Flu guidance issued for federal workplace

January 22, 2013
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With a dangerous flu season under way, federal agencies have been told to encourage ailing employees to stay away from the office — and work if they can, but take leave if they can’t.

“As the influenza spreads, agencies should encourage good health habits and encourage sick employees to stay home,” the Office of Personnel Management said in a memo issued Friday.  “Where necessary, agencies should consider implementing social distancing, including the use of telework.”

Federal employees have available to them various forms of time off, including sick leave and annual leave – vacation time – to care for themselves or family members. Employees who have been exposed to influenza may use sick leave even if they are not ill, if a doctor or health authorities feel their exposure to the influenza would put others at risk; a similar policy applies to family members exposed to the flu.

Agencies also may put employees under alternative work schedules that allow them to adjust their arrival and departure time to accommodate medical appointments and other personal needs while making up the hours at other times, OPM said. Similarly, it noted that one reason it has been encouraging agencies to promote telework is its value for continuity of operations during emergency situations such as a flu pandemic.

Supervisors have the authority to place employees involuntarily on paid, excused absence and order them  to stay at home or away from the workplace, it said, but only based on objective evidence that the employees are physically unable to perform their jobs, or pose a risk to themselves or others.

The memo also reminded agencies of previous guidance encouraging employees to get flu shots, which are available for free in many federal workplace health clinics.

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