As you may have noticed, the rules regarding telework (used to be called "flexiplace") and snow days changed with the most recent collective bargaining agreement (CBA). When the government closes due to weather, terrorism, or other calamitous event, it's important to know the rules on whether or not you need to telework. In order to better understand the new rules, we’ve put together this question and answer document.
The government is closed due to snow and it’s my regularly-scheduled telework day, do I need to telework?
Probably. The general guidelines put out by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and memorialized in the CBA is that employees with approved telework agreements (episodic, regular, or full-time) should be working. We negotiated some exceptions for you, however, set forth in Article 54, Section 6(D) of the CBA:
- If you do not have “portable work,” then you are not required to telework. Portable work is defined as “Work that is normally performed at the employee's official work site but which can be performed at another location with equal effectiveness with respect to quality, timeliness, customer service and other aspects of accomplishing EPA’s mission. Such work is part of the employee’s regular assignments and does not involve a significant change in duties or the way in which assignments are performed.” See Article 54, Section 3. When there’s no portable work, you can request, and your supervisor must approve appropriate leave, which may include administrative leave.
- If you have portable work, but you are prevented from working due to circumstances beyond your control, you can request and your supervisor must approve leave, which may include administrative leave. The “severe weather” or “other circumstances” that prevent telework can include (a) electricity failure, (b) evacuation from your residence, (c) your internet connection fails, and (d) childcare or elder-care issues. This list of circumstances should not be considered exhaustive as other circumstances may also qualify. These circumstances are, however, specifically mentioned in the CBA, so there should be no argument about whether you get leave for these.
What type of leave do I get when I don’t have portable work or circumstances prevent me from teleworking?
We believe that administrative leave is appropriate when you are unable to work due to circumstances beyond your control, and the CBA backs us up on that. The CBA notes that “a telework-ready employee may be granted administrative leave by his or her supervisor or manager” “[w]hen severe weather or other circumstances prevent work . . . or there is a lack of portable work . . . .” See Article 54, Section 6(D). If your supervisor insists that you take annual or other personal leave and refuses to grant you administrative leave, please immediately let us know so that we can intervene on your behalf and hopefully get your personal leave restored.
The government is closed and it’s not my regular telework day, but I have a signed, approved telework agreement (episodic or regular) in place, do I need to telework?
Probably. The analysis is identical to the first question's, above. The general rule is that employees with approved telework agreements (episodic or regular) should be working, subject to the exceptions described, above.
The government is closed and I do not have an approved telework agreement, must I telework?
No. You cannot be forced to telework. Congress has not made that a condition of employment, yet, at least. Before one can telework, one normally needs to have an approved telework agreement. Your supervisor cannot force you to sign a telework agreement. Let us repeat that: YOUR SUPERVISOR CANNOT FORCE YOU TO SIGN A TELEWORK AGREEMENT if you do not want one. Do not let your supervisor pressure you into signing a telework agreement. If you are receiving such pressure, or your PARS rating suffered because you refused to sign a telework agreement, immediately let us know so that we can help you.
The government is closed, I do not have an approved telework agreement, but I hate snow and really, really want to telework. Can my supervisor authorize me to telework without an approved agreement?
Possibly. If the agency is operating under a “continuity of operations plan” (COOP), supervisors may authorize employees who do not have telework agreements to telework. The COOP, which will be specifically invoked by the agency, allows employees who are not telework-ready to telework with supervisory approval. Of course, if you’re eligible to telework but you haven’t signed a telework agreement, you could quickly execute one with your supervisor. But it would be more fun to go play in the snow.
Additionally, there is a policy exception decreed by EPA's Office of Human Resources and approved by Acting AA of OARM, Karl Brooks. This policy exception allows supervisors to approve requests by "new employees" who meet the telework eligibility criteria but do not meet the minimum 90-day waiting period after their employment to be allowed to telework "for any emergency or special event that causes a disruption." It stands to reason that this same logic would apply to other employees who want to telework but do not have an approved agreement. But the policy does not specifically address circumstances outside of new employees. The policy also does not require those new employees or others to telework. If you do not have an approved telework agreement, you cannot be forced to telework.
EPA opens late/closes early and I’m teleworking, what happens to me?
If you are teleworking, you do not get the advantage of late arrival or early dismissal. Sorry. Of course, if you have one of the exceptional circumstances discussed earlier (childcare, no power, etc.), even for part of the day, you can still request administrative leave for that portion. If you came into the office, however, and the office closes, you get to go home. But if you have a telework agreement, they could require you to telework for the rest of the day after you get home.
Keep in mind that typically during inclement weather, government workers are allowed to take “unscheduled leave.” So if you want a snow day and none of the above circumstances apply, you may still have your snow day, but it’s just gonna cost you some personal leave.