OPM Should do more to Protect Feds from Coronavirus, Senators Say

OPM Office of Personnel Management

In a letter to Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Dale Cabaniss, Democratic senators urged the agency to improve its plan to protect Federal employees from income insecurity and disciplinary action as they work to comply with COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, safeguards.

The eight senators – Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Gary Peters, D-Mich. –  raised concerns with the lack of support for Feds during coronavirus prep. OPM’s guidance on the virus directs executive agencies on how to prepare for an outbreak, but offers little reassurance to employees that they will be financially secure if they need to take sick leave.

“As we saw during the most recent government shutdown, too many Federal employees and contractors live paycheck-to-paycheck and are not easily able to weather disruptions to their income or manage unexpected expenses without dipping into savings or relying on credit,” the senators wrote. They ask OPM to issue guidance that would assure Feds that they will not be asked to choose between paychecks and adhering to COVID-19 outbreak precautions.

Further, the senators ask OPM to direct agencies to take a “generous and public health-facing position” on expanding telework for Federal employees, and approve unscheduled leave as needed when Feds or their family members fall ill. The senators want a specific OPM guidance that makes it clear that “Federal employees and contractors will not be expected to work while they or a loved one are ill … even if they have exhausted all of their available paid leave.”

The new guidance, according to the senators, should assure Feds that: they will not be penalized for following public health guidance, they will receive pay while doing so, and they are not expected to work while sick. OPM should also reach out to Fed health insurance providers to ensure that employees are being offered proper COVID-19 preventative care and treatment.

“We are deeply concerned that OPM’s preliminary guidance is unnecessarily complex and leaves significant doubt that agencies will have uniform interpretations of how and when to use each of the many different types of potentially applicable leave,” the letter states. In addition to the guidance, OPM should implement trainings, webinars, and other proactive measures to ensure that all human resource officials are aware of the changes.

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