A local branch of the largest federal employee union is demanding that the Department of Veterans Affairs grant administrative leave to employees working at a regional Philadelphia office after two employees there tested positive for the new coronavirus, COVID-19.

The American Federation of Government Employees Local 940, which represents employees of the Veterans Benefits Administration in Philadelphia, called for employees still reporting to the VBA office to be allowed to telework.

"It is appalling that VBA management still expects employees to come into the facility after there were two confirmed coronavirus cases. These employees were still walking around the facility less than two weeks ago,” said Jim Rihel, president of AFGE Local 940. “Since the announcement of the positive COVID-19 cases, the anxiety levels of already nervous employees have been through the roof.”

According to the union, VBA management allowed nonessential employees to telework. Less than two days later, employees who didn’t have adequate technology to work from home were deemed essential and told to report to the office, the union said in a news release. The office also lacks personal protective equipment, it said.

“This is nothing but a ruse to avoid granting these employees administrative leave. Until the VBA can provide these employees with the technology needed to telework, they must authorize administrative leave,” Rihel added. “The physical and mental health of these employees — who are tasked with providing critical services to veterans — should be the number one priority. How can management expect employees to come into a facility and do their best when they do not feel safe?”

The VBA provides several financial services to veterans.

The Office of Personnel Management has encouraged agencies to allow maximum telework flexibility to employees across the country, but as AFGE noted March 18, the VA has been behind in implementing the guidance.

The United States currently has the highest amount of coronavirus cases in the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has 163,539 cases.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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