After months of urging, officials at the agency will allow some employees the option of working outside normal business hours to better juggle family demands during the pandemic.
Officials at the Social Security Administration told employees Friday that beginning on June 1, some workers will be allowed to perform their duties outside normal business hours in an effort to help employees juggle work and family obligations.
The move comes after two months of pressure by federal employee unions, who have urged the agency to provide a “maxiflex” telework schedule so that workers with dependent care obligations can perform their duties without burning through their annual leave. As previously reported by Government Executive, the agency's restrictive telework and leave policies have been a source of deep frustration for many workers.
The exact hours during which employees can work vary by agency subcomponent, and the more flexible schedules are only available to employees with coronavirus-related care issues, such as caring for children or elderly family members. Prior to June 1, employees have only been able to work within the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
According to union officials, eligible workers in the Office of Hearing Operations will be able to work from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m., while those at the agency’s appeals council may work from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. The Office of Quality Review’s new schedule allows workers to work from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., but employees in the agency’s various operations components had not yet been notified of any changes to their work schedule as of Friday afternoon.
The Social Security Administration did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite the agency’s implementation of long-requested changes, union leaders said the move amounted to a half measure, objecting to the haphazard results of letting agency subcomponents choose how to append their work schedules and the refusal to consult with labor representatives on the matter.
“Frankly, it doesn’t meet our needs,” said Christie Saunders, president of the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 224. “The deputy commissioner for each component was allowed to make their own decision, and at OHO, Deputy Commissioner Theresa Gruber decided to expand our flex bands . . . until 9 p.m. The thing they didn’t consider is that between 6 and 9, if you’ve got children, you’re cooking dinner, you’re helping with homework, cleaning up dishes and getting the kids settled in and getting them to bed. So the busiest hours in the evening are when they’ve said, ‘OK, you can work until that point.’”
Saunders said that in a true “maxiflex” telework situation, employees would be able to work until around midnight if they wish.
“If you start work hours at 6 a.m. and go until midnight, that still gives SSA a six-hour window to do any system updates or downloads or what have you,” she said. “But they’ve completely ignored our requests for that.”
Rich Couture, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Chapter 215, said the agency’s unions are entitled to pre-implementation negotiations on this matter, despite the agency’s claims that it is an emergency policy change that is not subject to normal collective bargaining procedures.
“Since March of 2020, it’s been two months where we have continuously and repeatedly raised scheduling flexibilities among other issues that the agency should implement to help ease the burden on employees during this pandemic, and the agency could have chosen to have these discussions at any point,” Couture said. “And the fact is that the agency has been opposing on a regular basis scheduling flexibilities since the offices closed and full telework was implemented. So any assertion that there was a compelling need to implement additional flexibilities without any pre-implementation discussions falls flat.”
“Even when SSA tries to do the right thing, they do it in the wrong way,” he said.
NEXT STORY: The Regulatory State Is Failing Us