4 Takeaways from Biden’s Plan to Safely Return Feds to Worksites

Categories: The Insider, Coronavirus

On June 10, the Biden administration issued guidance on how agencies can safely return federal workers who have worked remotely since last year to the worksites.   

In returning federal workers to the worksite, the administration stressed the balance between agency missions and workforce flexibilities to ensure services to the American people, safety for all involved, and employee morale.   

AFGE is happy to see that the administration is not rushing or imposing any kind of uniform schedule but rather allowing agencies time to work with us for a safe re-entry that incorporates the lessons learned about both the advantages and disadvantages of telework.   

Throughout this devastating pandemic, many federal workers have been serving the American public admirably while working remotely, helping to reduce the pre-pandemic backlog of claims at the Social Security Administration and speed up the processing of veterans’ claims at VA.   

As we move forward, negotiations will address the procedures for implementing these new policies around return to worksites, and those negotiations will take into consideration the complex issues federal employees are facing, whether they’ve been teleworking or continuing to report to their regular worksites.   

Here are 4 takeaways from the Biden administration’s June 10 guidance:   

1. Agencies will submit their reentry and post-reentry plans by July 19  

Agencies will work with OMB to finalize their reentry and post-reentry plans by July 19. This includes when and how to return employees and contractors in phases, occupancy limits, their post-entry personnel policies, and work environment.   

An agency reentry plan has two main parts: a phased plan for reentry and post-reentry and an update of the agency’s COVID-19 workplace safety plan.   

2. Agencies are to bargain with the unions before implementing their reentry plans 

Reminding agencies that “It is the policy of the United States to protect, empower, and rebuild the career Federal workforce. It is also the policy of the United States to encourage union organizing and collective bargaining,” the administration requires agencies to bargain with the unions before implementing their reentry plans.  

“Labor relations obligations may be addressed issue by issue for aspects of the agency’s overall plan for reentry and post-reentry. For example, an early issue to surface to employee representatives may be the agency’s plan for ample notice to employees. Also, for example, an agency may decide to engage with employee representatives on aspects of its post-reentry personnel policies separate from labor relations engagement on the updating of the agency’s COVID-19 workplace safety plan.”   

Agencies are also directed to honor existing collective bargaining agreements. They will also give enough notice, at least 30 days, to employees who will be returning to the workplace or who have any changes to their work schedules.   

In addition, as agencies implement and evaluate their new post-entry policies, they should regularly solicit feedback from employees, unions, and other stakeholders.   

3. Agencies are encouraged to leverage telework and workplace flexibilities as part of their post-COVID policies  

The administration doesn’t expect everything to stay as it was before COVID hit. Rather, it encourages agencies to make decisions based on lessons learned during the past 15 months, including making use of workplace flexibilities such as telework, flexible work schedules, and hybrid work environments.  

“The agency’s eventual post-pandemic operating state may differ in significant ways from the agency’s pre-pandemic operating state,” the administration said in the memo.   

According to the OMB and OPM leadership, “Through today’s guidance, the Administration is reinforcing its commitment to the Federal workforce and its role as a model employer. Informed by changes in workplaces nationwide as a result of the pandemic, in response to long-term workforce trends, and supported by information in the guidance released today, agencies can, where appropriate, deploy personnel policies such as telework, remote work, and flexible work schedules as strategic management tools to be competitive in the broader labor market in attracting, retaining, and engaging talent.”   

4. There will be more teleworkers, including those who telework a majority of the time 

According to the memo, employees who have been working remotely during the pandemic will remain eligible for telework, at least occasionally. Many employees will be permitted to telework a majority of the time, if that is their preference.   

In many cases, agencies and sub-organizations will allow and plan for an increased ratio of telework over onsite work, for more employees, as compared to agency work environments prior to the pandemic. Such arrangements might include, for some employees, a balanced mix of working offsite and onsite, including to satisfy business operations, teambuilding, and other needs. For other employees, such arrangements could mean teleworking a majority of the time or nearly full-time, with a requirement for employees under the General Schedule to report to the agency worksite at least twice each pay period to receive the locality rate associated with the agency worksite. Agencies should provide ample notice to affected employees of any change in their current telework schedule.”  

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