Office of Personnel Management headquarters in Washington.

Office of Personnel Management headquarters in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

OPM Issues Additional Coronavirus Guidance, Encouraging Telework, Reduced Travel

The federal government’s HR agency orders all agencies to include telework in contingency plans, and encourages them to reduce “non-essential” travel.

Office of Personnel Management Director Dale Cabaniss on Tuesday issued additional guidance on how agencies should prepare for the novel coronavirus outbreak, reiterating the need to expand the use of telework to maintain operations.

In recent weeks, OPM, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have all highlighted the importance of telework in keeping both federal workers and members of the public safe from COVID-19. But several agencies that have severely restricted workers’ ability to work remotely in recent years have yet to take action.

In a memo to agency heads, Cabaniss wrote that agencies “must” incorporate telework as part of their continuity of operations plans.

“If an agency COOP plan is in operation, that plan ‘shall supersede any telework policy,’” she wrote. “Therefore, agencies should immediately review their current COOP plans to ensure that telework has been fully incorporated and that as many employees as possible have been identified as telework employees in the plan, and are telework capable (or ‘telework ready’).”

The memo also highlights recommendations from the CDC on how to mitigate the spread of respiratory diseases in general: employees with a fever, cough or shortness of breath should be “separated from other employees and sent home immediately,” and employees with symptoms should stay home until they are asymptomatic for at least 24 hours without the aid of medicines like cough suppressants.

Additionally, Cabaniss wrote that agencies should review their travel policies and “begin to reduce” non-essential travel, and encouraged federal workers to monitor CDC information on domestic travel and avoid trips to countries on the State Department’s Do Not Travel list.