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Federal employees who can’t telework during the pandemic

Last week, the White House instructed all federal agencies to permit “maximum telework flexibilities” to address the growing spread of COVID-19.  But not all federal employees are telework-eligible, including those who work with classified information.  Many federal employees are left wondering about the impact on their pay and their health.

How are agencies responding to the guidance?

Some federal employees can’t telework because they work with classified information or in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), or due to other security concerns.  This affects many employees at agencies like the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency.  In response to the White House guidance, these agencies have created contingency plans to protect employees’ health and to ensure that operations continue.  For example, some agencies have divided employees into teams that alternate days or weeks in the office.  While this is intended to limit the number of workers in the office and avoid the spread of COVID-19, it also means that employees are unable to work full-time.

Will employees get paid if they can’t telework?

Federal employees should be paid for days or weeks that they are not permitted to work due to COVID-19.  However, contractors must look to their private employers for the answer to that question.  Some contractors require employees to use accrued leave to cover the time off.  But others assign employees non-classified work so they can continue to receive pay.

What are options for employees who aren’t getting paid?

Many states and localities, including the District of Columbia, are passing emergency legislation that expands eligibility for unemployment benefits.  Check out our blog post on DC’s COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act of 2020.

Additionally, the Family First Coronavirus Response Act is a new federal law that goes into effect on April 2.  The Family First Act applies to private sector employers with fewer than 500 employees.  Covered employers must provide two weeks of paid leave for employees who are quarantined, are suffering from COVID-19 symptoms, or are caregivers for someone who is quarantined or for a child who can’t go to school or daycare.  Read more about the Act in our recent blog post.

We will continue to post about evolving federal, state, and local policies relating to the pandemic.

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