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Introduction

The Department of State is committed to addressing essential work requirements consistent with the best public health practices. As the United States’ lead foreign affairs agency with personnel and facilities in nearly every country in the world, we recognize the unique challenges of protecting our global workforce while ensuring their continued ability to promote U.S. interests, protect national security, and advance the President’s foreign policy agenda. Our paramount concern is the health and safety of the entire Department workforce at home and overseas including other agency personnel at post, the career workforce, contractors, and Locally Employed Staff. We are committed to taking a safe, cautious, iterative, data-driven approach as we consider bringing people into shared workspaces and as we continue to protect our employees who currently must come into the workplace. Our COVID-19 response efforts align with the Executive Order (EO) requirements for ensuring a safe workplace and are based on expert guidance from public health and infectious disease experts.

Goal

Personnel health and safety is our highest priority. The goal of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan is to minimize risk, reduce transmission, keep the federal workplace safe, and accomplish the critical work of the federal government. This applies to the Department workforce in the broadest sense (Department employees, onsite contractors, and any other individuals, including visitors), both domestically and overseas in all Department facilities owned, rented, or leased, to include communal spaces in residential compounds.

Background

The Department currently has a robust COVID-19 decision-making framework known as “Diplomacy Strong.” The framework is a conditions-based, location specific decision-making framework, based on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (MED), and other leading practices from federal agencies. It also considers local governments’ responses and references public health data and key local conditions. Conditions are defined by three phases with corresponding operational postures.

The Department updated the framework to align with the guidelines in the Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce, E.O. 13991, and OMB Guidance in M-21-15 ‘COVID-19 Safe Federal Workplace: Agency Model Safety Principles, and adjusted, as appropriate, for its mission requirements. The updated guidance aligns occupancy density and onsite presence to the position’s mission criticality, while prioritizing safety. The Department’s guidance enables supervisors to assess safety and function criticality more objectively and to implement it in a transparent and consistent manner. We will continue to reassess the framework over time and update it as conditions continue to evolve.

Health and Safety

Telework and Remote Work

Personnel will be given advance notice and guidance before being required to return to any office if currently working from home in accordance with Department policy. The Department will evaluate functions that may require onsite work (such as access to classified systems, security of facilities, or infrastructure). The Department will continue to maximize telework except for essential mission critical functions requiring onsite presence, with a current goal of at least 75% telework. As community transmission metrics and other factors like mission priorities change or the Department receives further guidance from OMB, the White House, or CDC, the Department will transition to an operating posture where management has full flexibility for onsite presence optimized with telework to achieve mission objectives. The Department prioritizes workforce safety and density to consistently implement conditions for a safe workplace while continuing to meet the Department’s needs.

COVID-19 Coordination Team (CCT)

The Department established a CCT per the EO to implement its COVID-19 workforce safety plan. The CCT will set, implement, and monitor a) safety protocols for physical space and b) conditions for onsite and remote working. Additionally, the team meets regularly to review compliance with protocols, potential revisions to protocols, and any other operational needs. Where appropriate, the team will also coordinate with the General Services Administration (GSA) to align with CDC cleaning and disinfection processes and procedures and provide sufficient protective equipment and other necessary supplies. These protocols follow the below principles.

Face Masks

Domestic and Overseas: All federal employees, on-site contractors, and any other individuals including visitors entering a federal building who have not been fully vaccinated must wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth and is in accordance with CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance, and Department policy. The Department will reinforce this through the posting of Department-approved signage that encourages both mask-wearing and physical distancing in work and common areas. Exceptions made will be consistent with CDC guidelines. Additionally, accommodations will be made for individuals with required documentation consistent with Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC)  requirements.

Testing

Overseas and Domestic: Currently testing is performed by MED for mission critical domestic and overseas official travel and for individuals who report a post contact event for a known COVID-19 positive case. The Department will continue with existing testing protocols until further guidance on surveillance testing of the workforce is received from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force.

Contact Tracing

Overseas and Domestic: MED currently conducts contact tracing globally, the results of which are part of the Diplomacy Strong medical stage gate criteria for phase progressions. In line with the EO and OMB guidance, Medical personnel work closely with leadership to coordinate any infection control and workplace safety efforts once informed of a COVID-19 case (either due to symptoms or positive test). This coordination also includes consultation with state and local public health officials, as appropriate and applicable.

Travel

Overseas and Domestic: Travel for official business and personal travel should follow guidance available at the GSA COVID-19 Information Site and the CDC Travel Information Site . The Department will assess how changes in travel and any associated mandatory quarantine can be implemented appropriately. Private transport is preferred to use of public or other communal transportation when possible.

Symptom Monitoring

Overseas and Domestic: When Federal employees, onsite contractors, or visitors do not feel well, they should stay home and not enter any Department facility. All onsite personnel are required to complete a self-screening for symptoms  daily. Diplomacy Strong provides a framework for monitoring symptoms in the workforce.

Quarantine and Isolation

Overseas and Domestic: The Department will continue to review and strengthen written quarantine and isolation materials, including for personal travel, as the CDC updates its guidelines (When to Quarantine, Isolate If You Are Sick), and in keeping with local laws and regulations.

Confidentiality

Overseas and Domestic: All medical information collected from personnel, including test results and any other information obtained as a result of testing and symptom monitoring, will continue to be treated confidentially in accordance with applicable laws and regulations (e.g., the Rehabilitation Act and the implementing regulations of the EEOC). It will be accessible only to those with a need to know in order to protect the health and safety of personnel.

Reasonable Accommodation

An employee with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation when necessary to facilitate the employee performing the essential functions of the job. A reasonable accommodation is a change in the work environment that enables the employee with a disability to have equal employment opportunities. Removal of an essential function of the employee’s position is not a reasonable accommodation. GTM’s Office of Accessibility and Accommodations, Disability and Reasonable Accommodation Division (GTM/OAA/DRAD) is the Department’s designated decision-maker on all reasonable accommodation requests. The Department’s policy and procedures regarding reasonable accommodations are set forth in 3 FAM 3670 . For more information about reasonable accommodations, see please visit GTM’s Reasonable Accommodations site  or contact ReasonableAccommodations@state.gov.

Wellness Resources

The Department recognizes employees may be experiencing loss, increased anxiety, and stress because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Department provides a number of resources to help with work/life balance, coping, grief, resiliency, and other topics. The Office of Employee Consultation Services (ECS) provides free and confidential support services to assist Foreign Service Officers, Civil Service Employees and eligible family members who may be experiencing professional or personal life challenges. Many resources such as ECS, WorkLife4You, and others, can be found on the TalentCare sharepoint. 

Workplace Operations

Occupancy

Overseas and Domestic: The Department will evaluate building occupancy in relation to community transmission metrics (as recommended by the CDC) as well as the physical infrastructure available to keep workers safe consistent with federal guidelines. The CCT provides guidance for supervisors to assess functions that must be performed onsite and help develop a staffing plan that outlines which employees will work onsite full-time, occasionally, or fully remotely.

Physical Distancing

Overseas and Domestic: The Department will continue to maintain physical distancing in its facilities and has more explicitly defined the minimum safe physical distance as at least 6 feet, including in offices, conference rooms, and all other communal workspaces. Additionally, the Department is revising guidance to be consistent with EO 13991 and M-21-15 by requiring both physical distancing and masks, not one or the other, and will reinforce these requirements through the posting of Department-approved signage that encourages both mask-wearing and physical distancing in work and common areas. The Department also has toolkits and a best practices guide to assist the workforce with decision-making about their spaces.

Environmental Cleaning

Overseas and Domestic: The Diplomacy Strong framework outlines enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols for high touch areas in common areas.  Department guidelines follow CDC and EPA guidance, requiring posts and facilities to disinfect interior spaces routinely and pro-actively, along with ensuring an effective and confidential way for personnel and/or their bureaus to communicate confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 exposure in the workplace to the Department designated POC for potential disinfection. On April 5, 2021, the CDC announced that “If there has been a sick person who someone who tested positive for COVID-19 in your facility within the last 24 hours, you should clean and disinfect the space.” This 24-hour recommendation significantly shortened CDC’s recommended disinfection period. Our previous protocol has been to disinfect if a positive case was reported within the last 7 days. In order to abide by and exceed the CDC’s guidelines, the Department has updated our protocols to work with a specialized service contractor or GSA to arrange for a thorough, professional cleaning and disinfection per CDC and EPA guidelines when an individual who tested positive has been in a workplace within the last three days.

Hygiene

Overseas and Domestic: All entrants to Department facilities should have taken their temperature within the past 24 hours and not be running a fever of 100.4 ˚F or more. The Department recommends frequent handwashing in the workplace, which is reinforced through posters throughout the building. Hand sanitizer stations should be available at all facility entrances and in workspaces where hand washing is not available. To further augment protections provided by face masks and physical distancing, the Department’s guidance recommends use of supplemental high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to expedite the purification of air in areas of concern.

Ventilation and Air Filtration

Overseas: Buildings built after 2001 with mechanical ventilation were designed to standards set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Condition Engineers (ASHRAE). As possible, ventilation in older buildings has been enhanced by increasing exhaust and/or installing interior air purifiers with HEPA filters, and the Department funded the upgrade of air handlers to improve positive outward airflow at posts in such buildings.

Domestic: The Department has increased the exchange of outside air within delegated domestic facilities, and where possible has increased total airflow to occupied spaces. Recently, the Department has reviewed the applicability of measures the ASHRAE has proposed for consideration. Generally, the existing domestic ventilation systems are sufficient when operated and maintained normally.

Local Visitors

Overseas: Diplomacy Strong details a visitor policy that requires Chief of Mission approval, masks, a screening checklist, and confirmation of temperature. Department guidance provides a recommended visitor checklist, including CDC screening questions and queuing signs, for overseas public spaces in U.S. embassies and consulates. The guidance includes signage designed to discourage congregating and encourage physical separation.

Domestic: Diplomacy Strong details a visitor policy that requires Assistant Secretary approval, masks for individuals who are not fully vaccinated, a screening checklist, and confirmation of temperature. Department hosts for visitors are expected to gain approval from their Assistant Secretary and are responsible for ensuring visitors follow Department policy. The Department maintains signage at entrances specifying the Phase and requirements for visitors to the facility.

Staggered Work Times and Cohort-Based Scheduling

Overseas and Domestic: The Diplomacy Strong framework and telework guidance encourages personnel to stagger work times to reduce density, minimize traffic volume in elevators, and avoid crowds during commuting. Supervisors currently work with their teams to identify mission critical work and align it to the appropriate shift schedules. Department leadership will strengthen this guidance, clarify parameters, and reiterate it through broad communications to all overseas posts and domestic facilities.

Shared Spaces

Overseas and Domestic: The Department provides written guidance that requires maintaining 6 feet of physical distance between all occupants of shared spaces, in line with CDC guidance: Social Distancing (cdc.gov), as well as the wearing of masks within such spaces. Recommendations include posts erect signage in all shared spaces, including on the floors and in elevator lobbies and cars, to encourage physical distancing and discourage congregating. There is no specific limit on elevator occupancy, based on the premise that there is an extremely low risk of infection during the very limited exposure. The Department provides guidance on the cleaning and disinfection of shared tools and equipment by users between users. The Diplomacy Strong framework also provides guidance for special shared places, such as gyms and cafeterias.

Engagement with Unions

The Department of State COVID-19 Workforce Safety Plan has been shared with all three of the Department’s unions that have National Consultation Rights for comment, and the unions provided comments that the Department took under consideration in finalizing this Workforce Safety Plan. The unions will continue to be given the opportunity to review updates to the safety plan and negotiate impact and implementation, if and as appropriate. The unions’ feedback will be considered when the Department develops policy and implementation plans.

U.S. Department of State

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