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Posted at 10:27 AM ET, 12/15/2010

Federal leave for severe weather revamped

By Ed O'Keefe

Remember Snowmageddon? (Post)

With temperatures plummeting and flurries spotted across the Washington area in recent days, the Obama administration is mandating that the government allow more federal employees to telework during severe weather.

The revamping of the federal leave policy aims to accommodate the thousands of federal employees in the Washington area who must report for work regardless of the weather. The changes account for a new federal law requiring the wider use of teleworking.

Officials with the Office of Personnel Management, the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and regional and state government offices announced the changes Wednesday morning.

"It's a lot more than me just looking out the window in the morning," said OPM Director John Berry, who is responsible for deciding when federal offices in the Washington area need to close or dismiss workers early during severe weather or other emergencies.

The biggest change is the renaming of the work status once known as "unscheduled leave" to "Open with unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework."

"The idea is pretty simple, pretty straightforward: If you can't get to the office, you can still work from home," Berry said.

Passage of the Telework Enhancement Act permitted the change. Obama signed the bill last week. It requires federal agencies to establish telework policies and to designate a senior official to oversee the work option.

"President Obama stated clearly that our goal is that our government should never close," Berry said, noting that adding telework to the unscheduled leave policy should help enforce its usage and keep the government operating at an almost-normal pace.

Officials also decided to rename the status known as "Closed" to "Closed to the public," since federal workers are still on the job even when offices are closed to the public. Many of the employees, most of whom work for the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, often sleep on cots in the hallways to ensure the continuity of government operations, Berry said.

The director's decisions on the work schedule officially apply to about 285,000 employees working at federal offices within the Beltway, but local jurisdictions, schools, universities and private employers often follow the government's status. Federal building managers at sites just beyond the Beltway may alter the work schedule as necessary, depending on local weather conditions, Berry said.

Despite the changes, forecasters do not anticipate snowfall totals similar to those during last winter's two storms, collectively known as "Snowmaggedon."

"It's not to say that we're not going to get our snow or our cold blasts, but I think once we average the whole winter in hindsight, I think we'll have a much less snowier winter," said Christopher Strong, chief regional meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

La Nina weather patterns should bring cooler than normal waters to the Pacific Ocean, putting less heat in the atmosphere over the continental United States, he said. The change means the Washington area will have more days with temperatures in the 40s and 50s, less snow, and likely more ice. The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang anticipates much the same.

On days with inclement weather, Berry makes his decision after a conference call with more than 100 local, state and federal officials. If the weather outside is frightful this year, he now has five options to consider:

1.) The federal government is open.

2.) The federal government is open with the option for unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework.

3.) The federal government is open with a delayed arrival, with option for unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework.

4.) The federal government will open with an early departure.

5.) Federal offices are closed to the public.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | December 15, 2010; 10:27 AM ET
Categories:  Workplace Issues  
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The fact that the government does not allow this whatsoever in most of the agencies shows how BEHIND they are with the times.

If they allowed this in a limited basis, work would probably increase

Posted by: Bious | December 15, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Shouldn't "closed" either stay "closed" or be "closed to non-essential personnel"? The essential personnel know who they are, and there aren't many of them.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | December 15, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Decidely fair move by OPM Director John Berry. Government employees should have alterate options, it is a matter of health and safety. Employees should know how to work from home, and should be well-versed in what kind of work is done best from home. OPM, under Director John Berry's leadership, will show industry and small business how telework can be done effectively. And, you gotta trust----federal employees will know when then-current conditions require in-office attention and will respond by being there. We value our work, we wish to present ourselves faithfully to the American People.

Posted by: jampact51 | December 15, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

This sounds great on a certain level but managers need to be able to use some discretion at the front line level. I think all of us feds no some people for whom "tele-work" means they send one or two emails for show then do little or nothing else. I'm sure they will all love this policy. Also, this makes it sound like anyone can just call in and say, "I'm tele-working today." What if you don't have your computer at home (or if your internet service is knocked at by the bad weather)? What if you are a lower level employee and your supervisor is not available to assign you any work? Do you then get to say, "I worked from home. I logged into my computer but you never sent me any work."

Posted by: Cossackathon | December 15, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

the federal government has shiftworkers who must follow a decision based on 9-5.

Posted by: peanut47 | December 15, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

All agencies are now on notice to clarify with their employees whether they can work from home during inclement weather, and get those telework agreements signed (if approved). Employees who are not approved to work from home should be informed that they must come in or take unscheduled leave.

Federal managers have a responsibility to be clear.

Posted by: Whazzis | December 15, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

This is great news !!

I am happy to see that the federal government has modernized its thinking and now allows workers to work from home when it is simply not worth going out and risking your life on the highways.

I sure hope the Federal Government, and especially DoD modernizes their regulations to allow defense contractors the same benefit. There are thousands of defense contractors (including myself) who work at military bases around the country and it would be very helpful to them if the tele-work policy was extended to them as well.

There needs to be more fairness towards government workers and federal contrators!!

Posted by: jasaahae | December 15, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Not quite so easy, folks. I'm a Fed and I work from home sometimes, but that requires some access hoops and an agency laptop that I'm not really supposed to keep at home unless I've planned for telework. Our home computer does not have the software or security filters for login/accessing shared drives, etc. So unless I'm able to plan ahead and bring home the laptop, a snow day will most likely still be a snow day for me, whether I'd prefer to work or not.

Posted by: cmg3c | December 15, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Now if PEPCO can keep the electricity going then it will all work according to plan...of course that's not going to happen. So I guess when the roads are bad and Pepco does it's usual thing then it's annual leave...

Posted by: Jim31 | December 15, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I think the telework push during COOP is shortsighted. Some days it really won't work (if people are honest about getting work done at home). I would have been on annual leave during snowmageddon, since although non-essential could not telework due to : 1) power loss, 2) 3 school aged children, illegal to bill govt. for work if can't provide another caregiver and 3) care for elderly relative, same deal if that caregiver can't get to my home.

Posted by: chica1 | December 15, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

I think the telework push during COOP is shortsighted. Some days it really won't work (if people are honest about getting work done at home). I would have been on annual leave during snowmageddon, since although non-essential could not telework due to : 1) power loss, 2) 3 school aged children, illegal to bill govt. for work if can't provide another caregiver and 3) care for elderly relative, same deal if that caregiver can't get to my home.

Posted by: chica1 | December 15, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

This will be interesting...if it works. In my agency, depending on what your job title is, you can telework on a regular basis. Some folks telework up to four days a week. Unfortunately, my job title only allows "situational telework." Interesting. I have found that when I telework, I get online earlier than I'd normally arrive at work, and get off line later than I'd normally leave for home.

Posted by: Rwinger | December 15, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

This was essential, because the Federal government has closed for snow in the DC area 5 days out of the last 7 years. 5 of those days just happen to have been in the past 12 months.

Prior to this, the Federal government closed in the DC area more often for hurricanes than snow.
The hyperventilating about losing 5 work days during the biggest snow storm in a century is absurd.

Posted by: AxelDC | December 15, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand how people can telework during a major snowstorm. They won't be able to get to the mall or to their kids' school events. Are they expected to actually work?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | December 15, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

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And to the people we love selected gift!
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Posted by: itkonlyyou423 | December 15, 2010 10:09 PM | Report abuse

I work for a government agency that will not allow us to telework from home or anywhere else. Wish I could but my agency most likely will not allow us to telework anytime soon.

Posted by: akschrecengost | December 16, 2010 6:38 AM | Report abuse

If this policy had been in place last year, there is NO WAY I could've worked from home AND shovelled snow. I shovelled all day until I literally collapsed from exhaustion for several days in a row. The local municipalities require us to keep our sidewalks clear, and I had to dig my car out. I hope that leadership keeps that in mind before they expect people to put in full days teleworking during inclement weather.

Posted by: Jamie13 | December 16, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Today's announcement made no sense, as most Agencies have not yet developed the formal telework arrangements with their employees. They still have 6 months to do so, making any reference to the proposed policy meaningless. This has already sown confusion in the private sector, with many companies now issuing policies saying "as we have no telework policies in place, telework for the government means you have to take vacation at our company to stay home". Idiocy all around.

Posted by: dhb2 | December 16, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

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