Following are the key portions of recent OPM guidance regarding telework and dependent care.
The intent of this guidance on telework and dependent care is to provide Federal agencies with the appropriate tools to serve a contemporary workforce in a manner that meets the needs of employees while being responsive to agency mission requirements. The focus is on the use of telework as a workplace flexibility to support employees with caregiving responsibilities, especially minor children and/or adult dependents for whom an employee provides services essential to their health, well-being, and/or activities of daily living. Adult care includes, but is not limited to, elder care.
The official definition of telework can be found in the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (“the Act”): “the term ‘telework’ or ‘teleworking’ refers to a work flexibility arrangement under which an employee performs the duties and responsibilities of such employee’s position, and other authorized activities, from an approved worksite other than the location from which the employee would otherwise work” [5 U.S.C. 6501(3)]. In practice, telework is a work arrangement that allows an employee to perform work, during any part of the employee’s regular, paid duty hours, at an approved alternative worksite.
The Federal Government is a leader in the use of innovative workplace flexibilities, including telework. In order to attract and retain a talented, engaged, and productive workforce, the Federal Government recognizes the importance of family and is committed to assisting Federal employees in balancing their work and family responsibilities. When an agency permits an employee to use leave and other workplace flexibilities to improve work-life balance, the agency is fostering goodwill that can improve its ability to recruit good candidates for vacant positions and strengthen retention of the existing workforce. Although Federal telework programs began more than a decade ago as an effort to address transportation concerns, a current important focus is using telework as an important strategic management tool that helps agencies better meet mission and operational needs. Additionally, telework has become an important flexibility that enhances work-life balance and improves morale for many Federal employees, thereby making the Federal Government a more attractive prospective employer.
Used appropriately, telework, along with other workplace flexibilities, can facilitate the management of work and dependent care. However, it is important to remember that telework is not meant to be a substitute for dependent care. Employees may not telework with the intent of or for the sole purpose of meeting their dependent care responsibilities while performing official duties. While performing official duties, teleworkers are expected to arrange for dependent care just as they would if they were working in the office.
Telework and Dependent Care
While telework is not a substitute for dependent care, it can be a very valuable flexibility to employees with caregiving responsibilities, by eliminating time required to commute and expanding employees’ choices as to dependent care. Agencies and managers should recognize that employees use a variety of dependent care options, including agency on-site child care centers to ensure close proximity to young children as well as home-based supervision or child care arrangements (e.g., nanny, in-home babysitting by a family member or friend), which may be more cost effective or convenient. For teleworkers with in-home dependent care arrangements, it is important to remember that telework is official work time and a tool for accomplishing work. Employees are reminded that while teleworking, all workplace policies remain in place, including telework start/end times, rules regarding time and attendance, and employee expectations concerning performance and conduct.
An in-home dependent care arrangement may pose unique challenges for teleworkers that must be appropriately managed to monitor whether employees are able to successfully telework without jeopardizing work performance. While the presence of dependents in the household should not be an absolute bar to teleworking, employees should not be engaging in dependent care activities when performing official duties. While an occasional, brief interruption may occur when a dependent is present in the home, teleworkers must be careful to keep interruptions to a minimum to avoid disruptions in work accomplishment.
In the event the level of care needed for a dependent prevents or significantly disrupts work accomplishment, teleworkers should notify their supervisors as soon as possible about the situation preventing the teleworker from continuing work. Teleworkers should then request approval for appropriate leave while performing dependent care responsibilities. Failure to comply with the terms of the telework agreement, or diminishment in the employee’s performance could result in suspension or even termination of an employee’s telework agreement.
Telework as a Temporary Short-term Workplace Flexibility to Support Employee Efforts to Address Work and Dependent Care Needs
While performing official duties, teleworkers are expected to have dependent care arrangements in place when teleworking from an approved alternate worksite. However, there may be unplanned or temporary circumstances (e.g., an unscheduled telework day in which schools are closed) when telework may be an appropriate short-term workplace flexibility for employees with caregiving responsibilities. These short-term temporary circumstances should represent the exception and not the rule.
In these short-term temporary telework situations, there can be a dual benefit for both the agency and the employee. Provided the employee has a telework agreement in place and is telework-ready, the agency/manager can exercise discretion in determining whether an employee can accomplish at least some part of his or her duties from the telework site in such a situation. The focus should remain on the work, while striking a balance with the employee’s caregiving responsibilities. In effect, the employee could be allowed to telework during the time he or she is not responsible for dependent care responsibilities and be required to take appropriate leave while performing dependent care responsibilities. There can be clear benefits to the agency when managers support employee efforts to accomplish at least a portion of scheduled work instead of taking leave for the entire work day.
Child care or elder care arrangements that require increased levels of care may require more manager-employee communication about possible flexible work options (e.g., a change in work schedule or the use of leave during periods in which the employee is actively engaged in dependent care responsibilities). Open communication and good performance management are critical to implementing an effective telework policy. The benefits of such telework flexibility enhance employee work-life balance and can support agency continuity of operations and agency mission accomplishment. In addition, supporting work-life balance through telework can indirectly result in significant benefits for agencies in the areas of recruitment, retention and employee engagement.
Telework for Elder Care
As indicated above, telework provides employees the flexibility to better manage their work, family, and personal responsibilities. Under an agency’s telework policy, an employee may be permitted to work at home or at another worksite. Telework may also be used in conjunction with leave or other workplace flexibilities and can provide employees with valuable additional time for elder care responsibilities by reducing commuting time or by allowing employees to temporarily care for a family member who resides in a different geographic location.
Temporary Agreement for Working in a Different Geographic Location
In an appropriate situation, an authorized agency official has the discretion to grant an exception to the physical reporting requirement on a temporary basis. An example of an appropriate situation might be an employee’s need to spend time away from his or her worksite to help attend to a health crisis involving an elderly family member in a different geographic location. As is the case for any arrangement involving work at an alternative work site, work from a temporary location away from an employee’s official worksite should be accompanied by a written agreement that spells out expectations. The authority to make the exception is intended for temporary arrangements, and a short-term need that becomes extended should trigger a reassessment by the agency, focused upon whether the agency is willing to have the employee continue to perform work in a different location as a remote worker. Serving as a remote worker has implications for the employee’s official worksite.
For additional guidance on the use of telework for Elder Care, please refer to OPM’s “Handbook on Workplace Flexibilities and Work-Life Programs for Elder Care” available at: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/leave-administration/fact-sheets/handbook-on-workplace-flexibilities-and-work-life-programs-for-elder-care.pdf
Telework Following Childbirth, Adoption, or Foster Care
A variety of workplace flexibilities, including telework, can be useful to employees during the period following childbirth, adoption or foster care. Telework is a valuable tool that can be used when an employee transitions back to work after the birth of a child. Telework is often used in conjunction with leave during the transition period between childbirth and the return to full-time official duties. Telework must be approved by the employee’s supervisor based on the agency telework policy and the ability of the employee to accomplish his or her work.
Expectations to Consider in a Telework Agreement Related to Childbirth Recovery
Requests for telework related to an employee’s recovery from childbirth or care for a family member recovering from childbirth and transitioning back to work should be accompanied by a formal written telework agreement that summarizes expectations. Such telework agreements should, for example, outline a work schedule that indicates the days and hours of the week the employee will be working, outline any additional requirements (e.g., technology needs) beyond those specified by law, clarify any assumptions regarding frequency and modes of communication (e.g., email vs. telephone, core hours of contact, speed or expected timeframe for returning calls and emails) and establish terms under which the agreement can be modified or terminated.
It is important for the manager and the employee to establish a dialogue to determine whether the employee can accomplish at least some part of his or her duties in a telework situation while caring for a newborn. The focus should be on striking a balance between the employee’s work and caregiving responsibilities, and using telework and appropriate leave options. This open dialogue should occur throughout the transition period.
For additional guidance on the use of telework and other paid leave following childbirth, adoption or foster care, please refer to OPM’s “Handbook on Leave and Workplace Flexibilities for Childbirth, Adoption, and Foster Care” available at: http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/leave-administration/fact-sheets/handbook-on-leave-and-workplace-flexibilities-for-childbirth-adoption-and-foster-care.pdf.
Break Time for Nursing Mothers at Telework Site
Telework can be a useful flexible work arrangement that complements and augments an agency’s existing workplace accommodation program for employees who are nursing mothers. Consistent with the requirements of section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [Pub. L. 111-148], Federal agencies should provide a reasonable amount of break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for up to 1 year after the child’s birth. This rule would apply whether the employee is working from the traditional office worksite or an approved alternate worksite.
While the law does not require agencies to compensate nursing mothers for breaks taken for the purpose of expressing milk, many agencies already provide compensated breaks (e.g., 15 minutes in morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon) that employees can use for any purpose. Where agencies already provide such compensated breaks, a teleworking employee who uses that break time to express milk must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for such break time.
For additional guidance on the use of telework as one flexible workplace accommodation for nursing mothers, please see: http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/worklife/reference-materials/nursing-mother-guide.pdf.