Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) announced Saturday the Emergency Telework Act which would require federal agencies to maximize their telework policies for federal employees.
According to the lawmakers, during the current public health emergency, this legislation would give a clear directive to all federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so.
It would further direct agencies to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible.
The Emergency Telework Act would:
- Allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time and evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible during the current public COVID-19 health emergency.
- Require the Administration to continue those requirements if they determine that they would help reduce the risk of community spread and the public health emergency for COVID-19 is extended. If not, the requirements still need to be applied for high-risk employees and in high-risk areas.
- Provide for an agency head to waive any of the above requirements for employees where there is a clear and compelling reason to do so. It sets a default for maximum telework but gives agencies flexibility for jobs that cannot be done remotely.
- Require the Executive Branch to develop a plan to maximize telework in the event of a future public health emergency for an infectious disease.
“This is common-sense legislation that is needed to ensure federal employees also have the ability to telework as the federal government is encouraging Americans to stay at home. If federal employees have the ability to serve Americans from home during this time it is right to allow them to do so,” said Lankford, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management.
“When it comes to telework, the federal government should lead by example. Instead, we’re hearing from employees across the federal government who have been forced to come into the office even when they’re able to work from home. The inconsistent federal response is senseless, and ultimately, in the face of the coronavirus, it endangers the health and safety of thousands. We must act to maximize telework now,” said Van Hollen.
Van Holen also led a group of 26 lawmakers to write a letter to President Trump urging him to issue an Executive Order to this effect.
In the March 16 letter they wrote, “I urge you to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to use telework to the maximum extent practicable in light of the COVID-19 emergency. The Office of Management and Budget issued guidance for agencies to increase telework flexibility in the National Capital Region, but your order should be a clear direction – rather than general guidance – and it should be worldwide in scope.”
They also underscored: “Your order should direct federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so for the effective operation of government. You should also order federal agencies to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible, and to do so for all employees where there is not a clear and compelling reason that telework is not compatible with the performance of their job functions.”