A new bipartisan bill has been offered in the Senate, the latest of a series of efforts from civil service leaders in Congress keep up the high rates of telework as some agencies have continued remote workers back to their regular worksites despite the continuing pandemic.
The measure (S-4518) would require that agencies allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time for the duration of the public health emergency, a requirement that could be waived only if the agency cites a “compelling reason for the waiver that relates to the effective operation of the federal government.”
Agencies further would have to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be made telework-eligible and develop a plan to maximize telework in the event of a future public health emergency for an infectious disease. The bill also would clarify that the Technology Modernization Fund can be used for telework-related IT and would require that managers and supervisors, including political appointees, receive training on telework and management of a remote workforce.
Federal unions endorsed the bill, with the AFGE union saying “it is imperative that all federal agencies continue to maximize their use of telework for the duration of the coronavirus emergency.” Said the NTEU union, “While most agencies where we represent employees are smartly keeping their maximum telework policies in place, we are starting to see some managers try and push teleworkers back into the office too soon, increasing the risk of spreading the virus in the workplace or on public transportation.”
Similar language was attached to a House-passed pandemic relief bill (HR-6800) that stalled in the Senate. In introducing the Senate measure, sponsors noted their positions on key committees including the Appropriations Committee, potentially suggesting a move to attach it to a must-pass future bill such as a funding measure for the fiscal year that starts in October.