The Office of Personnel Management is changing how it refers to the operating status of the government. Now when federal offices are closed due to weather or other emergencies, OPM will use the terminology, “Federal offices are closed. Federal employees required to work should follow their agency’s policies.”
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The change was announced at a meeting of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council on Tuesday.
The closed status means non-emergency employees are not expected to show up to their offices and will be given the day off at no charge to their leave balance. The second sentence refers to emergency employees and teleworkers who are required to work, even when federal offices are closed.
Technically, even when federal offices are closed, it doesn’t mean the government is shut down since emergency workers and teleworkers are still working.
The reason for the change in language is due to confusion during Hurricane Sandy. Previously, OPM stated federal offices were “closed to the public,” when making the determination to close.
“We got a lot of intake from folks saying ‘Oh my gosh, where did this come from?'” said Angela Bailey, OPM’s chief human capital officer.
The agency first used “closed to the public” in 2010 following Snowmageddon, the huge snowstorm that blanketed the Washington area.
“We’re incorporating into it a delayed arrival announcement that we think might be a little bit clearer for folks. And, we’re going to change the wording with regard to the closure announcement,” Bailey said. “It’s one of those things where, believe it or not, getting those words right seems to be one of the most difficult things for us.”
Due to Hurricane Sandy, federal offices in the D.C. area were closed on Oct. 29 and 30, and non-emergency employees were granted an excused absence, unless they were required to telework, on official travel outside of the area, on leave without pay or on an alternative work schedule. Emergency employees were expected to report to their worksites.
OPM makes decisions about the operating status of federal agencies in the D.C. area. In the rest of the country, Federal Executive Boards make recommendations on the operating status of federal buildings.
According to Bailey, the new language shifts the responsibility back to the agencies so they can make sure their employees understand what OPM’s general message means and how their own policies — such as telework — fit in with that.
“We’ll put out the general thing, but then what we’re going to ask you to do is make sure that you work with your employees so that they clearly understand what your telework and your closure policies are,” she said.