The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has issued guidance on how agencies can assist federal workers affected by Hurricane Ian and Fiona. But AFGE is concerned that managers are given too much discretion over whether to approve weather and safety leave for teleworkers affected by the storms, leading to absurd outcomes. Managers should instead look at local conditions and allow those conditions to inform their decision.
Hurricane Ian, a category-4 storm, slammed the west coast of Florida on Sept. 28 before moving inland to the Carolinas, destroying homes and killing at least 132 people. Ian is the second-deadliest storm to hit the mainland U.S. behind Hurricane Katrina that killed more than 1,800 people in 2005.
Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 18, killing at least 31 people. Weeks after the storm, thousands are still without power.
OPM has issued guidance reminding agencies of the tools they could use to help employees who had to evacuate or are otherwise affected by the hurricanes.
- Weather and safety leave. Agencies can authorize this form of paid leave for employees who can’t safely travel to or perform work at their normal worksite, including a telework site.
- Telework. Agencies are encouraged to promote telework as a tool to allow employees to continue working during severe weather.
- Evacuation payments. Agencies may authorize advance payments, continuation of pay, and travel and subsistence expenses to workers who are ordered to evacuate.
- Emergency Leave Transfer Program (ELTP). OPM has approved an ELTP for employees affected by Hurricane Ian. Under this program, employees can donate annual leave to employees working in the same or other agencies who are affected by the hurricanes.
According to AFGE Health and Safety Specialist Milly Rodriguez, OPM’s guidance is pretty standard and would cover most situations.
“The problem I think is with managers having discretion on granting the use of weather and safety leave for teleworking employees,” she said. “For example, it’s supposed to be allowed if the employee is available to work but has lost power. In the SSA examples I read, managers made employees go into the office only to find the phone lines were not working so they had to do other work.”
Rodriguez added that agencies should look at local conditions including road conditions and the availability of public transportation to guide their decisions. If employees cannot safely travel to an office location, they should be granted weather and safety leave, yet we hear from members it has been denied.
Florida AFL-CIO disaster relief
AFGE is joining with the Florida AFL-CIO and other labor unions to assist in the disaster relief efforts in Florida as a result of Hurricane Ian.
Here's how you can donate:
- If you can write a check or make a commitment right now, the Florida State Fed will upfront your commitment and invoice you for the contribution. Please make the check out to the Florida AFL-CIO. The memo line should indicate the Florida Workers Relief Fund-Hurricane Ian. All checks should be mailed to the Florida AFL-CIO headquarters: 135 South Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL 32301.
- If you prefer to pay by credit card, please click this link (please note that there is a fee to the Fund for this method of payment): Hurricane Ian Donation
AFGE Disaster Relief Fund
AFGE partners with the Federal Employees Education and Assistance Fund (FEEA) to manage disaster relief efforts and assist government employees as they recover. The fund is made up of donations by AFGE affiliates which are earmarked exclusively for AFGE members in need of disaster assistance.
Click here for details.