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Rep. Jennifer Wexton Urges OPM to Expand Paid Leave Options for Federal Employees with Families Who Have Complex Medical Needs

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From Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA10):

Wexton Urges OPM to Expand Paid Leave Options for Federal Employees with Families Who Have Complex Medical Needs

Washington, DC — Yesterday, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) sent a letter to the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Dale Cabaniss, requesting that he issue updated guidance relating to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) to provide expanded paid leave options for federal employees with family members who have complex medical needs and are unable to telework. Right now, these workers have no paid leave options unless a family member is undergoing a medical emergency or until they begin presenting symptoms of COVID-19, which could place medically vulnerable family members in serious jeopardy.

“For those who have medically vulnerable family members, keeping them safe and healthy in the midst of this outbreak must be the priority,” said Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton. “But right now, federal workers who don’t have the option of teleworking are placed in an impossible situation. Every time they report to work, they’re placing themselves at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and transmitting the virus to a loved one with complex medical needs—which could very likely be fatal. This is a life or death situation for many, so I’m urging OPM to issue guidance to provide paid leave options for families in this difficult situation. We need to do everything we can to protect those who are most vulnerable.”

OPM has continued to issue guidance for federal agencies to help determine appropriate measures that may be taken in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, including expanding HR flexibilities and telework availability. However, a significant amount of federal employees are unable to telework because of the nature of their work, including those who handle classified materials or engage in face-to-face information sharing with the public.

Wexton’s letter requests guidance from OPM to provide paid leave options for employees who are unable to telework and who have family members with complex medical needs that make them particularly susceptible to COVID-19. Wexton issued the letter after hearing from constituents who shared their concerns directly with the Congresswoman’s office.

The full text of the letter can be found below and here.

March 9, 2020

The Honorable Dale Cabaniss
Director
Office of Personnel Management
1900 E Street NW
Washington, DC 20415-1000

Dear Director Cabaniss:

I write regarding guidance issued to federal agencies in preparation for the potential impact of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID 19), specifically with regard to paid leave for employees who are exempted from telework participation due to the specific nature of their work. While I appreciate the steps the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has already taken to ensure federal agencies have up-to-date information regarding COVID 19, including establishing a working group to determine what human resources (HR) flexibilities might be needed, I am concerned that employees exempted from telework and with medically vulnerable family members do not have the flexibility to use paid leave prior to presenting symptoms of COVID 19.

OPM Memorandum CPM 2020-02 issued on February 7th, 2020 included additional guidance to assist agency heads in determining appropriate HR flexibilities that may be utilized.  For many federal employees, telework programs will enable them to continue their work from an approved location which is generally the employee’s home. However, a substantial number of employees are not authorized for telework because their work duties do not allow for alternative worksites, such as the handling of secure or classified materials or requiring face-to-face information sharing with the public.

Under current guidance, telework exempted employees who have medically vulnerable family members at home, and are at a higher risk from COVID 19 than the general population, are without options for paid leave until they present symptoms of the virus or have a family member undergoing a medical emergency. For these families, a medical emergency brought upon by COVID 19 could be fatal and many are struggling to undertake their own steps to limit exposure risks while their family member continues to report to their employment site.

Therefore, I ask that guidance be issued to enable employees unable to telework for reasons described above and with family members who have complex medical needs, be given options for paid leave in order to keep their family members safe from COVID 19.

With several cases of COVID 19 now in Virginia and Maryland as well as at federal facilities Fort Belvoir and NASA Ames Research Center, I appreciate your swift response to ensuring there are paid leave options for these employees to protect the safety and wellbeing of their families.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Wexton
Member of Congress