Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

White House Urges Agencies to Expand Telework, Other Workplace Flexibilities

President Obama wants the federal government to be a model for the American workforce.

President Obama on Monday directed federal agencies to inform employees about the workplace flexibilities available to them, and ensure the government is doing its best to offer those benefits to its workforce.

The June 23 memorandum coincided with a White House summit in Washington on working families and the 21st century workplace. The memo to agency heads stated that employees “have the right to request work schedule flexibilities available to them under law, pursuant to an applicable collective bargaining agreement, or under agency policy, without fear of retaliation or adverse employment action as a consequence of making such a request” and that agencies must periodically educate employees about those flexibilities.

The memo also directed agency supervisors to consider an employee’s request “carefully” and respond within 20 business days of the initial request, or sooner if required by agency policy.

Workplace flexibilities include a range of alternative work options designed to help employees and families achieve a better work-life balance. Some common flexibilities include telework; alternative work schedules; part-time employment; sick leave to care for family members; child care assistance; employee assistance programs, including counseling; and support for nursing mothers, including onsite lactation resources. Obama’s memo directed agencies to expand access to those and other flexibilities available to employees “to the maximum extent practicable, in accordance with the laws and regulations governing these programs and consistent with mission needs.”

The Office of Personnel Management will issue guidance to agency human capital officers within 60 days, according to the memo. Obama also tasked OPM with supporting agencies in providing employees with workplace flexibilities as well as creating an annual online Workplace Flexibility Index based on data from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to measure agencies’ progress. Within 120 days of the date of the memorandum, agencies have to submit a report to OPM that lists how they use workplace flexibilities, as well as any best practices or obstacles they’ve encountered in implementing them.

Obama wants the federal government to serve as a model for the American workforce when it comes to work-life balance, eliminating the gender pay gap and employing more people of diverse backgrounds.

The American Federation of Government Employees praised the latest White House memo, hoping that the public show of support for workplace flexibilities will motivate agency leadership to do a better job advertising options and helping employees take advantage of them where possible.

For instance, some agencies and federal managers continue to resist telework, despite the federal government’s long-standing effort to promote it.

“Some managers think that if they don’t see employees every day, then they’re not working,” said AFGE Local 3403 President Carter Kimsey. “But experience and numerous studies show that teleworkers are actually more productive than when they’re in the office and enjoy a healthy work-life balance, since they’re not wasting time and money commuting to and from work.”