Federal agency supervisors should use sick leave programs and alternative work arrangements to keep employees safe and keep the government running during major communicable disease outbreaks, officials say.

The officials, in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), discuss possible changes to federal worker absence and leave policies in a proposed rule published today in the Federal Register.

One section governs use of ordinar sick leave and “advanced sick leave” for serious communicable diseases, including pandemic influenza when appropriate.

OPM wants to let an agency to grant accrued or accumulated sick leave to an employee providing care for a family member who has been exposed to a serious communicable disease, and to let an agency advance sick leave when an employee or a family member has been exposed to a serious communicable disease.

The disease exposure family care provision would apply “when it has been determined by the health authorities having jurisdiction or by a health care provider that the family member’s presence in the community would jeopardize the health of others because of the family member’s exposure to a communicable disease, whether or not the family member has actually contracted the communicable disease,” OPM officials say in a preamble to the proposed regulations. “In general, this situation would only arise for serious communicable diseases, such as communicable diseases where federal isolation and quarantine are authorized under Executive Order 13295, as amended by Executive Order 13375…”, consistent with 42 U.S.C.

The current federal list of communicable diseases for which federal isolation and quarantine are authorized includes cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow fever, viral hemorrhagic fevers, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and influenza that causes or has the potential to cause a pandemic, officials say.

“This list provides types of diseases that result in federal quarantine and may be revised by the president as the need arises,” officials say. “As a result, this list of diseases is illustrative and not exhaustive.”

The regulations, which take effect Jan. 3, 2011, also would give an eligible employee up to 26 administrative work weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a member of the armed forces who was injured in the line of duty while on active duty.