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OPM Issues Guidance on Telework, Pay and Travel As Feds Return to Offices

The 38-page document assists agencies with short- and long-term planning.

The Office of Personnel Management issued new guidance on Friday evening about telework and other considerations as federal agencies work to implement their office reentry and post reentry plans that were due earlier this week. 

OPM issued guidance to supplement a memo it issued last month along with the Office of Management and Budget and General Services Administration. Monday was the deadline for agencies to submit their back to the office plans to OMB. “Timelines vary agency by agency, based on each organization’s unique mission and organizational considerations,” an OMB official told Government Executive earlier this week. 

“As noted in [June guidance], agencies can, where appropriate, deploy personnel policies such as telework and remote work effectively and efficiently as strategic management tools for attracting, retaining, and engaging talent to advance agency missions, including in the context of changes in workplaces nationwide as a result of the pandemic and in response to long-term workforce trends,” wrote Kiran Ahuja, OPM director, in the 38-page document released Friday. 

“As agencies consider personnel policies and associated flexibilities in their post-reentry work environments, informed by consultation with agency leadership, supervisors, employees and employee representatives, we strongly encourage agency travel and human resources offices to collaborate when establishing telework and remote work policies that may affect location-based pay entitlements and travel benefits,” she said. 

The guidance says agencies should begin to reassess their telework policies based on experiences during the last 15 months and “and re-establish them in a way that best meets mission needs (including the agency’s ability to compete for qualified candidates and retain talent).” Also, “supervisors may see mission delivery, productivity or employee engagement benefits in extending flexibilities related to telework and alternative work schedules.”

The guidance also has considerations for remote work, which is when an employee is not expected to come to their worksite after each pay period. For both telework and remote work, OPM gave answers to frequently asked questions on eligibility, locality pay as well as flexible work schedules, evacuation pay and collective bargaining negotiations as they relate to the return to worksites. 

The spread of the Delta variant and coronavirus reinfections have caused questions and concerns about reopenings and mask guidance nationwide. Leaders from the National Treasury Employees Union and American Federation of Government Employees have some trepidation about the spread of the Delta variant and how that could impact return to worksite plans, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to issue any updated guidance for vaccinated individuals and it is unclear if it will. The return to office process for federal employees, many of whom were able to telework full-time during the pandemic, has been the subject of debate and some criticism for over a year and mirrors what many other sectors are facing. 

When asked for any updates on the plans and/or changes in planning due to the spread of the Delta variant, which accounts for more than 83% of cases in the United States according to the CDC, a senior administration official told Government Executive on Thursday: “Agencies are working through reentry plans, but we don’t have anything new to share at this time. We will continue to follow the science and listen to doctors and adhere to CDC guidelines.”

In the spring Republicans pressed the Biden administration to bring federal employees back into offices quickly, especially those at the Social Security Administration and National Archives and Records Administration. Also last month, Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee's Government Operations panel, requested the inspectors general at 10 of the largest agencies examine federal employees’ productivity while teleworking during the pandemic “before [the agencies begin] rushing into foolhardy reforms.”

Federal News Network reported on Friday that the Agriculture Department is aiming for October 1 for some employees to return to worksites and the Labor Department will reopen in a phased process starting no earlier than September 7. Employees from some agencies have been going back into offices for a while now, but it is unclear exactly how many have been doing so.