COVID-19 Update: Workplace flexibilities and leave options

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Dear Colleagues,

In the last six months, you have shown a remarkable ability to adapt and find new ways to meet our shared goals. Without you, we could not have accomplished all that we did. Your effort, your care for your colleagues, and the sacrifices you have made to uphold the Smithsonian’s mission are evident every day. As we continue to navigate the pandemic, we must take time to address the day-to-day obstacles and larger challenges we are facing.

I know your responsibilities at the Smithsonian are not your only priority. You may be caring for a parent or grandparent, or helping children begin the school year, virtually or in person. You or someone you love may have become ill and required care and additional time to recuperate. You may be helping friends or neighbors run errands so they can stay safely at home. Everything – from grocery shopping to seeking medical care – requires more time, effort, and planning than it did before.

Just as you have supported the Smithsonian throughout this crisis, the Smithsonian can support you. The tools and resources listed below can help you balance your responsibilities during this difficult moment. These tools include a new way to use leave without pay to facilitate a temporary part-time schedule.

Moving forward, we will continuously evaluate the flexibilities and leave options available and seek new solutions, including learning from other organizations such as other federal agencies, state and local governments, non-profit and for-profit organizations.

Focusing on the needs of your loved ones and taking care of yourself is no easy feat. Should you need more support, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is working to provide you with free, confidential services by phone. EAP has also partnered with Inova Employee Assistance to provide additional services. More information may be found here. Your username is Smithsonian, and password is EAP. The COVID-19 Wellness page also contains information that may be useful to you.

Thank you for all you have done during uncertain times.


Lonnie Bunch


Workplace Flexibilities

The Smithsonian has asked all units to be as flexible, creative, and understanding as possible at this time. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that there are many ways to get the job done. Click here for more detailed information about workplace flexibilities.

  • Alternate Work Schedules (AWS): Supervisors have been given the authority to grant flexible work schedules (FWS). This could mean altering your start or stop time for the day or even breaking your workday into multiple blocks. Flexible work schedules do just that, they give you the flexibility to work and balance your other responsibilities.

You may also consider switching to a compressed work schedule (CWS). By working longer (but fewer) days, you will have additional time during the work week to run errands, oversee virtual learning, make doctor’s appointments, care for loved ones, or have time for yourself.

  • Telework: The Smithsonian remains in an enhanced telework status. If you are not required on site and there is work you can do offsite, you should be working remotely. If you are required to work on site, but do have some telework-eligible work (for example: computer-based work such as training or administrative tasks), speak to your supervisor about teleworking a day or two a week (or as needed) to accomplish those telework-eligible tasks.

As part of the pandemic response, you are permitted to telework even if you have children at home. We are aware that it is difficult to work and provide care at the same time. If possible, please consider working a compressed or flexible schedule as described above.

  • Temporary Reduction in Hours: Please see the Leave Without Pay option below.

Special Leave Options

While the workplace flexibilities that the Smithsonian has put in place can help you balance your personal and work commitments, sometimes additional time is needed. There are leave options available for these circumstances. Your supervisor and human resources liaison can assist you in understanding the details of these and other options, identifying the best solution based on your individual needs and circumstances, and navigating the approval process.

  • Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL): As part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), Smithsonian employees are entitled to up to 80 hours of emergency sick leave for certain COVID-19 related reasons through December 31, 2020.

This leave type is to be used by employees who must quarantine, are sick with COVID-19 symptoms or have been diagnosed, or who need to care for someone who is sick or quarantined because of COVID-19. It can also be used to care for children because schools or care facilities are closed. If you only need EPSL a few days a week (for example because of hybrid in-person and virtual schooling), you can use this leave option intermittently. Your compensation during EPSL is linked to the reason you requested this type of leave.

To learn more about qualifying reasons, eligibility, and pay rates, please read this fact sheet. To apply for EPSL, complete this form.

  • Leave Without Pay (LWOP): To assist with the many new personal challenges that employees are facing during this pandemic, including childcare responsibilities, you may now request LWOP for up to 50% of your scheduled hours. This temporary option, which must be approved by your supervisor, would effectively allow you to work part-time for a period of up to 6 months, thereby offering you additional time to attend to personal responsibilities. Note that you must use all “use or lose” annual leave prior to taking LWOP for this purpose. For additional details on the use of LWOP for part-time flexibility visit here.

Additional Traditional Leave Options

Finally, as a reminder, employees are encouraged to request sick and/or annual leave, as appropriate. Supervisors and directors have been asked to be generous in approving leave requests, and all employees are encouraged to maximize their available, accrued leave, particularly that which may expire. No special extensions will be granted for unused compensatory time, use or lose leave, or unused time off awards, so please consider using, or donating to colleagues, such paid leave instead of allowing it to expire. To learn more about sick and annual leave options, including advanced options, please visit here. To learn more about when each type of leave must be used by or forfeited, please visit here.

To support colleagues who are in need of additional leave, consider donating your annual leave (including any slated for use-or-lose) via the Voluntary Leave Transfer Program (VLTP). To learn more about how to donate leave, please visit here.

Additional leave to deal with serious illness is also available for most employees as part of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). To learn more about FMLA, read this document. To request FMLA, use this form.

For more information on these or other topics, please visit the Human Resources page on the COVID-19 Response and Reopening website.


Posted: 11 September 2020
About the Author:

Lonnie G. Bunch III is the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He was the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and is the first historian to be Secretary of the Institution.

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