OPM Updates Telework Policy

Mary Barrett
January 14, 2022

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has asked federal agencies to reconsider their approach to work. This is in light of lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government's human resources department updated their 2011 guide to telework and remote work in November 2021. This included incorporating more remote work into everyday operations.

A closeup of a pair of hands typing on a black keyboard

Can Federal Employees Telework?

OPM Director, Kiran Ahuja, said in a memo introducing the updated guide, "The COVID-19 pandemic underscores how vital telework is for any workforce to continue mission-critical services and adapt to a changing labor market."

"As the largest employer in the nation, the federal government has an opportunity to lead by example on this. We are providing a model that will benefit both public and private sector employers to follow, while positioning the government for success now and in the future," Ahuja added.

OPM believes that telework can assist agencies in recruiting and retaining employees who see the flexibility as an advantage; widen the applicant pool to areas not tied to an exact office location; and reduce real estate costs for agencies.

According to the guidance material, these flexibilities can also help agencies "sustain continuity of operations" during emergencies. They can also be manageable work policies for employees with disabilities who might have mobility issues making it hard to commute to an office, for example.

However, even as telework and remote work offer potential gains, they also create logistical issues such as how to manage individuals from afar and how wage policies written before telework was possible will apply to employees living in different time zones than their worksites.

The guidance also digs into some of these details and offers agencies practical guidance.

A woman stands at a bamboo laptop desk with her back to the camera in a bedroom

Teleworking Disadvantages

In regards to federal employees working from home with children, the new document notes that, "it is important to remember that telework is not meant to be a substitute for dependent care." It also states that remotely working individuals are expected to make arrangements for childcare the same way they would if they had to come into the office.

OPM offers a variety of considerations for agencies' use of telework, in which employees live outside the geographic region of their office and aren't obligated to have any physical presence at the worksite.

The Office of Personnel Management advises agencies to use telework or remote work on a case-by-case basis and create a clear plan for how such choices are made. OPM also states that agencies might want to consider employee work preferences, the job duties in question, or team dynamics.

Agencies "have the discretion to support or deny any request for remote," something that "is not an employee right or entitlement," the guidance states. Agencies can expect more guidance to come.

In a memo to agencies along with the guidance, Ahuja wrote that she expects OPM to keep the "examination of telework and remote work policies" over the course of years "as the federal government further defines a broad vision for the 'Future of Work.'"

If you're a federal employee who is experiencing legal issues due to telework, we may be able to help. Give the experienced federal employment attorneys at Melville Johnson, P.C. a call today or fill out the form below to see what we can do for you and to schedule your consultation.

This blog and web site published by Melville Johnson, P.C. should not be used as a substitute for seeking competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney. Readers of this information should not act upon any information contained on this blog or website without seeking professional counsel.
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