Federal employees, their unions and members of Congress continue to watch for details of federal agency “reentry” and “post-reentry” operational plans, with the deadline having passed on Monday (July 19) for agencies to submit those plans to OMB but with changes to telework and other workplace policies likely still weeks or months away.
How long those plans will be in OMB for review is uncertain and even after approval, agencies are not to carry them out until they complete any required bargaining with unions. While many federal employees are not under union bargaining units, where such units exist bargaining could effectively delay implementation more widely, in order to prevent inconsistent policies from arising.
The scope of such bargaining—and thus its potential length—also is not defined, although it’s widely assumed that safety practices, telework and other work scheduling arrangements would be prominent among them. After its conclusion, employees whose work arrangements would be affected would have to be given advance notice, typically 30 days.
Only a few agencies have signaled intentions. The GPO—which as an arm of Congress does not report to the OMB—for example has said that it will continue a maximum telework policy for the roughly one-third of its workforce whose work can be done away from its production facility near the Capitol.
Employees “will work with their supervisors on choosing the best option that ensures continued productivity for GPO. With supervisor approval, the policy also allows teammates to work remotely from a geographic area outside of the Washington, DC metro area,” said the GPO, which notably added that maximum telework has increased its productivity.
In contrast, the EEOC said it is still “evaluating its next steps toward safely returning to our 53 office locations and resuming in-person interactions with the public.” It has asked for input from the public, through July 29, on questions including how people interact with the agency, how the agency’s increased telework may have impacted those contacts, and which functions need to be performed in-person.
Meanwhile, several Democratic senators active in civil service issues have offered a bill (S-2343) to require that agency plans meet a separate set of standards for testing, contact tracing, and vaccine administration for federal employees; workplace cleaning protocols, occupancy limits, and other safety practices; policies for employees on travel; flexibilities for employees at high risk; and more.
In introducing the bill—a counterpart to one (HR-978) that passed the House last year and that passed the House Oversight and Reform Committee in May—sponsors cited the recent upswing in Coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths, in particular from the “delta variant.” However, pressure continues from others in Congress, mainly Republicans, to accelerate the return of teleworking employees to their regular worksites.