The Federal Emergency Dismissal Protocol calls for the General Services Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Office of Personnel Management to consult and decide on the operating status of the government and federal buildings during an emergency. These agencies have on-going access to critical information provided by Department of Homeland Security (DHS), law enforcement and other related agencies that inform respective decision making. Your agency is a part of the network that would immediately receive confirmed reports on any situations and be able to update you on the relevant dismissal and closure procedures.
In a natural or man-made event (such as a terror incident), FEMA, GSA and OPM will convene their principals for a review of the situation and make decisions for each of their respective areas of responsibility.
Immediate notification of changes to the operating status of the government will be relayed to key federal and local authorities. Following this notification, the news media, the Federal Executive Board and other outlets will be alerted to the change in operational status. The operating status of the government is always available on the OPM website.
Federal agencies which operate in buildings managed by the GSA are required to establish an Occupant Emergency Plan (OEP). The OEP is a short-term emergency response program that establishes procedures for safeguarding lives and property. Within every agency’s OEP should be a component which addresses the concerns of special needs employees.
Each federal building has unique factors which may affect the security measures that should be taken to protect employees. Some of these factors include the location of the building, proximity to other prominent landmarks or buildings, and inherent building designs which may affect the ability to prevent, or mitigate the damage of, an attack. For this reason, the government has not issued one government-wide protocol that all agencies must follow. It is the responsibility of each agency to communicate to employees the safety procedures that are in place, based on both a safety and a threat analysis.
In instances where there is a known or suspected release of biological, chemical, or radiological agents outside an agency, authorities may strongly recommend that employees shelter-in-place. That means that rather than leave their place of work, employees will stay in their office building and wait for instructions. It is unlikely that such an event would require employees to shelter-in-place for longer than a few hours.
Employees are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the procedures that have been put into place at their agency, as well as the means of notification that an agency will use to inform and instruct employees.
It is the responsibility of each agency to determine the risks faced by its employees, develop a comprehensive strategy and assess the benefits provided by any protective equipment. These decisions will be based largely on the time it takes for an agency to evacuate the building, and other information gained through a threat assessment. Employees should check with their agency’s security/safety personnel to learn the status of any protective equipment provided by their agency.
The Emergency Preparedness for Federal Employees in the National Capital Region, while focusing on the Washington, D.C. area, contains information applicable to employees in other places as well. It covers considerations such as emergency supplies to be kept in the office; how to get emergency weather alerts; and general worksite emergency plans and procedures including agency instructions to employees. The guide is at www.fema.gov/multimedia-library.
Dismissal and Closure Procedures
The Governmentwide Dismissal and Closure Procedures guide (at www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/reference-materials/handbooks) sets policies for emergency situations including severe weather that prevent significant numbers of employees from reporting for work on time or which require agencies to close all or part of their activities. The Office of Personnel Management makes such decisions for the national capital area; elsewhere, they are made by field office heads of individual agencies, coordinated by regional Federal Executive Boards (see www.feb.gov) where they exist.
The guide reflects the 2018 change for such situations from using the excused absence (or administrative leave) authority to a specific authority called weather and safety leave. Prior to the issuance of the weather and safety leave rules, OPM guidance stated that only those employees with telework agreements containing express language requiring them to work during a closure situation could be denied what was then called administrative leave. Under the regulations, all telework program participants will be ineligible for weather and safety leave when a closure is announced except when an exception applies—if working at an alternative worksite would itself be unsafe, or if a telework-ready employee could not have reasonably anticipated the severe weather or other emergency condition and therefore did not take home needed equipment or work.
Employees designated as “emergency,” “emergency essential” or similar terms are expected to report for work on time and stay until dismissed in all circumstances, unless they are specifically excused. In some cases, such employees might telework.
“Option for unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework” means that employees may take annual leave or leave without pay without prior supervisory approval, or telework on a non-telework day, but must notify their supervisor they are doing so.
Note: When an agency is designated as closed for all or part of a day, employees who were on pre-approved annual leave for the time affected by the closing are not granted weather and safety leave. They are charged for the annual leave unless they telework instead.
The range of operating status determinations is (note: the dismissal procedures guide describes policies for various special situations such as when employees are on leave without pay, are traveling, or have a scheduled day off under an alternative work schedule):
- Agencies are open. Employees are expected to report to their worksite or begin telework on time.
- Agencies are open, with an option for unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework.
- Agencies are open with delayed arrival of a designated number of hours later than the employee’s normal arrival time, with an option for unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework. Employees who report to the regular worksite are granted weather and safety leave for the hours between the employee’s typical arrival time and the final reporting time, except that such leave is reduced if the employee arrives at work before the final reporting time. As an alternative, eligible employees may notify their supervisors that they are using the option of unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework instead of reporting to the regular worksite, in which case they will not receive weather and safety leave—and will be responsible for accounting for the entire workday by taking other leave (or paid time off), performing telework, or a combination.
- Agencies are open with a delayed arrival and employees should report to their worksites no later than a designated time, with an option for unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework. Employees should plan their commutes to arrive at the worksite by no later than the final reporting time in the announcement. Employees who report to the worksite are granted weather and safety leave for the hours between the employee’s typical arrival time and the final reporting time, except that such leave is reduced if the employee arrives at work before the final reporting time. If employees choose to use unscheduled telework versus reporting to the worksite, they will not receive weather and safety leave. Employees who request unscheduled leave or other paid time off will be charged leave or other paid time off for the entire period of their workday; they will not receive weather and safety leave for the number of hours that are provided to employees who commute into their worksite.
- Agencies are open with a staggered early departure. Employees leave the workplace a designated number of hours earlier than their normal departure time, with weather and safety leave for the time remaining in their work days. Telework program participants working in the office when an early departure is announced generally may receive weather and safety leave only for the amount of time required to commute home (excluding the period of time for an unpaid lunch break, if applicable). This means that telework program participants must complete any remaining time in their workday by either teleworking or taking leave (paid or unpaid) or other paid time off once they arrive home unless one of the exceptions described above applies. If an employee arrives home after his or her workday has concluded, there are no hours remaining in the workday; therefore, the employee would not be required or expected to work. Employees who were already performing telework when an early departure announcement is made similarly generally must continue to telework or take unscheduled leave or other paid time off, or a combination of both, for the remainder of their tour of duty.
- Agencies are open with a staggered early departure and all employees must leave by a designated time, at which time offices are closed. Employees leave the workplace a designated number of hours earlier than their normal departure time, with weather and safety leave for the number of hours remaining in their workday. Policies regarding telework are the same as those above.
- Immediate departure—federal offices are closed. Employees working in the office must depart immediately and will receive weather and safety leave for the number of hours remaining in their workday, except as otherwise provided for telework program participants. Telework program participants working in the office may receive weather and safety leave only for the time it takes to commute home from the office (excluding the period of time for an unpaid lunch break, if applicable). This means that a telework program participant must complete the remaining time in the workday by either teleworking from home, requesting other leave or paid time off, or a combination of both. An employee already performing telework when an immediate departure announcement is made generally must continue to telework, request unscheduled leave or other paid time off, or a combination, for the remainder of his or her tour of duty unless one of the exceptions described above applies.
- Federal offices are closed. In general, employees will be granted weather and safety leave for the number of hours they were scheduled to work unless they are an emergency employee, a telework program participant, on official travel outside of the duty station, on preapproved leave (paid or unpaid) or other time off, or on an alternative work schedule day off or other non-workday. Telework program participants do not receive weather and safety leave when a closure is announced. Instead, they must telework for the entire workday, take other leave (paid or unpaid) or other time off, or use a combination of telework and leave or other paid time off unless one of the exceptions applies as described above.
- Shelter in place. This typically will be ordered if severe conditions or other emergencies arise during the working day. Offices are closed and employees are to follow their agency’s procedures for such situations. Employees performing telework are expected to continue working during the shelter-in-place unless affected by the emergency or otherwise notified by their agencies.