OPM Reminds Agencies of Flexibilities for Feds Impacted by Florence

High winds and storm surge from Hurricane Florence hit Swansboro, N.C., Friday. High winds and storm surge from Hurricane Florence hit Swansboro, N.C., Friday. Tom Copeland / AP

As Hurricane Florence made landfall Thursday along the coast of the Carolinas, the Office of Personnel Management reminded agency officials of various flexibilities available to help federal workers impacted by the storm.

In a memo to agency heads, OPM Director Jeff Pon highlighted recently updated weather and safety leave rules, which allow agencies to grant leave to employees if they “cannot safely travel to, or perform work at, their normal work site, a telework site, or other approved location” because of an emergency or severe weather.

But those new rules, implemented in May, also stipulate that federal employees with telework agreements cannot be granted weather and safety leave, unless they are unable to work at their approved telework location. For example, if workers are approved to telework at home, they could be granted leave if they lose power or have evacuated.

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Additionally, agencies may provide advance payments and other stipends to federal workers ordered to evacuate ahead of a storm, Pon wrote.

“Executive agencies may authorize advance payments, continuation of pay and payments for travel and subsistence expenses to employees who are ordered to evacuate from an area because of imminent danger to their lives as a result of a severe weather condition or other emergency situation,” Pon wrote. “Use of the evacuation payments authority is discretionary. The head of an employing agency or designated official must make the determination that an employee was officially ordered or authorized to evacuate.”

Pon also indicated that OPM will evaluate whether Hurricane Florence recovery efforts will require the issuance of an emergency leave transfer program, in which federal workers can donate annual leave to colleagues impacted by the storm. He encouraged agencies to report instances where employees need emergency leave to OPM to help the agency, in conjunction with the Office of Management and Budget, evaluate whether to start the program.

The Federal Employee and Education Assistance Fund on Thursday unveiled a donation page on its website to help administer disaster relief to federal employee victims of the hurricane. FEEA is a nonprofit organization aimed at providing emergency financial assistance and scholarships to federal workers and their families.

After previous hurricanes, like Harvey and Maria, the Internal Revenue Service has authorized loosening of hardship withdrawal and loan rules for 401(k) and other retirement savings programs like the Thrift Savings Plan.

TSP Spokeswoman Kim Weaver said that if the IRS authorizes such a program following Florence, the agency will implement it for federal workers in the region. IRS officials were not immediately available for comment.

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