OPM issues guidance on telework

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All federal agencies must establish a telework policy and notify employees of their eligibility to participate in the benefit by June 7, according to new guidance from the Office of Personnel Management.

Under the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, agencies were given 180 days from the law's enactment -- until June 7 -- to establish a policy on working outside the office, identify eligible employees and inform them of the option. The law also requires agencies to name an official to manage telework programs, and incorporate the policy into plans for continuing essential services during natural disasters or other emergencies.

OPM's guidance spells out agencies' responsibilities in fulfilling the 2010 law and defines telework. "It is important to understand that telework is not an employee right" (emphasis in original), the guidance stated, adding that employee participation is voluntary. Two types of telework exist: full time and situational, which is approved on a case-by-case basis. Agency policies should also outline a reasonable time frame in which new hires are notified of their telework eligibility, OPM stated.

Training for teleworkers is a key component of the 2010 law, as OPM's guidance points out. Managers and employees who are eligible for telework should complete training before the ink is dry on a telework arrangement. But the guidance notes that employees who have been teleworking for some time might be exempt from the training requirement.

OPM also instructed agencies to use clear, jargon-free language in their policies, to include information on technology, cybersecurity and emergency guidelines, and to identify work schedule flexibilities (e.g. allowing teleworkers to begin and end their work day earlier since they're not commuting). In addition, agencies should provide guidance on the responsibilities of teleworkers and managers, and outline the material and equipment employees will need to telework effectively.

OPM provides examples of questions that managers and employees should discuss when hammering out a telework arrangement, including: "What are the expectations for availability by phone, email, etc.?" and "Who provides technical assistance in the event of equipment disruption?"

Agencies have discretion when it comes to determining which employees can telework. They must submit an annual report to Congress on their telework programs. OPM's guidance stresses that "performance standards for teleworking employees must be the same as performance standards for nonteleworking employees."

Check out www.telework.gov for more information.

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