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Friday March 13, 2020

CPSC Expands Telework over Coronavirus but Says Don't Forget 15(b)

CPSC will use teleworking to the "maximum extent possible" as a Coronavirus precaution, according to a March 13 statement. It adds, however, that some staffers will need to remain at the agency to perform their duties. The announcement ( explains, "Our goal is to provide for the safety of our staff while continuing our work for the safety of consumers." Indeed, it opens with a reassurance that CPSC "is on the job and working to protect consumers."


In a nod to those in industry who likely are or will be facing similar disruptions, CPSC stressed, "Companies are reminded of their statutory obligation to report under Section 15(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act."


It had two messages for consumers:

  • Keep reporting incidents and unsafe products.
  • Remember poison-prevention when using cleaners and other chemicals for disinfecting homes or other sites.

CPSC already had taken the precautionary step of canceling an in-person commission briefing on potential midyear updates to the FY2020 operating plan. That had been scheduled for March 11. Other in-person events on the CPSC calendar have been canceled too, mostly by the non-CPSC hosts.


CPSC is one of the earlier federal agencies to make the expanded telework decision although a March 12 article by Federal News Network ( detailed a similar decision by Citizenship and Immigration Services. It also mentioned that the Social Security Administration was allowing telework for its field offices in New York and Washington, states where the number of confirmed U.S. cases are highest.


Federal agencies in early March and late February got information from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on possible widescale telework related to the Coronavirus. The most recent of the various memos ( covers a wide range of topics from managers needing to ensure that staffers have sufficient task-loads for full days of work to what powers agencies have for personnel decisions in the event of pandemic declarations by the World Health Organization (WHO).


The latter happened March 11. In a pandemic, agencies can direct staffers not under regular telework agreements nonetheless to work at home or similar offsite places. Staffers can be entitled to reimbursement for expenses incurred under such situations although it must be "specifically approved by the agency head."


Other sections cover how to deal with staffers who need to care for sick loved ones or whose children are at the telework sites due to school closures. Related issues include when sick leave is necessary for inability to work versus weather/safety leave. On the other hand, hazard pay could be triggered for certain duties.


The school closure issue became pertinent for CPSC on March 12 when Maryland decided to close all schools for two weeks starting March 16. CPSC's headquarters is in Maryland, and many of its staffers live there. Similar closures are expected in nearby Virginia and Washington, D.C., where many others live. For example, Fairfax County, Va., a D.C. suburb, closed schools Friday and Monday, March 13 and 16, and it was unclear if that would continue longer as of this writing.


Meanwhile, OPM gives details about dealing with staffers who show symptoms while at work or keeping them away if those symptoms appear elsewhere. Informing coworkers of such situations must balance privacy and transparency. Primarily, the sick person should remain anonymous.