The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently released its annual report on telework. Because of delays in data gathering, the report only addressed telework through 2020. Unsurprisingly, it found a huge spike in government telework. It also found that many agencies were reporting positive results from the telework.
This is likely good news for employees who hope to continue cutting down on their commutes by working from home. However, even in 2020, during the height of the pandemic, half of all federal employees remained ineligible for telework. The question they may be asking is, “Why?”
The OPM finds positives in telework
As the OPM reports, 2020 saw more workers become eligible for telework than any other time in the past decade. Because of the pandemic, more agencies allowed employees to work remotely. This led to 50 percent of federal workers gaining telework eligibility. Simultaneously, more took advantage of the opportunity. Fully 90 percent of eligible employees chose to telework.
This meant that 2020 offered agencies a great chance to measure the benefits of telework. According to the OPM, they found that telework led to several key advantages:
- Improvements in employees’ attitudes and engagement
- Federal positions appear more attractive to potential recruits
- Reduced employee turnover, leading to better retention of talent
- Fewer commuter miles, benefiting employees, societies and the environment
- Improved performance
Altogether, 95 percent of federal agencies reported that telework led to real cost savings. These savings weren’t one-dimensional, either. They came across eight different categories. In other words, telework doesn’t hurt federal employees or agencies. It makes them stronger and more effective.
The rules for eligibility
When telework offers so many clear advantages, you might wonder why more workers aren’t eligible. Certainly, some positions cannot function remotely. But many appear bound to the office by arbitrary guidelines. The rules may appear even more arbitrary if they vary with the agency or even with the individual.
The OPM makes it clear that some people are simply not eligible for telework. It clearly disqualifies two groups:
- Employees who were officially disciplined for 5 or more unexcused absences in a calendar year
- Employees who were officially disciplined for reviewing pornography during work hours or on a government computer
The OPM further reminds us that employee performance is a key part of telework. Employees must perform their duties at a reasonable level even if they’re not in the office. Employees who fail to maintain reasonable performance standards may not qualify for telework.
Beyond these guidelines, the OPM notes that each agency has some discretion as it determines eligibility. Accordingly, each agency must review its employees’ duties to see if they might qualify for telework. Agencies must also determine whether their employees’ performances are acceptable.
Agencies should be consistent with their decisions
Agencies have some discretion with how they award telework eligibility. However, that does not mean they can do whatever they want. They cannot discriminate against workers and cover that discrimination with false claims of poor performance. They cannot tell you that your duties prevent you from working remotely if others with the same duties can work remotely.
The truth is that it’s not only agencies that benefit from telework. Many employees do, too. Telework cuts down on commute times and helps many workers find a better work-life balance. If your agency says you’re not eligible for telework, you may want to see if your agency is consistent. Refusing telework to some and not others could be a form of employee discrimination.