Agencies can virtually onboard new employees during coronavirus pandemic

The Office of Personnel Management said agencies can virtually offer the oath of office and remotely collect onboarding documents from new employees during the ...

In an effort to continue federal hiring activities but observe social distancing recommendations, the Office of Personnel Management advised agencies to virtually or remotely onboard new employees.

“Agencies may elect to perform onboarding processes remotely, via visual inspection using remote electronic capabilities (e.g., Skype, FaceTime, etc.),” Michael Rigas, OPM’s acting director, wrote Tuesday in a new memo to agencies. “Agency HR directors should work with their respective agency chief information officers to determine the best options.”

Specifically, agencies should consider virtually offering the oath of office to new employees over Skype, FaceTime or another video platform.

Agencies should also make onboarding documents available electronically. New employees should sign these documents and email them to their agencies, either with an electronic form and signature or by simply taking a picture of the completed document, OPM said.

HR specialists should review these documents and include them in the employee’s electronic personnel file and official personnel folder.

In addition, the Department of Homeland Security said it will ease up on Employee Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) requirements. To comply with these requirements under the Immigration and Nationality Act, agencies typically must review an employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in his or her physical presence.

But given the current circumstances, DHS will allow agencies to review employee documents remotely. These flexibilities only apply to employers who are operating remotely.

“If there are employees physically present at a work location, no exceptions are being implemented at this time for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification,” DHS guidance reads. “However, if newly hired employees or existing employees are subject to COVID-19 quarantine or lockdown protocols, DHS will evaluate this on a case-by-case basis.”

All of these procedures, including the DHS exceptions, are meant to be temporary and only apply to the current public health crisis, OPM said.

Once the national emergency ends, agencies should hold in-person swearing-in ceremonies, for example, to ratify the temporary actions taken to onboard employees during the coronavirus pandemic, Rigas said.

Agencies will need to keep hiring to maintain current operations during the pandemic, and some departments have suggested they’ll need additional staff specifically for coronavirus response.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said it will rehire former physicians, nurses and other medical professionals for its own coronavirus response.

To help VA sweeten the deal for its retirees, OPM granted the department the authority to offer reemployed annuitants a full-time salary and a full pension.

Typically, reeemployed annuitants receive their pensions and a paycheck, but the paychecks are offset by the amount of the annuity. OPM’s authority allows reemployed annuitants to earn a full salary and pension.

Other agencies can apply for this authority too.

“I have directed my staff that such requests will receive expedited review and approval in order to help agencies meet their critical mission needs,” Rigas said last Friday in a memo to agencies.

Besides dual compensation waivers for reemployed annuitants, OPM also authorized Schedule A hiring authority for agencies. The goal, Rigas said, is to allow agencies to quickly appoint new employees to excepted service positions, again, for coronavirus response.

“Agencies may appoint individuals nationwide, at any grade level. These appointments may be extended up to one additional year,” he said. “If this public health emergency or pandemic continues, agencies may also request extensions of appointments beyond 24 months from OPM on a case-by-case basis.”

Agencies can only use this authority to hire for coronavirus response, not to fill any other organizational vacancies.

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