Attitudes remain wary among federal employees, their organizations and some on Capitol Hill about a widescale return, once Coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted, to normal workplaces of federal employees who have been teleworking.
Guidance from the Trump administration laid out a series of standards to be met before restrictions should be lifted in general and a separate set addressed federal workplaces particular. However, many states and localities are moving toward lifting those limits even though the standards have not been met, with the tacit or explicit consent of the White House, raising questions regarding whether federal agencies will do the same.
So far it appears that the only agency that has initiated a major recall is the IRS, which brought back thousands of workers starting last week on a voluntary basis. While the agency had told returning employees to bring their own protective masks because it could not provide them, reports indicate that the agency had enough for all employees who did not have one and also had a sufficient supply of hand sanitizer and other supplies for all those who returned.
However, “there remains a fear among employees that by returning to these worksites their health is at risk along with that of their families, so they are cautious in their return,” the NTEU union said. “Among their concerns were how many employees would be there, if the buildings had been cleaned and if extra cleaning and disinfecting would be the standard moving forward. They were concerned about proper distancing from their colleagues, a lack of agency-provided personal protective equipment and performing their work in a safe environment.”
Such concerns would apply to other agencies, along with an additional concern regarding returns that are mandatory, not voluntary. OPM guidance has made clear that while they are to take employees’ reluctance—and reasons behind it—into consideration, it remains within management’s power to take “administrative action based on non-compliance with a reporting requirement.”
Democratic leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee previously voiced concerns about the steps at the IRS and several Democratic leaders on civil service matters have done the same regarding the guidance in general.