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Telework Basics

The Federal Government is a leader in the use of innovative workplace arrangements like telework.  In June 2014, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum entitled Enhancing Workplace Flexibilities and Work-Life Programs (external link) as a way to help attract, empower and retain a talented and productive workforce in the 21st century. Although telework is only one of the workplace flexibilities highlighted in the memorandum, the focus of these efforts provide additional momentum for building upon the requirements of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (the Act) (external link) (PDF file).

The following basic steps will help maximize the benefit of telework for you and your workgroup, minimize any potential administrative burden, and set the stage for your employees to be successful.

All agencies must designate a Telework Managing Officer (TMO), who is the agency's primary contact for policy and program questions. TMOs will often work with a Telework Coordinator on the day-to-day operational aspects of telework.  Managers should maintain frequent contact with their agency's TMO or Telework Coordinator to ensure the agency's policy and procedures are properly applied and to ensure they are aware of the full range of supports and resources available to them.  You can find your agency's Telework Coordinator by searching OPM's Work-Life Contact Database

Managers should familiarize themselves and their employees with their agency's policy, including applicable collective bargaining agreements, to ensure they are in compliance with their requirements.  In addition, all agencies should have policies on information systems and technology security, and managers must ensure their equipment choices and telework agreements comply with these policies.  Information security includes protection of sensitive "hard-copy" files and documents.

The Act (external link) (PDF file) requires managers and supervisor of teleworking employees to successfully complete telework training.  Employees are also required to complete telework training before they can telework, unless the Head of the Agency has deemed that employees who teleworked prior to the Act are exempt from training requirements.  The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) offers online telework training for managers and employees. In addition, many agencies offer their own training as part of the telework policy and procedures.  Also, information technology security training, administered at the agency level, is mandatory and managers should ensure that teleworkers complete this training and understand their responsibilities in safeguarding work-related information.  For more information about agency-based telework training and/or information technology training, please consult your agency Telework Coordinator or TMO. You can find your Telework Coordinator by searching OPM's Work-Life Contact Database.

The Act (external link) (PDF file) requires each Executive agency to determine the eligibility of all its employees for telework.  Generally, agencies have discretion to determine telework eligibility criteria for their employees, subject to the requirements in the Act. These criteria should be detailed in the agency policy.  Individual managers should assess who in their workgroup is or is not eligible to participate in telework based on these eligibility guidelines and any applicable collective bargaining agreements.  For more information about the eligibility requirements for your agency, pleases consult your agency telework policy, Telework Coordinator, or TMO.  You can find your Telework Coordinator by searching OPM's Work-Life Contact Database (external link).

Telework should be implemented strategically, rather than piecemeal as is often the case. A reactive approach to telework carries the risk of raising fairness issues.  To the extent possible, telework should be implemented strategically, taking into account the needs, work, and composition of the group.  Agencies have made this easier for managers by making broader determinations on employee eligibility and notifying employees.  Managers and supervisors should make final decisions about whether or not to support an employee's request to telework based upon agency mission goals, office coverage requirements, and in combination with good performance management practices.  

The Act (external link) (PDF file) mandates that each teleworker and his/her manager must enter into a written telework agreement for every type of telework, whether the employee teleworks regularly or not.  For example, a written telework agreement is required for an employee who teleworks regularly once a week and for an employee who may only telework once a year.  The parameters of this agreement are most often laid out by the agency policy and/or collective bargaining agreement but should include the following key elements:

  • Location of the telework office (e.g., home or another alternative workplace)
  • Equipment inventory (e.g., what the employee is supplying, what the agency is providing, and who is responsible to maintain it)
  • A general list of  job tasks that will be performed while teleworking
  • The telework schedule
  • Telework contact information (e.g., what phone number to use on the telework day)
  • A safety checklist, self-certifying that the home office meets certain standards
  • Expectations for emergency telework (e.g. whether the employee is expected to work during agency closures or other Continuity of Operations (COOP) related emergencies or situations that may result in a disruption to normal office operations). With regard to COOP, note that Emergency Relocation Group (ERG) members must be prepared to telework at any time.  For more information, visit Emergency Telework Guidance.

Most importantly, the agreement should be signed and dated by the manager.  Managers and TMOs are encouraged to keep copies of all telework agreements on file.  Telework agreements are living documents and should be revisited by the manager and employee and re-signed regularly, preferably at least once a year.  At a minimum, new telework agreements should be executed when a new employee/manager relationship is established.  For more information, please consult your agency telework policy, Telework Coordinator, or TMO.  You can find your Telework Coordinator by searching OPM's Work-Life Contact Database.

The telework agreement provides a framework for the discussion that needs to take place between the manager and the employee about expectations. For both routine and situational telework, this discussion is important to ensure the manager and the employee understands each other's expectations around basic issues, such as:

  • What technologies will be used to maintain contact?
  • What equipment is the agency providing? What equipment is the employee providing?
  • Who provides technical assistance in the event of equipment disruption?
  • What will the weekly/monthly telework schedule be? How will the manager and co-workers be kept updated about the schedule? What happens if the schedule needs to be changed by the manager or by the employee?
  • What will the daily telework schedule be? Will the hours be the same as in the main office, or will they be different?
  • What are the physical attributes of the telework office, and do they conform to basic safety standards(agencies may wish to recommend the use of a self-certifying safety checklist)?
  • What are the expectations for availability by phone, email, etc.?
  • What is the expectation regarding the amount of notice (if any) given for reporting to the official worksite, and how will such notice be provided?
  • How is a telework agreement terminated by management or an employee?
  • Who is expected to telework in an emergency?
  • What is expected of a employee in the event of an emergency?
  • What happens if a telework day falls on a Federal holiday?  Is the employee allowed to substitute his/her telework day?

Telework is not an employee right, even if the employee is considered "eligible."  Telework requests may be denied and telework agreements may be terminated.

Denial and termination decisions must be based on sound business and performance management decisions in accordance with the law, not personal reasons.   For examples, a manager may deny a telework request if the duties of the position are not amenable to telework. In some cases, it may be necessary to terminate an existing telework agreement for business reasons (e.g. mission and operational needs of the organization change), or as a result of a performance issue.  If the employee’s denial and/or termination are the result of a performance issue, the manager or supervisor should be able to demonstrate that:

  1. The employee’s teleworking directly and negatively impacts the employee’s individual performance and the performance of the work group or organization, and that
  2. Continuation of telework will interfere with remediation of the standards such as the employee’s ability to attain or return to fully successful performance.

Additionally, the denial or termination should include information about when the employee might reapply, and if applicable, what actions the employee should take to improve his/her chance of approval.  Denials should be provided in a timely manner. Managers should also review the agency's collective bargaining agreement(s) and telework policy to ensure they meet any applicable requirements.

Managers should provide employees (and keep copies of) signed written denials or terminations of telework agreements. These should include information about why the arrangement was denied or terminated. The TMO should also be alerted regarding denials or terminations and copies provided to him/her as well.

With respect to employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement, appeals will be governed by the negotiated grievance procedure (unless this subject is specifically excluded from that procedure by the collective bargaining agreement, in which case the agency grievance procedure would govern).  For non-bargaining unit employees, the agency grievance procedure in force would cover appeals from a denial of a request to telework.

It is important to note that performance standards for teleworking employees must be the same as performance standards for non-teleworking employees.  Management expectations for performance should be clearly addressed in the employee's performance plan, and the performance plan should be reviewed to ensure the standards do not create inequities or inconsistencies between teleworking and non-teleworking employees.  Like non-teleworking employees, teleworkers are held accountable for the results they produce.  Good performance management techniques practiced by the manager will mean a smoother, easier transition to a telework environment. For more information, review the information on Results-Oriented Management and  OPM's Performance Management pages.

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