Federal agencies are returning to office with telecommuting

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The federal government, as the country’s largest employer, has faced a significant challenge in protecting the health and safety of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like private-sector employers, the immediate response from the federal government included a dramatic shift toward telecommuting. In partnership with state, local, tribal and territorial governments and the private sector, the federal government is increasing government operations to the maximum extent possible, based on local conditions and consistent with Presidential guidelines for reopening America.

As federal agencies increase the hours of publicly accessible offices for in-person appointments and services, they must comply with the safety principles of the Safer Federal Workforce Model and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for measuring community-level impacts ensuring COVID-19 disease impact on health and health systems, and consulting other applicable guidance.

In addition, having demonstrated their ability to effectively conduct agency missions during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, agencies can now strategically transition to a hybrid work environment, leveraging telecommuting and remote work (which, as discussed, are different agreements in the federal government). below) to better meet human capital needs and improve mission accomplishment in the future.

Agency COVID-19 Occupational Safety Plans

Applicable Legal Framework

Reopening a workplace after a public health emergency implies laws and policies of many government agencies and agencies. Federal agencies returning to the office, in particular, need to keep up to date with the CDC recommendations and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) COVID-19-specific guidance (non-binding). At the same time, they must ensure employment free from recognized hazards that could result in death or serious bodily harm. Agencies must also comply with the Office of Personnel Management’s policies and the laws it administers for covered employees. Finally, agencies must consider Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance regarding COVID-19, the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other EEO statutes.

What occupational safety protocols should government agencies implement?

In implementing workplace health and safety protocols, federal agencies should:

  • Access to setup readiness
  • Clean and disinfect workplace
  • Ensuring compliance with Safer Federal Workforce guidelines on immunizations
  • Review and update agency’s COVID-19 testing plan
  • Follow CDC protocols for quarantine and isolation
  • Adjust masking and screening protocols as needed
  • Review and evaluate agency facility visitor procedures and alternative procedures as needed

(See, Federal Sector Employees Return to the Physical Workplace (Checklist).

Federal agency reshuffle returns to office

Agencies can effectively and efficiently use HR policies such as telecommuting and remote work as strategic management tools to attract, retain and engage talent. These guidelines help advance agencies’ missions related to nationwide job changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and to respond to long-term workforce trends.

Review of federal telecommuting programs

Teleworking is not a new phenomenon in federal public employment. The use of telecommuting as an alternative work arrangement in the federal government began in the 1970s. enacted December 9, 2010, establishes roles, responsibilities and expectations for federal agencies. Although employees and managers may use the terms “telecommuting” or “distance work” interchangeably, they are different work arrangements in the federal government, with different legal frameworks and policy implications.

In practice, teleworking is a working arrangement that allows workers to have regularly scheduled days to telework (work from another location) and regularly scheduled days to work at the agency’s workplace. This is comparable to the current trend towards “hybrid working” that can be observed in many private workplaces. Agencies may permit workers to engage in telework on a routine or situational basis in accordance with the law, after fulfilling relevant collective bargaining obligations. In considering a potential expansion of the agency’s telecommuting program, it is important to note that a robust and well-implemented nationwide telecommuting program improves employee performance and engagement, and supports mission productivity and efficiency.

Create a remote work policy

Remote work has become more common in organizations of all sizes in recent years. More than a quarter of US employers are offering remote work arrangements, and this trend continues to grow as private and public organizations reassess the effectiveness of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal agencies returning to the office may want to explore expanded remote work options as a strategy to fulfill the agency’s mission to attract and retain a talented and skilled workforce. Remote work arrangements can help agencies hire new employees with hard-to-find skills or retain current employees who want to relocate.

However, remote work arrangements require conscious thought and planning as they pose logistical and political issues, including reallocation of official work place, which affect pay and travel expenses, which can create certain disincentives for agencies. Based on the policies and cost implications of telecommuting agreements, agencies should emphasize the cost-effectiveness and business benefits to the agency when establishing a telecommuting policy.

(phey, Checklist for hybrid work in the federal sector).

What are the next steps for federal agencies returning to the office?

Agencies should consider using workplace flexibilities, including telework, remote work and alternative/flexible working hours, as tools to attract, hire and retain the best possible workforce. When revising or adopting telecommuting and remote work policies, government agencies should pay particular attention to lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic when planning strategic workforce planning. Agencies also need to consider including remote workers in their Continuity of Government Plans (COOP) to deploy additional staff to perform critical tasks during a COOP event.

Learn about the complexities and rules surrounding federal employees returning to the physical workplace in this webcast.

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