On June 10, the Biden administration announced that federal agencies will move forward with employees working both in person and from home. In the announcement note released by the agency heads of the Office of Management and Budget, Office of Personnel Management, and General Services Administration, the administration offered federal agencies an overview of the how they will need to approach returning to the physical workplace while maintaining remote working capabilities, as well as other workplace procedures in post-pandemic America.
The move to fully implement telecommuting and other remote employment options comes at an interesting time, with Covid-19 infection rates continuing to decline. Going forward, this is a huge change for federal agencies, as they now have the ability to be more flexible with hybrid and fully remote setups for their employees.
President Biden said in the announcement that as a model employer, the federal government should work to ensure the health, safety, and physical and mental well-being of all employees.
‘Maximum teleworking flexibilities’
One of the most significant updates is that the Federal Government has announced that its operating status is open with “maximum telework flexibilities for all employees currently eligible to telework, in accordance with guidance from agency heads “.
Although there is no strict percentage of the proportion of the workforce eligible or not to telecommute, in general, if a position had to work on site during the pandemic, such as guards of the Federal Bureau of Prisons or FBI agents, he would probably still be unable to telecommute. A recent OPM report indicates that before the pandemic, only 3% of employees telecommuted daily, “but this number increased significantly during the peak of the pandemic, when a record 59% of employees telecommuted daily.”
The decision to continue using telework after the pandemic is a huge change for the federal government, which has historically lagged its private sector counterparts in offering remote and hybrid work arrangements. Federal agencies are now positioned to compete with private sector employers since, according to the announcement, “[a]Agency leaders can leverage issues such as telecommuting, remote working and flexible work hours as tools in their broader talent recruitment and retention strategies, and to advance diversity, equity , Inclusion and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce,”
The Biden administration is also encouraging agencies to train “managers on how to manage hybrid team performance fairly and equitably.” This confirms the federal government’s commitment to becoming a model employer in post-Covid-19 America. One of the biggest concerns of any employer, federal or private, is whether productivity will be affected by employees telecommuting.
With employees given the option to work from home, the federal government is taking the initiative to prevent supervisors from favoring employees who come to the office by “educating supervisors that an employee’s performance appraisal should be based on factors such as accountability for results or quality of work, and should not be affected by whether an employee works in the office, telecommutes, is remotely based or works flexible hours.
Through proper training and the development of new cultural norms, the federal government hopes to promote equity among employees, regardless of their work situation, as well as protect their work-life balance.
Leaders must submit a reintegration plan
Additionally, the memo notes a departure from the previous 25% capacity limit in federal buildings. However, before agencies begin bringing more employees back into the physical workspace, agency leaders will need to submit a reintegration plan to the federal Workforce Safety Task Force and ensure they meet all applicable collective bargaining obligations.
Some of the considerations the task force will take into account when reviewing reintegration plans are how agencies will:
- Integrate learning from the experiences of employees and supervisors;
- Ensure consistent approaches across agencies for staggered timelines for the reintegration of employees returning to the physical workplace that take into account labor relations obligations and the provision of sufficient advance notice to affected employees;
- Address government-wide telecommuting and remote work policies, as well as flexible working hours, compensation, leave, performance management, and other personnel policies;
- Train and support employees and supervisors; and
- Consider effects on: federal workspaces and real property; technology and information technology (IT) needs; local contractors; and local communities.
The task force has required a draft of these plans by June 18 and expects final plans to be submitted to the OMB by July 19. Additionally, it is strongly recommended that agencies provide 30 days notice to any employee who will have a modified work schedule or return to the office.
Overall, this announcement serves as a guide for federal agencies seeking to safely return to a new post-Covid-19 normal. The remote work landscape has changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic, and with this new direction, Biden seeks to restore some of the trust lost during the pandemic by striking a balance between offering agencies the freedom to make individual decisions to return at work and offer employees the flexibility of working from home.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
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Stephanie Rapp-Tully is a partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC. She focuses on federal labor and employment law, including cases involving violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the ADA, and the Age Discrimination Act in the United States. use. She represents employees before the federal district and circuit courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.