Frequently Asked Questions for Creating a Safer Federal Workforce
The following are answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) from executive departments and agencies regarding implementation of Executive Order (EO) 13991, signed by President Biden on January 20, 2021, as well as M-21-15 on COVID-19 Safe Federal Workplace: Agency Model Safety Principles, issued by the Office of Management and Budget on January 24, 2021.
Labor Relations Obligations
Q: What are agencies’ labor relations obligations regarding implementation of EO 13991? Do we need to share our draft plans with the unions representing bargaining unit employees?
A: Communication with employee representatives is a key element of keeping our federal workforce safe and informed. Section 2(c) of the EO requires agencies to promptly consult, as appropriate, with employee unions. Agencies should promptly notify their unions of the actions they intend to take to require compliance with CDC guidelines to provide a meaningful opportunity for the unions to consult as provided in Section 2(c) of EO 13991. As part of this effort, agencies are encouraged to provide their draft plans to unions in order to provide a meaningful opportunity for the unions to consult.
Agencies may also have collective bargaining obligations under 5 U.S.C. Chapter 71. The agency should begin communicating with the appropriate union representatives as soon as possible and otherwise satisfy any applicable collective bargaining obligations under the law at the earliest opportunity, including on a post-implementation basis if appropriate. If an agency determines that these matters are already covered by an existing collective bargaining agreement and collective bargaining is not required, agencies are reminded to satisfy their consultation obligations, as appropriate, under Section 2(c) of EO 13991.
Agencies should consult with offices of human resources and agency legal counsel to determine appropriate labor relations obligations.
Q: Do agencies have the authority to authorize official time for union consultation and/or negotiations, or both, related to implementation of EO 13991, even if not provided for in current collective bargaining agreements?
A: Yes, to facilitate meaningful union consultation and negotiation, agencies generally have the discretion to authorize official time over and above any official time authorized in current collective bargaining agreements. This may depend, in some measure, on the precise terms of, and possible limitations in, an applicable collective-bargaining agreement. Agencies should consult with offices of human resources and agency legal counsel to confirm their ability to do so.
Q: How does the plan required by EO 13991 impact safety plans that are currently codified in existing collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and have more stringent safety standards than provided in CDC guidance?
A: To the extent that collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) have codified safety plans with more stringent safety standards than provided in CDC guidance, agencies are obligated to honor the CBAs. Agencies should acknowledge these CBA safety plans when providing updates on implementation of EO 13991 to the COVID-19 Response Coordinator.
Q: Would it be appropriate for an agency to grant administrative leave to cover the period of time it takes an employee to receive a COVD-19 vaccination shot?
A: Yes. An agency head (or authorized designee) has discretionary authority to grant administrative leave in appropriate circumstances. To facilitate expeditious vaccination of the Federal workforce, agencies should offer leave-eligible employees a minimum of four hours of administrative leave per dose to use as needed—for a minimum total of eight hours of leave for employees receiving two doses. (If an employee needs to spend less time getting the vaccine, only the needed amount of administrative leave should be granted.) Agencies should also recognize that some employees may face extenuating circumstances warranting additional administrative leave as appropriate (e.g., they may need to travel long distances to get the vaccine). Teleworking employees should normally obtain advance approval from their supervisor before being permitted to use administrative leave for COVID-19 vaccination purposes. Employees may not be credited with administrative leave or overtime work for time spent getting a vaccination outside their tour of duty.
Q: Will personnel need to take personal leave / sick leave days for quarantining as a result of travel?
A: Employees should be aware that official or personal travel may result in a mandatory quarantine before they are allowed to return to the workplace.
If quarantine is required because of official travel or workplace exposure, agencies should provide weather and safety leave, or other administrative leave.
If quarantine is required because of personal travel, and the employee is otherwise expected to be present onsite, the employee may take personal leave while quarantining. If an employee refuses to quarantine or refuses to take personal leave while under mandatory quarantine after personal travel, an agency may elect to bar the employee from the workplace for the safety of others. If the agency bars the employee from the workplace, the employee must be placed on administrative leave until the agency determines what status the employee should be placed in while on quarantine. Agencies, however, should avoid placing an employee on extended administrative leave in this situation and should act quickly to determine the appropriate status for the employee.
Q: Will personnel need to take sick leave while quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19?
A: Yes, if an employee is subject to isolation due to being infected with COVID-19 and is unable to telework, the employee may request sick leave, as weather and safety leave would be unavailable. Employees may also request accrued annual leave and other forms of paid or unpaid leave in this situation as appropriate. See CPM 2020-02, February 7, 2020.
Q: At this stage of the COVID-19 national emergency, how should agencies be administering weather and safety leave?
A: The guidance OPM has provided on the use of weather and safety leave in connection with the COVID-19 is still applicable. In addition to identifying certain specific covered circumstances, OPM communicated the general principle that, subject to statutory and regulatory limitations, agencies should use available flexibilities to provide weather and safety leave in circumstances where allowing an employee to travel to or perform work at the normal worksite would pose significant safety risks for the employee, other employees, or the general public. (See March 19, 2020, OPM Fact Sheet.) OPM has advised that weather and safety leave should not be used when an employee was capable of teleworking (5 CFR 630.1605) or when the employee is sick with COVID-19 or otherwise in circumstances under which sick leave was appropriate.
Q: To which federal facilities does the executive order apply?
A: The executive order directs all agencies to apply the requirements of EO 13991 to all persons in or on the premises of a federal building, including federally owned, leased, and delegated facilities, where a substantial portion of the facility is occupied by employees or contractors of the executive branch. This includes facilities under the jurisdiction, custody, or control of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) (GSA-controlled facilities), facilities leased by agencies with independent leasing authority, and federal buildings under the jurisdiction, custody, and control of executive agencies with independent landholding authority.
Q: If an agency is located in a GSA-managed commercially leased space, or facilities leased by agencies with independent leasing authority, how do the requirements of the EO apply?
A: For facilities leased by GSA, the requirements of the EO only apply to the portion of the facility under lease to GSA, unless GSA leases the entire building, in which case, the requirements apply to the public areas as well. The lessor’s onsite employees, onsite contractors, and visitors must comply with the requirements of the EO when accessing space under lease to GSA, including public areas, if GSA leases the entire facility.
For facilities leased by agencies with independent leasing authority, the requirements of the EO only apply to the portion of the facility under lease to the agency, unless the agency leases the entire building, in which case, the requirements apply to the public areas as well. The lessor’s onsite employees, onsite contractors, and visitors must comply with the requirements of the EO when accessing space under lease to the agency, including public areas, if the agency leases the entire facility.
In either type of partially leased buildings (facilities leased by GSA or space under lease by a federal agency with independent leasing authority), federal onsite employees and onsite contractors should wear a mask at the point of entry and in any public areas (e.g., when walking from the front door to the federal workspace), even if other tenants of the building are not required to wear a mask.
Q: If an agency manages facilities under its own landholding authority, for what is the agency responsible?
A: In these facilities, the agency managing the facility is fully responsible for ensuring that the requirements of EO 13991 are implemented.
Q. If an agency leases and manages facilities under its own leasing authority, for what is the agency responsible?
A: In these facilities, the agency executing the lease and managing the entire facility is fully responsible for ensuring that the requirements of EO 13991 are implemented. If the agency is leasing only a portion of the facility, then the agency is fully responsible for ensuring that the requirements of EO 13991 are implemented in the space that is covered under the lease.
Q: If an agency manages a GSA-controlled facility under an operation and maintenance delegation from GSA, for what is an agency responsible?
A: In a GSA-controlled facility under an operation and maintenance delegation from GSA, the agency responsible for operation and maintenance is fully responsible for ensuring that the requirements of EO 13991 are implemented.
Q: Does the requirement to wear a mask apply to outside areas of a facility (e.g., courtyards and sidewalks between buildings)?
A: Yes. In federally owned and delegated facilities, masks must be worn in outdoor shared spaces where social distancing cannot be maintained.
Enforcement of Mask-Wearing Among Onsite Employees and Onsite Contractors
Q: Do agencies or the building’s Facility Security Committee (FSC) need to issue orders making the wearing of masks a condition of entry for those persons wishing to access the facility?
A: EO 13991 requires agencies to take steps to implement the policy established by the EO, and these steps include orders by the occupant agency or the relevant Facility Security Committee (FSC), or, for GSA-controlled facilities, GSA imposing requirements consistent with the EO. If the FSC would like to impose more restrictive measures than EO 13991 requires, then the FSC must vote to adopt such countermeasures. If the agency with jurisdiction, custody, or control over a facility has not already issued a policy making the wearing of masks a condition of entry to the facility and throughout common areas and shared workspaces, the occupant agency must implement the requirements of EO 13991 and distribute notice of the face covering requirement through written signage posted conspicuously at each public entrance on the property, and through other communications of internal policies and guidance directed to its employees and contractors. The FSC should meet to discuss operational considerations (including conspicuous posting of notices at entrances to facilities), enforcement protocols, and any other issues associated with implementation of the EO requirements that require cross-agency collaboration at the local level.
Q: If an employee comes to the worksite and refuses to wear a mask, what should the supervisor do?
A: When a supervisor observes an employee at the workplace not wearing a mask, the supervisor should remind the employee of the federal government-wide policy requiring mask-wearing in federal buildings. If the employee raises a disability or religious issue as the reason for not wearing a mask, the supervisor should follow the agency’s process to review and consider what, if any, reasonable accommodation should be offered (e.g., work from home or a different type of covering combined with appropriate social distancing). Employees who require a reasonable accommodation should contact the agency’s reasonable accommodations manager for information about lodging a request. Employees of contractors who require a reasonable accommodation should contact their supervisors and request that the supervisor discuss the need with the agency’s contracting officer.
If the employee is not eligible for an accommodation and does not comply with the mask requirement, the agency may pursue discipline. An agency may elect to bar the employee from the workplace for the safety of others until it determines the appropriate disciplinary action and any related proceedings are concluded. Any decision to bar the employee should occur in consultation with the agency’s onsite security authority (including any onsite security contractor), agency human resources office, and agency legal counsel. If the agency bars the employee from the workplace, the employee must be placed on paid administrative leave until the agency takes the disciplinary action. The agency must also follow normal processes to provide the required notice to the employee before implementing the disciplinary action. This could include, for example, possible placement of the employee on notice leave during the required period before effecting a suspension.
Q: Will GSA require its onsite service contractors (including custodial, operation and maintenance contractors) to wear face coverings throughout building common areas and agency-occupied space? Should agencies that hire onsite service contractors in other, non-GSA controlled facilities require these contractors to wear face coverings throughout building common areas and agency-occupied space?
A: Yes, GSA will require its service contractors in GSA-controlled facilities to wear masks throughout common areas and agency-occupied space. For agencies in non-GSA-controlled facilities, policies and procedures should be put in place by the agency to require onsite service contractors (including custodial contractors) to wear masks throughout common areas and agency-occupied space.
Q: Do public visitors who are entering agency space to conduct business with our agency need to wear a mask?
A: Yes. While EO 13991 requires agencies to minimize the number of visitors to federal workplaces, some individuals will, of course, need to visit federal buildings. Visitors who require access to federal facilities must wear a mask to gain entry to the facility and must continue to wear a mask throughout their entire visit, unless covered by an exception as set forth in M-21-15 (COVID-19 Safe Federal Workplace: Agency Model Safety Principles). Agencies should implement alternative procedures that allow for persons unable to access an agency’s workspace to continue to obtain any federal government benefits or services to which the individual is entitled.
Q: What alternative procedures should agencies put in place for visitors unable to access workspaces due to the masking, screening, or other requirements in the “Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing” executive order?
A: All executive agencies must develop and implement alternative procedures that allow for persons denied access to a federal facility or otherwise unable to access an agency’s workspace to continue to obtain any federal government benefits or services to which the individual is entitled, such as monetary benefit payments or required adjudicative appointments or hearings.
Q: What should an agency do if there are visitors inside a facility who are not wearing a mask and who will not comply with reminders and requests to do so?
A: Agencies should first remind visitors of the requirement to wear masks. If they refuse to comply, the matter can be escalated to the agency’s security officer. If unable to resolve the issue, agencies should notify the responsible onsite security authority (e.g., their onsite security contractor or, if not available, the Department of Homeland Security-Federal Protective Service or the Department of Justice-U.S. Marshals Service) in the facility where the violations occurred. Where no onsite security is present, agencies in GSA-controlled facilities protected by FPS should call the FPS MegaCenter at 1-877-4FP-S411 to request law enforcement support.
Q: What signage will be posted at GSA-controlled facilities to notify employees, contractors, and visitors of the requirement to wear masks?
A: If appropriate signage is not already posted, GSA will post signage at building entrances and in common areas of federally owned GSA-controlled facilities stating that masks are required for entry and throughout common areas and shared workspaces and anywhere else in or on the property when physical distancing cannot be maintained. In privately-owned facilities leased by GSA, signage will only be posted at building entrances and common areas if GSA leases the entire facility. In facilities where operation and maintenance has been delegated by GSA to an occupant agency, that occupant agency is responsible for obtaining and displaying the signage.
Q: Our agency would like to post signage in our agency’s space. Where can we find signage for this purpose?
A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website makes signage available for free download. You can access the site here. Your GSA building manager or lease administration manager will also make the signage that is used in the public areas of the building available for use by the occupant agencies.
Q: Is our agency responsible for ensuring compliance with the 25% occupancy limitation during high periods of transmission set forth in OMB Memorandum M-21-15 in agency workspace?
A: Yes, each agency is responsible for ensuring compliance with the 25% occupancy limitation during high periods of transmission set forth in OMB Memorandum M-21-15 within their occupied areas of GSA-controlled facilities. Exceptions to this policy must be cleared by the head of the agency as advised by the agency’s COVID-19 Coordination Team and in consultation with the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. To contact the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force about exception requests, please email SaferFederalWorkforce@gsa.gov.
Q: Who is responsible for providing hand sanitizer in GSA-controlled facilities?
A: GSA will provide hand sanitizer in GSA-controlled facilities at building entrances and in common areas, such as lobbies. Agencies will make available wipes, gloves, and other EPA-approved disinfectants, as necessary, for individuals to wipe down their workstation and related personal property within their occupied areas.
Q: Our agency would like to provide our employees and visitors to our space with face masks and hand sanitizer. Where can these items be purchased?
A: Emergency response products are available through the GSA Advantage! Disaster Relief Products aisle. If a product you want to purchase is backordered on GSA Advantage!, we recommend you contact the vendor directly, as stock levels change daily.
Q: Does GSA already provide the level of environmental cleaning required by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum M-21-15 or does my agency need to ask for that service?
A: GSA’s regular custodial service for GSA-controlled facilities includes the routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces in common and high-traffic areas of the facility, with the exception of individual workstations and related personal property, which are the occupant agency’s responsibility to clean and disinfect. GSA performs enhanced environmental cleaning in response to confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, in accordance with CDC guidelines.
Q: Is symptom screening required before agency onsite employees, onsite contractors, and visitors come to the workplace?
A: If onsite federal employees, onsite contractors or visitors do not feel well, they should not come to the workplace. Onsite federal employees and onsite contractors who need to report to the workplace must complete symptom screening before they report each day. Agencies are encouraged to use mobile or web applications, or both, to facilitate the screening process, and may adapt the tool used by the CDC. Visitors must also complete this screening.
To implement symptom screening for onsite employees, onsite contractors, and visitors at entrances to GSA-controlled facilities, the FSC must vote to adopt screening criteria and procedures, and coordinate with the GSA building manager or lease administration manager, FPS, USMS, or other relevant federal security organization, as applicable.
Q: If a facility’s FSC votes to adopt symptom screening criteria and procedures at the entrances to a GSA-controlled facility, how are those services acquired, and who pays?
A: Once the FSC votes to adopt these “Enhanced Entry Screening Services” (EESS), the occupant agencies have provided the required funding, and an enforcement strategy is developed, the GSA project team will determine an appropriate acquisition strategy, in consultation with the FSC, using GSA's EESS procurement resources, and acquire the services. In leased facilities, these activities must also be coordinated with the lessor. Occupant agencies are required to provide funding for these services based on their pro rata share of the facility’s rentable square footage.
Q: Are GSA’s EESS procurement resources available for use in facilities managed by agencies other than GSA?
A: Yes, GSA’s EESS procurement resources are available for use by federal agencies managing a GSA-controlled facility under an operation and maintenance delegation issued by GSA and federal agencies managing facilities under their own independent landholding authority.