Fedweek

More Guidance on Recalls Issued but Most Employees Still Waiting Washington DC , May 2020: Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie (L) looks at a TV monitor as Chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, (D-FL) speaks at at a House Appropriations hearing on the VA response to COVID-19 on Capitol Hill, likely to be the first of many such hearings touching on pandemic issues.

Federal agencies continue to issue guidance on calling back employees to regular duty stations as pandemic-related restrictions are eased nationwide. However, most of the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who have been away from their regular worksites on telework or leave status – now for almost three months – still have not been told when they will be expected to return.

The latest recall order came from the IRS, the agency that has been in the forefront of calling back employees. According to the NTEU union, effective June 15 the IRS will be calling back certain employees in Michigan, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee and two weeks later will call back some employees in California, Indiana, Ohio, Puerto Rico and Oregon.

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The numbers are not specified to date, but as with the recall of some 10,000 employees effective last week in Utah, Texas and Kentucky, the affected employees will mainly be those who have been on paid leave because their positions do not allow for telework and will exempt those in high-risk health categories.

Nevertheless, the union said, “Employees remain anxious about the risks posed by taking public transportation, being in enclosed facilities with hundreds of coworkers and whether their work stations will be consistently and properly cleaned and disinfected.”

Many other agencies have now issued their roadmaps to recalling employees even amid continued concerns about availability of testing, protective equipment and other safety precautions for employees who have remained at their regular duty stations – many of them in settings requiring frequent in-person interactions. The House has scheduled for this week the first of what likely will be many hearings touching on those issues, focusing on the VA.

The policies largely echo guidance set earlier by OPM and OMB for a phased approach culminating in a return to regular operations in coordination with state and local government assessments of risk in an area. They envision reducing the numbers of employees teleworking at each successive stage, while leaving discretion for management to continue remote work by those with special health concerns or who have daytime child care responsibilities due to school, day care and camp closings.

The Energy Department and several other agencies have started the first phase with the recall of political appointees and certain other senior leaders, and the State Department reportedly will bring back a substantial portion of headquarters staff next week.

The EPA has signaled a possible recall soon in several regions and there is wide speculation about recalls to DoD facilities soon, now that the department has determined that most states meet its standards governing transfers of military personnel which are similar to its standards governing recalls of its civilian employees.

Meanwhile, some agencies have begun restoring some in-person services that had been suspended – most recently, burial and memorial services at most of VA cemeteries starting this week and training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Virginia – or have partially or fully reopened some facilities including some national parks.

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