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Jessica Klement, Staff Vice President for Policy and Programs at NARFE, and Joanna Friedman, Partner at The Federal Practice Group, talk about some of the most important news for federal employees to pay attention to from the past week

Change is coming for the federal workforce: more federal employees are getting vaccines, more paid leave may be coming and more safety measures are in place, as a result of a White House task force.

One change employees may have noticed this week is the telework situation combined with a snow event. “We are used to the government closing, and you don’t have to go to work that day,” said Jessica Klement, Staff Vice President for Policy and Programs at NARFE. “Well, we’ve all been teleworking for almost a year now, so sorry, you have to work on a snow day now,” she said.

An important thing to watch from the past week is reconciliation – what’s moving through the House, possibly for consideration this week – and how that affects federal employees, said Klement. “Right now, the House Oversight Reform Committee has approved its portion of the broader reconciliation bill,” said Klement. She said this would allow paid leave for up to 15 weeks for federal employees if they get COVID-19, have to quarantine, are taking care of children virtually learning at home, or if they are a caretaker for a family member and the usual caretaker cannot be there because of the virus.

Joanna Friedman, Partner at The Federal Practice Group, said some exciting news for federal employees is that OPM issued guidance stating that all federal employees now have the right to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave, as long as they have worked in their position consecutively for at least a year and the child was born on Oct. 1, 2020 or later.

She also said something for federal employees to pay attention to is whether agencies will be able to require employees to be vaccinated. The EEOC issued guidance in December stating that an employer can require an employee to get vaccinated, said Friedman. “Certainly an employee will be able to request accommodation if they have a medical condition or perhaps a religious belief that precludes them from getting a vaccine,” she stated.

Friedman said another important thing for feds to watch is the mask mandate President Biden put into effect for all federal property. “Federal agencies are now empowered to actually take disciplinary action against federal employees who refuse to wear masks while they’re at work,” said Friedman.

Friedman recommended that if you are an employee with a medical condition limiting your ability to wear a mask all day and/or putting you in a high-risk category for exposure, “you should be disclosing that information now and seeking accommodation, because often times it takes 30, 60, 90 days in order to get a reasonable accommodation or religious accommodation actually implemented.”

She said employees requesting accommodations must disclose information about their medical conditions or religious beliefs. “There will be some back and forth as to whether or not the agency is going to be able to implement an effective accommodation, and I think that’s where the issue really lies, is we don’t know exactly how that’s going to shake out,” she said.

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