Questions and answers
In light of the steps agencies undertook at the outset of the pandemic, OPM expects that many more Federal employees will be eligible to telework on a regular basis post-reentry. Agencies should start re-assessing schedules for and frequency of telework, based upon the experiences of the last 15 months, 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). Supervisors may see mission delivery, productivity, or employee engagement benefits in extending flexibilities related to telework and alternative work schedules. An employee may wish to return to their pre-pandemic schedule, operate under a new schedule, or telework only situationally. Agencies should work through these decisions in accordance with agency policies looking not only at the primary functions of the job, but also at other responsibilities that may be amenable to being performed during occasional or regularly scheduled telework days. Agencies may wish to take this opportunity to adjust their telework policies to reflect a new understanding about how telework has worked at their agencies.
After determining telework eligibility for all current employees, agencies should make any ongoing determinations of telework eligibility based on job functions, and not managerial preference per se. Agencies should make an appropriate telework eligibility determination for each new employee or position (and re-assess any previous determinations that an employee is ineligible), in accordance with the agency policy, taking into account the limitations established in 5 U.S.C. 6502(a) and (b), and otherwise using equitable, function-based criteria. Agencies should similarly apply equitable, function-based criteria to determine the number of days an employee may telework. In making these determinations, agencies should apply the following factors:
- Determine telework eligibility for all new employees
- In general, treat employees performing similar functions similarly
- Assess workforce data on an ongoing basis to ensure that telework eligibility determinations are being made in accordance with agency policy and applicable law, fairly and equitably, and in a manner that effectively meets the agency's mission needs.
In practice, telework has tended to fall into these categories.
- Routine telework. Under this option, telework occurs as part of an ongoing regular schedule such that employees typically telework on some days and work at their agency worksite on other days during each pay period. They must obtain managerial approval for the schedule (and any modifications to it), but do not need to obtain additional separate approval for each day they telework.
- Situational telework. Under this option, employees telework occasionally (i.e., it is not part of an ongoing and regular telework schedule) and agencies’ policies may require managerial approval each time they telework.
Agencies may also approve remote work arrangements. Remote work is a special type of alternative work arrangement by which an employee is scheduled to perform work within or outside the local commuting area of an agency worksite and is not expected to report to an agency worksite on a regular and recurring basis. Employees must obtain managerial approval for remote work arrangements. Given budget implications, equity considerations, and other factors, agency remote work policies should clearly outline the level of approval required to institute or execute a remote work agreement or position.
No. Existing Federal statutes, including the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, do not extend any legal rights or entitlements to telework or remote work to any employee. Instead, telework is a strategic management tool and workplace flexibility established to facilitate the accomplishment of work, while balancing the needs of the workforce. Similarly, remote work is a human capital tool that can be used to recruit and retain a diverse workforce. Agencies should not treat telework as an exception to a traditional full-time in-person work schedule, or as a performance management tool or incentive. Rather, agencies should leverage their experiences with expanded telework during the pandemic to institutionalize telework programs as a routine way of doing business.
Yes. The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 allows for termination of a telework agreement if an employee does not comply with the terms of the written agreement, or, if the performance of the employee falls below a certain standard (usually, fully successful). In addition, the Act specifies two categories of employees who may not be deemed eligible for telework under any circumstances: an employee who "has been officially disciplined for being absent without permission for more than five days in any calendar year” and an employee who “has been officially disciplined for violations of subpart G of the Standards of Ethical Conduct of Employees of the Executive Branch for reviewing, downloading, or exchanging pornography, including child pornography, on a Federal Government computer or while performing official Federal Government duties” (5 U.S.C. 6502(a)(2)(A)(B)). Generally, agencies have written policies that govern disciplinary and adverse actions, and there may be other forms of misconduct that an agency may use as a basis for terminating a telework agreement.
When deciding to terminate a telework agreement, a manager should be able to document and demonstrate that:
- The employee’s teleworking directly and negatively impacts the employee’s performance or the performance of the work group/organization.
- Continuation of telework will interfere with remediation of the standards such as the employee’s ability to attain or return to a fully successful performance level.
- The employee’s conduct violates the requirements established in the Telework Enhancement Act or agency policy and thus results in ineligibility for telework.
Also, as a general rule, a manager should provide official notice to the employee before termination of a telework agreement. The notice should follow some basic principles:
- Be in writing.
- Provide an explanation.
- Be timely.
- Include an effective date.
- Follow agency policies and procedures for denial/termination of telework requests.
- Include any appeals/grievance procedures available to the employee.
- Consult with agency employee and labor relations specialists regarding legal requirements and CBA provisions.
No. The decision whether to participate in an agency telework program, as described in the Telework Enhancement Act, is voluntary, and left to the employee (assuming he or she is eligible to telework). If an employee decides to enter into a telework agreement, however, his or her participation in an agency telework program may have consequences for subsequent work requirements. For example, pursuant to OPM regulations on weather and safety leave issued under the Administrative Leave Act, an employee who has entered into a telework agreement is generally required to work when there is a weather or safety event that prevents reporting to the regular workplace.
We note that there are other scenarios where an employee may be directed to work from a location other than his or her home office. Because these are not incident to the normal agency telework programs, we do not generally refer to these practices as “telework” within the meaning of the Telework Enhancement Act. For example, a catastrophic event that disrupts agency operations may result in the activation of an agency’s Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), and direction to members of the COOP team to relocate to and work from an alternative location. In that case, the employee is working from an alternate workplace under the agency COOP, and not pursuant to the agency’s telework program. Nevertheless, involving more employees in telework and having them practice telework throughout the year is valuable preparation for a COOP event.
Similarly, in the event of a physical disaster or military event, an agency may order employees to evacuate and relocate pursuant to OPM regulations at 5 CFR 550.401-408. And in the event of a pandemic, an agency may order employees to evacuate to their homes pursuant to 5 CFR 550.409. As with the first example, such orders are undertaken pursuant to OPM regulations, not an agency telework program, and thus are not dependent upon an employee having entered into a telework agreement, but effective use of these authorities can be enhanced by involving more employees in telework and having them practice telework throughout the year.
Yes. For purposes of OPM’s guidance, telework refers to arrangements where the employee is expected to report to work both at an agency worksite and alternative worksite on a regular and recurring basis each pay period. Remote work does not involve an expectation that the employee regularly reports to the agency worksite each pay period. Remote work is an arrangement that an agency, in its discretion, may choose to undertake, if the arrangement is consistent with the agency’s needs and the duties of the given position. A remote work arrangement may be initiated by the agency posting the position as one that will be performed remotely or by an employee requesting the privilege of working remotely. Agencies may determine whether to grant such requests on a case-by-case basis. The remote work agreement must accurately document the employee’s worksite to enable accurate determination of locality pay. Given budget implications, equity considerations, and other factors, agency remote work policies should clearly outline the level of approval required to institute or execute a remote work agreement or position.
OPM will be publishing a Remote Work Guide to further explain the implications, considerations, and strategies for the appropriate use of remote work.
Under current law, remote work is left to the discretion of agency heads, pursuant to their inherent authority to direct the affairs of their agency. See 5 U.S.C. 301, 302. Agencies should follow the procedures set forth by their human capital offices to consider employee requests for remote work. Note that there may be several cost implications for the agency and for employees who are approved for remote work (e.g., change in locality pay, travel expenses, etc.). Agencies should assess all benefits and costs before approving a remote work arrangement. Given budget implications, equity considerations, and other factors, agency remote work policies should clearly outline the level of approval required to institute or execute a remote work agreement or position.
An agency should decide, at the outset, whether it will permit remote work. If it does, and believes requests for remote work may recur, it should establish a clear process by which an employee can make a request to work remotely. The agency policy could include requirements to conduct a formal and complete assessment of benefits and costs to determine if the arrangement is cost effective for the Government and the agency. There are various reasons why an employer might decide to approve remote work, including:
- As a retention tool to maintain talent or institutional knowledge.
- To acquire the knowledge needed for difficult to hire mission-critical talent or hard to find skillsets.
- To help the agency achieve cost savings with real estate reductions (e.g., office closure, reduced footprint).
- To help an employee balance work and family responsibilities (e.g., spouse required to relocate for their employment, parents with children whose schools may not be reopened).
- To meet the demands of a changing workforce that wishes to have more flexibility.
- To recruit diverse talent from areas of the country for which Federal employment has traditionally required relocation.
Additionally, if the agency contemplates making these opportunities available more than occasionally, the agency should consider establishing policies that make clear the criteria by which remote work arrangements will be evaluated and approved/disapproved to avoid perceptions of favoritism or unfair practices.
See OPM’s Evaluation Guide: Evidence-Based Strategies to Capture the Benefits and Costs of Work-Life Programs to learn more about Agency considerations prior to implementing telework and remote work.
As there is no obligation to permit remote work at all, the agency may set whatever parameters it wishes as to the locations in which remote work may be performed. As with telework, the agency may establish standards that must be met with respect to equipment and security of agency documents. The location will also have implications for certain location-based pay entitlements (i.e., locality payments, special rate supplements, and non-foreign area cost-of-living allowances) that are based on the location of the employee’s official worksite. Agencies considering remote work arrangements, especially remote work that occurs outside the local commuting area of the agency worksite, must also take into consideration how often the agency will want the employee to physically visit the agency worksite. If the remote worker resides within the local commuting area of the agency worksite, then TDY and relocation benefits will not apply. However, the agency could adopt a policy concerning reimbursement for local travel costs. If an employee’s position of record is located outside of the local commuting area of the agency worksite, then reimbursement will apply each time the employee needs to travel back to the office in person.
While agencies are not generally required to cover relocation expenses for employee-driven requests to work remotely on a full-time basis, relocation reimbursement may apply if the agency chooses to relocate the employee back to the agency worksite. Agencies are advised to cover this topic in the remote work agreement, especially if the arrangement was initiated at the employee’s request. For example, the agency could specify that relocation will be at the employee’s expense if the relocation is the result of a deterioration in the employee’s performance. These provisions will vary among agencies, according to specific guidance, allowances, and restrictions.
Alternative work arrangements require more than simply working offsite, and this is especially true for a remote work arrangement where the employee is rarely, if ever, at the agency worksite. Such alternative work arrangements come with challenges and require new skill sets for the employee unfamiliar with working in dispersed or virtual teams, and for supervisors unfamiliar with managing dispersed or virtual teams, so not every position or every employee is suited for this arrangement. Agencies may want to consider multiple factors, including individual work style preferences, team dynamics, and job characteristics, when making decisions about whether to permit remote work in particular instances. In addition to any formal evaluations required by their agency, agencies should advise employees in their remote work policies to conduct an honest self-evaluation when determining whether they would benefit from working in an environment where there is reduced in-person or on-site interaction with managers or members of the team. Employees may want to talk to other remote workers to gain information to help decide if remote work is a viable option.
When implementing the telework program and any remote work program for the agency, managers should keep in mind that the performance standards for a teleworking employee or remote worker must be the same as performance standards for employees in the same position who do not work from an alternative location. Also, management expectations for performance should be clearly addressed in an employee's performance plan, regardless of whether the employee is working onsite or at an alternative location. When an employee participates in telework or remote work, expectations related to accountability do not differ by virtue of the alternative arrangement. Following clear and consistent performance management principles and techniques should result in a seamless transition for managers and their employees moving to alternative work arrangements. Resources for performance management are available from OPM. Telework.gov also contains information about performance and results-oriented management approaches under telework or remote work.
Federal agencies offer a wide range of resources to assist Federal Agencies in performance management:
- OPM offers guidance to managers regarding employee performance management.
- Telework.gov contains information about performance and results-oriented management approaches under telework or remote work.
- Performance Management Plus: An online course for employees, supervisors and HR professionals that leverages employee and supervisor relationships to reinforce key performance management principles and processes.
- Managing in a Virtual Environment: The first part of this video series focuses on developing a successful telework strategy to ensure program success. The second part demonstrates how effective performance management can lead to organizational success in a virtual environment.
If the position was posted as one for which work would be performed remotely, then the agency should provide the incumbent with the equipment needed to effectively perform the duties of the position. If the agency is permitting remote work at the incumbent’s request, the agency has latitude to decide what equipment to offer. Similarly, because participation in telework is voluntary, and initiated at the employee’s request, agency policies may vary as to what is supplied for telework. Of course, agencies should consult with their Chief Information Officers or equivalents about security requirements with respect to information technology, which may determine who should be permitted to acquire such equipment. Where possible, agencies should also outline in their remote work and telework policies the equipment and services the agency will provide and the equipment and services employees will be expected to provide, under various circumstances. These provisions will vary among agencies, according to specific guidance, allowances, and restrictions.
All teleworkers and remote workers must be made aware that any Government items provided to an employee remain the property of the U.S. Government and must be managed and handled in accordance with Government-wide and agency-specific policies and guidance. The general principle is that the Government may not provide items that are used significantly for non-official activity (see GAO B-326021 decision).
Agencies should use agency property and excess property to the greatest extent practicable before acquiring new property (FMR 102-36). Agencies should address in their telework and remote work policies the disposition of Government-provided resources.
Telework.gov also describes critical IT, property, and security considerations related to telework.
The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 requires agencies to ensure that "an interactive telework training program is provided to employees eligible to participate in the telework program of the agency; and all managers of teleworkers..." While OPM offers basic telework training modules for employees and managers on Telework.gov, agencies may also provide their own telework training opportunities that are specific to the needs of their workforce.
Agencies are free to develop their own training requirements for remote work.
Additionally, maintaining strong performance in an alternative location environment requires employees and their supervisors to be well trained not only on their agency’s policies, criteria for eligibility, roles and responsibilities, and expectations for maintaining acceptable performance, but also on the support that is available to help supervisors and their staff develop new ways to collaborate and communicate.
Agencies should address in their telework policies potential situations that may prevent or impact an employee’s ability to effectively perform their duties at home. This includes policies regarding the conditions under which employees may telework when they have a young child or other person requiring the presence of a caregiver in the home.
An agency that has a general bar on teleworking when there are young children or other persons requiring care and supervision by the employee in the home should reevaluate that policy in light of its experience during the pandemic. In many instances, these policies assume a rigid adherence to specific work hours. Agencies may want to consider offering teleworking employees with dependent care responsibilities a maxiflex work schedule, which is a type of flexible work schedule(FWS) that, when combined with telework, provides the most flexibility to employees who need to address the dual demands of work and caregiving, as well as other personal responsibilities. Providing teleworking employees with flexibility concerning their hours of work may allow them to meet the obligations of their job while teleworking even while also having child care or other family-related responsibilities. Where the agency mission requires more rigid work schedules (for example, where coverage of specific customer service shifts is required), agencies may choose to adjust their policies to allow telework on an exceptions basis, such as when normal caregivers are not available (due to a short-term illness or school closure). Under such an exception policy, a teleworking employee would be expected to account for work and non-work hours during their tour of duty and take appropriate leave (paid or unpaid) to account for time spent away from normal work-related duties (e.g., to care for small children).
For additional information, Options for Telework Eligible Employees with Caregiving Responsibilities provides information specific to the current COVID-19 pandemic that can be used in conjunction with the general principles detailed in Telework and Dependent Care Guidance.
Telework policy considerations that may help guide agencies in crafting their post reentry policies include:
- Make telework determinations based on the functions of the job, and not mere managerial preference;
- Treat employees with similar work functions across work units similarly when determining telework eligibility;
- To the extent possible, try to align telework programs with employee needs and the business goals of each work unit to avoid a one-size fits all approach to telework participation;
- When possible, have consistent telework policies across locations;
- When possible, consider restructuring jobs so that all employees, theoretically, could be eligible for at least situational or occasional telework;
- Make all employees aware of the agency’s telework policy and criteria for telework participation;
- Require all teleworkers and supervisors of teleworkers complete appropriate training before entering into a telework agreement;
- Provide adequate telework training to supervisors on how to assess and manage the performance of teleworkers; and
- If appropriate, allow some or all teleworkers to meet emergency operations or COOP duties through telework rather than reporting to the normal or designated COOP site. Encourage mission essential and non-mission essential employees to practice telework to help the agency prepare to meet emergency situations.