Human Resource Guidance and Information
on Civilian Personnel Issues
During the 2009 Human Swine Influenza (Swine Flu)
Army Questions and Answers for
Employee Relations Issues during a Health Crisis
While these Q&A's address possible situations and solutions, management officials should consult their Civilian Personnel Advisory Center (CPAC), prior to taking action that may adversely impact employees. Activities are also reminded to satisfy any applicable Labor Relations obligations.
1. What should a supervisor do if an employee is suspected of having a contagious illness?
The supervisor should observe the employee who is suspected of having the illness, document the associated behavior, express concern to the employee, and remind the employee of his or her leave options for seeking medical attention, such as requesting sick or annual leave.
2. If an employee exhibits signs of the flu and refuses to request leave, may a supervisor order them to leave work? If so, will the employee be paid during the absence?
Generally, taking leave is a voluntary action initiated by an employee. However, supervisors are responsible for maintaining a safe work environment, to include the well-being of all employees. As such, an organization may find it necessary to prohibit an employee from remaining at work, but only when sufficient evidence indicates the employee is physically unable to perform the job or poses a risk to themselves or others. If warranted, a supervisor may order the employee to leave the worksite and place the employee on administrative leave. Administrative leave is not an entitlement, and supervisors are not required to grant it. Policies on granting excused absence (administrative leave) should be consistent with any additional government-wide and Army-wide policies on granting excused absence during a pandemic influenza. Although an employee's use of leave is generally voluntary, in some situations, an employee can be directed to take leave. Before directing an employee to take leave, supervisors should consult their CPAC. For employees who do not wish to take leave and are still capable of working, telework may be an alternative, to avoid the risk of workplace exposure (see question 6).
3. May a supervisor require an employee to have a medical exam or physical?
Supervisors may require a medical examination when the position occupied by the employee contains established physical or medical requirements (5 CFR 339.301). If the criteria are met for requiring a medical examination and the employee refuses the exam, he or she may be disciplined, up to and including removal from Federal service. However, most Army positions do not have established physical or medical requirements. Requiring a medical examination for these positions based on perception of an employee's flu-like symptoms is very problematic and should be avoided. However, when a supervisor observes an employee exhibiting signs of illness, the supervisor may express concern regarding the employee's health and remind the employee of his or her leave options for seeking medical attention.
4. What are the options for an employee who exhausts all annual and sick leave?
An employee with no available leave may request advance annual and/or sick leave, as appropriate. For annual leave, an organization may only advance to the employee, the amount that would normally accrue during the remainder of the leave year for that employee. For sick leave, a maximum of 30 days may be advanced for a serious disability or ailment of the employee or a family member (5 CFR 630.401(f)). Eligible Army employees may also utilize the Voluntary Leave Transfer Program (VLTP), to request leave donations to avoid being placed in a leave without pay situation. For additional information about the VLTP, visit http://cpol.army.mil/library/permiss/5019.html.
5. Can employees be required to work during a Pandemic?
Employees are expected to report for work, and if they fail to report for duty without an administratively acceptable reason for the absence, they may be considered absent without leave (AWOL). If the worksite is closed, employees who are designated as emergency or mission-essential employees may be required to report for duty. Employees who are not designated as required to perform mission essential functions or support those functions, will not be required to report to the official duty site. However, the employee's home may be declared a safe haven during a pandemic health crisis. The announcement of a home or an alternate location as the safe haven promotes "social distancing" and limits an employee's possible exposure. Any designation of a safe haven will include additional guidance to the employees concerned. In addition, eligible employees may request to telework from established alternate worksites or home, as appropriate.
6. How do employees request telework arrangements?
Generally, employees may request telework by writing to or speaking with their supervisor, who will make a decision based on an assessment of an employee's eligibility for telework and the organization/command Telework Policy. Refer to the Telework Policy documents for additional guidance. Employees and supervisors should identify and become familiar with their Command/Organization Telework Coordinator, where available.
7. If there are school closures due to health issues and my children (who are not ill) are sent home, may I use sick leave to care for them?
If you need to be at home because of a school closure, you may request annual leave for the duration of the closure. You may also request to use other paid time off, such as earned compensatory time off, earned compensatory time off for travel, or earned credit hours. You may not use sick leave unless your child is sick.
8. May an employee leave work or refuse to report for work because he or she is afraid of contracting the flu from co-workers?
Army follows recommendations from entities such as the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Department of Defense. It is unlikely an employee will be directed to report for work when it is unsafe to do so. If an employee is concerned about contracting the flu from a co-worker, the employee should first raise the concern with his or her supervisor to discuss appropriate action, such as moving to a different work area, using annual leave, or teleworking. If an employee refuses without cause to report for work or leaves their duty station without approval, the employee risks disciplinary action.
9. May an employee, who is not ill, use sick leave because he or she is afraid of contracting the flu?
No. Generally, an employee may use sick leave only when he or she is incapacitated for duty, due to a physical or mental illness, or is receiving medical examination or treatment. Employees may also use sick leave to care for family members who are ill or receiving medical examination or treatment. An employee who is not eligible for sick leave may request annual leave, subject to the approval of the supervisor. If an employee's request for leave is denied and the employee still refuses to report for work, the employee may be considered AWOL and may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including removal from Federal Service.
10. May an employee refuse to use required safety equipment (e.g., protective equipment or decontamination stations) provided by the organization?
When an organization requires employees to follow certain safety procedures, such as using protective equipment or a decontamination station, it is to protect the safety and health of its employees. As with any other organization policy, employees are expected to comply with organization safety and health policies. Employees who refuse to comply may be subject to appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including removal from Federal service.