Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to phase out leave options in place for pandemic
By HADLEY BARNDOLLAR | Portsmouth Herald, N.H. | Published: June 22, 2020
KITTERY, Maine (Tribune News Service) – Portsmouth Naval Shipyard will soon phase out various administrative leave options for high-risk and immuno-compromised individuals, originally granted by the Department of Defense in March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
All four U.S. public shipyards will begin the process of phasing out such leaves beginning June 24, said PNSY Cmdr. Capt. Daniel Ettlich. At PNSY, a phased approach is planned with supervisors who were previously on "weather and safety" leave returning first.
"This will allow them to acclimate to the various employee protections we have invoked at the shipyard and to help prepare to welcome the remainder of employees previously on weather and safety leave back on yard Monday, June 29," Ettlich said.
The change does not prevent any employee from requesting to use other forms of leave, including leave authorized through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, annual leave, advance annual leave, sick leave, or leave without pay, Ettlich noted.
"Flexibilities are still afforded to many employees who are able to perform mission-critical work via telework," he said. "If you are in the higher risk of infection category and are considering taking leave because of a pre-existing condition, liberal leave is authorized from June 24 to July 11."
In March, the DOD and Navy took a series of actions to protect workers at PNSY and other shipyards, which included permitting administrative leave for workers who have family members with pre-existing health conditions based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, as well as for workers who were sick or symptomatic in order to minimize the risk to other shipyard employees.
However, in April, the DOD changed how employees were able to use administrative leave, requiring those who were sick or symptomatic or who live with at-risk members in their household with pre-existing health conditions to start using their own accrued sick leave or annual leave. The policy change prompted a reaction from the New Hampshire and Maine federal delegations.
Ettlich said currently, rates of COVID-19 at the country's four public shipyards are down to one-quarter of the national average.
"This proven safety track record and data-driven conditions at the shipyards has led to a coordinated decision among NAVSEA, fleet commanders, and the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition to begin the process of ending use of weather and safety leave for shipyard employees who are in the higher risk of infection category," he said.
With the policy change, Ettlich noted "hundreds" will be returning to the shipyard over the next few weeks, many of whom have been off yard for months.
"We can support our returning teammates by helping them understand and see the changes and best practices we've put in place to minimize the spread and maximize the mission," he said, noting physical dividers throughout the workplace, increased cleaning, emphasis on hand washing and cough etiquette, daily health screening, staying home when sick, sanitation and hand washing stations, staggered work shifts and lunch times, and wearing of cloth face masks.
"Despite shipyards having COVID-19 rates significantly less than the national average, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent with these mitigations," Ettlich said. "These efforts must continue to be followed as they enhance our safety posture and minimize the risk of spread."
On June 1, PNSY began a phased approach to returning its on-base workforce back to full strength, as a large percentage of employees had been working from home since the onset of the coronavirus. Phase 1 included "healthy employees" who had been working from home conducting non-essential remote work.
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