The Trump administration, using its strongest terms yet, has encouraged agencies to allow more telework by federal employees due to the coronavirus.

It also told agencies to consider excusing employees from work with pay if they cannot telework but are at especially high risk if infected.

A memo sent to agencies Friday morning is more explicit and more expansive than prior guidance regarding telework, although it stops short of directing them to allow all employees capable of working remotely to start doing so.

“All Federal Executive Branch departments and agencies are encouraged to maximize telework flexibilities to eligible workers within those populations that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified as being at higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19 (CDC High Risk Complications) and to CDC-identified special populations including pregnant women (CDC Special Populations),” it says.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, phrases like “quarantine,” “isolation” and “social distancing” are making news. Here are the key differences of each. (The Washington Post)

The list includes “older adults” and those with conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.

“Agencies do not need to require certification by a medical professional, and may accept self-identification by employees that they are in one of these populations” to allow them to telework, says the memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Agencies meanwhile were encouraged to grant “weather and safety leave”— excused absence with pay— to those meeting those definitions who are not eligible to telework. Slightly above half of the 2.1 million executive branch employees are ineligible, mostly because of the nature of their work or because of security considerations that would arise in remote work.

Capitol Hill employees who were self-quarantined on March 12 discussed missing recent House floor votes and modifying plans because of the coronavirus. (The Washington Post)

“Additionally, agencies are encouraged to consult with local public health officials and the CDC about whether to extend telework flexibilities more broadly to all eligible teleworkers in areas in which either such local officials or the CDC have determined there is community spread. Agencies are also encouraged to extend telework flexibilities more broadly to accommodate state and local responses to the outbreak, including, but not limited to, school closures,” the memo says.

It follows continued criticisms from some on Capitol Hill and from federal employee unions that too many agencies are keeping too many employees in the office, even though they have telework programs in place for this type of circumstance.

On Thursday, National Treasury Employees Union president Tony Reardon said increased telework is the “absolute easiest, cheapest thing that agencies can do” to protect the federal workforce but that “too many agencies are still being far too stingy with it.”

Prior to the emergence of the coronavirus, several departments and large agencies had cut back on telework, ending it in some offices while limiting the number of days it is allowed in others.

However in recent weeks some agencies have increased remote work, for example when closing offices after an employee working there had been exposed to coronavirus.

The Social Security Administration, one of the agencies that had cut back, on Thursday told its employees it will expand telework at offices in the Seattle, New Rochelle, N.Y., and Santa Clara County, Calif., areas. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has announced a nationwide remote work program.

Meanwhile on Friday, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), urged the administration to allow all employees capable of teleworking to do so.

In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Reardon of the NTEU union said,“It is time to stop thinking about it. It is time to implement it and make it happen.”