The Agriculture Department has issued new policy on telework that among other things generally limits employees to two days of regularly scheduled telework per biweekly pay period, although management may approve more frequent telework on a case by case basis.

The policy, overriding one set four years ago during the Obama administration, says that “the appropriateness of the amount of telework suitable for eligible employees is ultimately a determination reserved for supervisors and managers. Decisions as to frequency of telework participation is determined by the nature of the position, duties and responsibilities, supervisory relationship, and mission criteria.”

In the recent annual government-wide report on telework, USDA reported that 58,600 of its 97,300 employees are telework-eligible and that 32,400 had teleworked in 2016. The data do not show how many telework more than two days per pay period, although they do show that about 9,600 telework three times or more a month. That report did not indicate that USDA had any concerns regarding the frequency of telework.

The policy, which has a 30-day phase in as of January 4, 2018, continues to allow for unscheduled telework in emergency, severe weather or other situations.

According to the policy, management may require employees to return to their official worksite location for mission-related purposes even on a scheduled telework day.

Labor agreements in play

The policy also states that it does not affect current labor agreements containing telework provisions unless renegotiated. So if you’re in a union and the collective bargaining agreement with the agency guarantees a certain number of telework days per pay period, then the new policy may not apply at this time. Regardless telework scheduling is usually at management’s discretion because it involves decisions on how to accomplish the mission and USDA leadership in this case has given managers and supervisors greater say.

Does this policy go too far or is it an appropriate step in the right direction for accomplishing the agency’s mission? Let us know what you think below.