There have been lots of calls here from hot-under-the-collar feds who want to know what Uncle Sam's hot air policy is.

More precisely, the callers ask at what point their government decides to send employes home when offices turn into saunas. Just how hot does it have to be before federal workers go home on paid leave?

The answer, in clearest governmentese, is: It depends!

It depends on your boss. He or she decides when your place is a sweatshop where things are so bad that work cannot be performed effectively or safely.

Unfortunately for purists, the government no longer follows the so-called "misery index" that, from 1948 to 1981 (Truman to Reagan, if you will) was the official stay-or-go standard of the U.S. establishment.

Under that index, agencies heads were encouraged to release employes when indoor temperature and humidity readings hit certain levels. Those levels had been determined by government scientists as readings when otherwise normal people felt like running around the office in their birthday suits, or hitting a coworker over the head with the nearest typewriter.

That index came into being in the days when air-conditioning was a rarity. Two years ago the Office of Personnel Management issued a new policy on "hot and cold working conditions" it believes is more in keeping with the times. This is it:

"Dismissals due to unusual employment or work conditions created by a temporary disruption of air cooling or heating systems should be rare, and emphasis should be placed on the correction of these conditions.

"Employes are expected to work if conditions at the place of work are reasonably adequate, in the agency's judgment, although these conditions may not be normal and may involve minor discomforts.

"Individual employes affected by unusual levels of temperature to the extent that they are incapacitated for duty, or to the extent that continuance on duty would adversely affect their health, may be granted annual or sick leave.

"Before administrative excusal may be granted, it must be clearly established by reasonable standards of judgment that the conditions are such as to actually prevent working. Agencies are advised to consider such matters as the physical requirements of the positions involved as well as the temperature of the work areas.

"It is not intended that the revised guidelines will result in widespread dismissals of employes, but that administrative excusal will be limited to extreme situations. Further, it does not mean that if any group of employes are excused, equity will require the excusing of others."

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