evacuation pay telework.