Federal workers have new leave rights under the recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). They also have rights under existing law to take leave, and to protect them from discrimination and retaliation for reporting unsafe working condition. These rights may vary depending on each employee’s circumstances, so you may want to consult with an attorney to analyze your situation.

This page covers the following topics:

  1. Leave
  2. Telework and work travel
  3. Discrimination
  4. Reporting unsafe working conditions
  5. Resources for more information

This page is current as of April 27, 2020.

1. Leave

Federal workers have rights to take leave if they or a family member may be infected with COVID-19 or if they are caring for children whose school or child-care provider is closed.

First, as in ordinary circumstances, employees may use their accrued sick leave to take time off work to care for themselves or a sick family member.

Second, under the FFCRA, employees may be entitled to up to two weeks of additional paid leave between April 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020, if they:

  1. Are caring for a child whose school or child-care provider is closed
  2. Have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19
  3. Are caring for a person who has been advised to self-quarantine
  4. Are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis
  5. Are subject to a quarantine order or caring for a person subject to a quarantine order
  6. Are experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The monetary amount of the paid leave depends on the reason for the leave, and may be at the employee’s regular rate or a reduced pay rate.

Third, most federal employees are also entitled to an additional ten weeks of paid family and medical leave if caring for a child whose school is closed, or child care is unavailable due to COVID-19. However, this leave may be paid at a reduced rate for many federal employees.

The government may order that the employee work remotely rather than take leave under the FFCRA, if they are able to complete work tasks remotely.

While paid leave was supposed to be available under the FFCRA starting April 1, 2020, many agencies failed to promptly implement the payment procedures on their internal payroll systems.

Finally, if an employee exhausts their right to paid leave, they may be eligible for up to twelve weeks unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, as in ordinary circumstances.

2. Telework and work travel

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has encouraged agencies to maximize telework flexibility for telework-eligible employees. However, telework eligibility remains within the discretion of individual agencies. Thus, federal agencies may still require employees to report to work in-person, unless they qualify for leave. Further, agencies may require certain employees to telework.

Similarly, OMB has recommended that agencies only send employees on travel for “mission critical” work. However, what is designated as “mission critical” work is left up to individual agencies.

3. Discrimination

While the government may order employees to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also has wide latitude in determining who is eligible or required to telework, the government may not make its decisions for discriminatory reasons based on race, national origin, sex, disability, age, or other characteristics protected by federal law.

4. Reporting unsafe working conditions

Federal employees have the right to a safe workplace, and all federal agencies are required to establish procedures to ensure that no employee suffers retaliation for reporting unsafe or unhealthful working conditions, or for otherwise engaging in safety and health activities.

Federal employees who wish to report safety and health hazards may contact their respective agency’s Designated Agency Safety and Health Officer. This could include an agency forcing employees to work in environments where recommended social distancing is not being practiced, or without proper personal protective equipment.

Federal employees who believe that they have suffered retaliation for disclosing a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety may file a complaint with Office of Special Counsel.

5. Resources for additional information

OPM Fact Sheet

Department of Labor Guidance

Department of Labor Whistleblower Guide

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission COVID-19 Materials