Fedweek

Washington DC - July 30 2021: White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks to reporters during a press briefing at the White House about the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus and updated CDC mask guidance. Image: Shutterstock

There still has been no word from the Biden administration regarding the status of revisions to agency workplace operational plans, amid a growing belief that implementation will be delayed by the resurgence in Coronavirus cases.

Those so-called “reentry” plans, which were due to OMB July 19, cover telework, alternative working schedules and other topics of interest to all potentially affected employees—and especially so for those with school-age children trying to make personal plans with the start of a new school year now just ahead.

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Several agencies have confirmed that their plans call for a return to official duty stations, at least for a certain number of days per pay period, of many employees who have been working offsite. That was to begin in the September-October timeframe, with increases in numbers of affected employees phased in over several months.

However, the general instructions for crafting those plans were issued in June following a substantial decrease from earlier in the year in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Largely due to the “delta variant,” those numbers have reversed direction in recent weeks—sharply, in some parts of the country with low vaccination rates—calling into question the assumptions in effect when they were written.

That increase already has resulted in the Biden administration changing direction in several ways. It has reimposed, in certain conditions, mask wearing and physical distancing requirements it had loosened for fully vaccinated employees in May. The administration’s latest policy change also requires employees to disclose whether they are fully vaccinated, after earlier telling agencies they could ask but could not require employees to answer.

Also, guidance on the new policy notably changes direction on the issue of building occupancy limits, which can effectively act as a requirement for a certain level of offsite working.

It tells agencies that they “may establish occupancy limits for specific workplaces as a means of facilitating physical distancing. Note that by reducing the number of people in a space, occupancy limits also increase the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning delivery of outdoor air per person.” That reflects the higher rate of transmission through the air of the delta variant and is in contrast to the lifting in June of a prior general building occupancy limit of 25 percent.

Even amid the resurgence, pressure continues, mostly from Republicans, to return more employees to their regular workplaces. House Republicans last week stalled a vote on a Democratic-sponsored bill to impose a separate set of safety and disclosure requirements before returning employees from maximum telework.

However, House Democrats did include language in a spending bill passed last week to require that agencies allow telework-eligible employees to do so if “the health or safety of an employee is in question.”

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2022 Federal Employees Handbook