Fedweek

OPM headquarters in Washington, DC

The Trump administration has continued to send mixed messages on telework and flexible working schedules for federal employees, with OPM once again advocating their use while another major agency acted to cut them back.

OPM’s latest message in support of such flexibilities came in a memo to agencies regarding work on the Metro subway system in the Washington, D.C. area, which large numbers of federal employees in that area use for commuting; the latest phase of a long-running maintenance project will result in major service cutbacks through the end of the month.

“OPM strongly encourages agencies to allow affected employees to utilize various workplace flexibilities” during that stage of the maintenance project,” the memo said. It told them to update and review such flexibilities that it had urged them to use two years ago when an earlier phase of the project also limited service.

Earlier this year, OPM had urged more use of such flexibilities government-wide, saying that “agencies should continually evaluate current employee needs, policies, practices, and organizational culture to identify unnecessary barriers to program participation and to maximize agency and employee benefits.” Around the same time, OPM issued rules on dismissing employees from work with pay due to weather and safety reasons that stressed the value of telework in those situations.

Also around the same time, though, the Agriculture Department cut back on telework by generally limiting it to no more than two days per biweekly pay period. Later, the Education Department imposed a contract dropping provisions related to telework from the predecessor agreement and stating that employees must be at their regular duty station at least four days each week—effectively making telework there incompatible with one of the major forms of alternative work schedules, in which employees work 10 hours a day for four days a week. More recently, HHS took a similar action affecting employees of the FDA.

More background on Telework Rules for Federal Employees at ask.FEDweek.com

Unions contend that without the force of a contract behind them, programs such as telework and flexible work schedules would be left to the discretion of local managers—who in the case of telework have been repeatedly cited by OPM and others as a major barrier.

Legislation has been offered in Congress (HR-6551) to block what sponsors called the “indiscriminate anti-telework policies the Trump administration has announced,” by requiring OPM to produce a plan for increasing telework participation and requiring agencies to collect and publicize the cost savings associated with telework.