White House Releases Plan to Reopen Federal Government

Guidelines follow those for private businesses and states

employee scanning security card to enter office

President Donald Trump's administration has released guidelines for federal government leaders on how to start preparing to resume operations in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The federal government "is the nation's largest employer, with a significant presence and impact in communities across the country," noted Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Michael Rigas, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, in an April 20 letter to executive department and agency heads.

"Now, in partnership with state, local, tribal and territorial governments, and the private sector, the federal government is actively planning to ramp back up government operations to the maximum extent possible," they said.

The plan is consistent with the administration's Opening Up America Again guidelines for private businesses, which include a phased approach to  returning to work. Under the guidelines, the following "gating criteria" should be met before a state or region reopens:

  • Influenza-like illnesses and COVID-like cases of illness must trend downward for 14 days.
  • Documented COVID-19 cases and positive tests must trend downward for 14 days (while not decreasing the overall number of tests).
  • Local hospitals must have the capacity to treat all patients without crisis care, and jurisdictions must have a robust health care worker testing program and plan.

Federal leaders were told that state and regional assessments should be the starting point for decisions related to federal agency operations.

We've rounded up articles and resources from SHRM Online and other trusted media outlets on the news.

Three-Phase Approach for Employers

The letter to federal leaders noted that 85 percent of the federal workforce is located outside the Washington, D.C., area, "so agency heads must be cognizant of the phasing status for all states and regions where an agency operates." The White House outlined three phases to help all state and local officials open their economies and businesses resume operations. "We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time," Trump said.

Once the gating criteria are met, locations can move to phase one, during which employers should continue to encourage employees to telework and return to work in phases, if possible. Employers should close worksite common areas and enforce strict social-distancing measures, limit nonessential travel, and follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on isolation after travel. Employers should also "strongly consider special accommodations" for vulnerable employees. 

Phase two can begin in regions with no evidence of a rebound after the gating criteria are re-evaluated and met a second time. Schools, day care centers and camps could reopen, and nonessential travel could resume, but employers would still be asked to allow employees to telework when possible and practice social distancing. 

Phase three can start in areas with no evidence of a rebound after the gating criteria are re-evaluated and met a third time. Employers would be able to "resume unrestricted staffing" of their worksites, but the government recommends that vulnerable people still practice social distancing during phase three.

(NBC News)

Open Questions for States

Kimberly Powers, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the phased approach is smart. "It would be a grave mistake to just open the floodgates," she said. However, she noted that the Opening Up America Again guidelines leave a lot of unanswered questions for state leaders and don't define certain critical terms. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said, "The president obviously expressed a desire to reopen the economy." But he noted that some of the guidance is unclear, such as the reference to "no evidence of a rebound. I'm not totally sure what that means," he said. "Is one more case over the baseline, is that a rebound? Is there any time period over which we can consider ourselves not having had a rebound? Things like that worried me. It could be a bumpy ride."


What Will Reopening Workplaces Look Like?

When U.S. mayors and governors eventually lift the social distancing orders they imposed to curb the coronavirus outbreak, reopening businesses likely won't be as simple as switching on the lights and welcoming employees back to their desks. HR experts expect employers and employees to experience a new work world initially, and perhaps long term, rather than business as usual once the lethal pandemic abates.

(SHRM Online)

What to Do When Scared Workers Don't Report to Work

Some essential workers are refusing to come to work out of fear of contracting the coronavirus. Their employers must weigh the employees' legal rights and understandable health concerns with the organizations' business needs. It can be a tough balancing act. "A good first step for an employer to respond to an essential worker who's expressing fears of returning to work is to actively listen to the employee and have a conversation," said Brian McGinnis, an attorney with Fox Rothschild in Philadelphia. "What are their specific concerns? Are they reasonable?"

(SHRM Online)

New SHRM Research on How COVID-19 Is Changing the Workplace

The impact of the coronavirus on the working world was hard to imagine just two months ago. Since early March, a wide range of predominantly service-sector businesses have closed, most either furloughing or laying off their staffs. Companies that are still operating are relying on legions of employees to work remotely or are equipping their workers with personal protective equipment, hand-washing stations and other tools to minimize risk so they can do their jobs onsite. New research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) sheds a light onto just how significantly employers and workers have been impacted by the coronavirus.

(SHRM Online)


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