New DoD guidance on “reentry” to regular workplaces encourages components to continue higher levels of telework than before the pandemic but largely leaves the details, including timing, to them.

“Continuation of flexibilities used during the COVID-19 pandemic increases the DoD’s efficiency and effectiveness, as well as allows the department to better attract and retain those with the necessary skills and abilities needed to accomplish current and future missions,” says a memo from deputy secretary Kathleen Hicks.

She added that in listening sessions last year, officials “overwhelmingly heard concerns for a safe and healthy work environment and a desire for leaders to reimagine the ‘future of work’ while promoting an inclusive culture regardless of worksite or status.”

Says the memo, “Some DoD civilian employees have been on full-time telework (with remote work treated as telework for the purposes of this memorandum) since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and have not returned to the workplace other than on a de minimis basis. Other DoD civilian employees have had work schedules that differ from their organization’s regular schedules, such as shift work to maintain physical distancing or a flexible schedule related to dependent care.”

“Supervisors must begin discussions with civilian employees in these two categories to make plans for their work locations and work schedules going forward. Specific reentry plans will be dependent on organizational needs, the Health Protection Condition framework, and force health protection guidance,” it says.

The memo is the one of the few such documents released publicly in the weeks since the White House referred to an expected widescale return in April to regular workplaces by those who are continuing to work offsite exclusively or almost so. The SSA previously had announced increased employee presence in its field offices, taking effect over the next few weeks, while the EPA more recently entered into a memo of agreement with the AFGE union setting terms for returns starting no sooner than early May.

While such decisions are largely up to individual agencies, the Pentagon memo is notable if only because DoD is the government’s largest employer. However, it did not commit to a general reentry within any particular timeframe, saying only that except for compelling mission-related reasons, employees are to be given at least 30 days of advance notice before their working arrangements are to be changed. No such notice will be needed for employees who have been working on regular schedules onsite, it added.

Further, while DoD has met its obligations to consult with unions on a national level, “Components must satisfy labor relations obligations at the various levels of exclusive recognition where such obligations exist. If components choose to stagger final reentry based upon completion of negotiations, components will disseminate updated local guidance, to include information regarding the final reentry of bargaining unit employees, and initiate the final reentry of bargaining unit employees in accordance with negotiated agreements.”

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