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Coronavirus Spurs EPA to Roll Out Nationwide Telecommuting

March 16, 2020, 3:50 PM

The EPA has authorized telecommuting and voluntary unscheduled leave for all its eligible workers across the country in response to the new coronavirus pandemic, an agency spokeswoman said on Monday.

The Environmental Protection Agency also said it doesn’t have any confirmed cases of employees at the agency’s headquarters with Covid-19, as the disease caused by the virus is known.

The decision to roll out telecommuting across the nation is consistent with guidance issued late Sunday from the White House Office of Management and Budget. In that memo, OMB instructed federal agencies to offer “maximum telework flexibilities” to all eligible employees, “consistent with operational needs of the departments and agencies as determined by their heads.”

Normally, every employee who participates in telecommuting must have a written agreement to do so, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

But the OMB guidance also stated that non-eligible employees can still be granted “weather and safety leave,” which is normally given when an agency decides employees can’t safely work at their normal location because of an emergency.

The EPA said leaders at each office and region are holding daily calls and communicating with staff about region-specific information. In recent days, the agency has sent six mass mailers to all its employees to keep them updated about the coronavirus.

The EPA last week said it was encouraging employees to make maximum use of telecommuting only in New York City; San Francisco; Boston; Chicago; Seattle; Houston; Dallas; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Raleigh/Durham, N.C.; and Puerto Rico.

Prior to the virus outbreak, the EPA’s move to reduce some telecommuting had been a key point of contention in ongoing labor negotiations with the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than half of the agency’s 14,000 workers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergenvironment.com

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