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What should federal employees know about telework?

Government telework policies have changed a lot in recent months. And many federal employees are likely confused.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has recently advised agencies to make telework as widely available as possible. But the OPM has also reminded employees that it doesn’t have authority over those agencies’ policies. The result is that different agencies have offered different levels of support or resistance. You wouldn’t be alone if you wondered whether there are any clear, overarching standards.

The OPMs official stance

As the government’s human resources agency, the OPM offers leadership in many key areas. This includes telework policies. And the OPM's policy guide outlines many of the government’s views on telework, as well as some best practices.

Among other things, the guide states telework offers the government and employees several key benefits:

  • Agencies gain an important tool to recruit and retain talented workers
  • Agencies can save money
  • You get to enjoy a higher quality of life
  • Agencies can better accommodate employees with disabilities
  • You and your agency gain greater flexibility to respond to hard situations

The guide also outlines some broad expectations for agencies and workers. Specifically, if you wish to work remotely, you should:

  • Learn who serves as your Telework Managing Officer and Telework Coordinator
  • Review your agency’s telework rules
  • Complete the required training
  • Sign a written agreement
  • Secure your data and systems
  • Understand your expectations for ongoing communications

Individual agencies may take different approaches to these matters. But some—such as the written telework agreement and telework training—are legal mandates. Simultaneously, other employment laws continue to apply even when you work remotely.

Workers who feel they have been unfairly denied the opportunity to telework can file their complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Especially if your agency has resisted the shift toward telework or has denied you the same telework opportunities they gave other employees.

Telework may not suit everyone

Even as the government moves toward more telework, some experts have reminded us that the government is a long way from being able to function 100% remotely. Many employees may still need to work on site.

Still, amid a changing workplace, some employees may wonder why they can’t work remotely. Currently, the law says the individual agencies get to set their own standards. As a result, you need to understand your agency’s policies, but it’s worth remembering these policies need to follow the law. And that’s true for both the written policy and the policy that’s put into practice.

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