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Emergency Telework

The vast majority of agencies have adopted telework as a critical component of their agency COOP.  Use of telework in this capacity enables our Federal organizations to continue functioning through hazardous weather, pandemic, physical attacks, or any other event that would result in the closure of Government buildings.

The Telework Enhancement Act (external link) (PDF file) states that “each Executive agency shall incorporate telework into the continuity of operations plan of that agency.” Incorporating telework into continuity plans means that these plans identify ways for an organization’s staff to perform the duties and responsibilities necessary to continue the organization’s essential functions during any type of threat or emergency from a telework location. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Continuity Directive 1 (FCD 1),  Federal Executive Branch National Continuity Program and Requirements (January 2017) defines Continuity of Operations (COOP) as “an effort within the Executive Office of the President and individual Departments and Agencies to ensure that essential functions continue to be performed during disruption of normal operations.”  Requirements for organizations as it relates to incorporating telework into an agency’s continuity plans are found in Annex G of FCD 1.

There is a direct relationship between an agency’s COOP plan and telework. Both programs share a basic objective: to perform and maintain agency functions from an alternative location. Telework can help ensure that essential Federal functions continue during emergency situations. Since enactment of the Telework Enhancement Act, agency leaders continue to incorporate telework into their continuity of operations and emergency planning policies. The vast majority of Federal agencies include information regarding the use of telework during emergencies and many provide specific training about what is expected of employees in an emergency, and/or conduct exercises to help employees gain experience with teleworking in an emergency.

Agency Responsibilities

According to the FCD 1, telework must be a part of every agency’s emergency planning. Telework allows employees to conduct some or all of their work at an alternative worksite away from the employee’s regular worksite since that may not be viable during an emergency. Each Department and Agency is encouraged to conduct an annual telework exercise where employees participate in a telework day, in order to test the organization’s capability.

To ensure successful use of telework in the event of an emergency each Federal agency should:

  • Establish a policy under which eligible employees, both ERG and non-ERG personnel, are authorized to telework during a continuity event.
  • Notify all employees of their eligibility to telework during a continuity activation.
  • Ensure that each eligible employee is authorized to telework during a continuity activation by successfully completing an interactive telework training program prior to entering into and signing a written telework agreement with his/her supervisor.
  • Coordinate with the organization’s designated Telework Managing Officer when developing and integrating the organization’s continuity plan.

The key to successful use of telework in the event of an emergency is an effective routine telework program. An agency’s telework policy should include information on:

  • who is expected to telework in an emergency, and
  • what is expected of teleworkers in the event of an emergency.

As many employees as possible should be prepared to telework with:

  • a telework agreement in place
  • connectivity at the alternative worksite
  • equipment commensurate with work needs
  • ability to practice telework on a regular basis to ensure effectiveness during an emergency.

Manager Responsibilities

Management must be committed to implementing telework as broadly as possible to take full advantage of the potential of telework for this purpose and ensure that: 

  • equipment, technology, and technical support have been tested;
  • employees practice telework so that they are comfortable with the technology and communications methods; and
  • managers practice telework so that they are comfortable managing a distributed workgroup.

Specifically, managers should:

  • Understand the agency's emergency plans (continuity plan, pandemic plan, etc.) and management roles in executing the plan.
  • Implement telework to the greatest extent possible so systems are in place to support successful telework in an emergency.
  • Notify employees designated as emergency personnel for a continuity or pandemic event.
  • Communicate expectations to both emergency and non-emergency employees regarding their roles and responsibilities in an emergency.
  • Establish communication processes to notify emergency employees and non-emergency employees of the activation of the agency’s emergency plan and the agency operating status during the emergency.
  • Integrate emergency expectations into telework agreements as appropriate.
  • Determine how employees who telework will communicate with one another and with management to accomplish work.
  • Determine how time and attendance will be maintained.
  • Allow personnel who might telework in case of an emergency to telework regularly to ensure functionality.

Employee Responsibilities

  • Maintain a current telework agreement detailing any emergency telework responsibilities specified for a continuity and/or pandemic event, as appropriate.
  • Practice telework regularly to ensure effectiveness.
  • Be familiar with the agency's emergency plans (continuity plan, pandemic plan, etc.) and your manager's expectations for how you will telework during such events.
  • Be flexible; be willing to perform all duties assigned to you by management even if they are outside your usual or customary duties.

Pandemics have occurred intermittently over centuries. Although the timing cannot be predicted, history and science suggest that we will face one or more pandemics in this century. Telework can help ensure essential Federal Functions continue during emergency situations, including a potential pandemic influenza outbreak that may compromise the ability of Federal agencies to accomplish their mission. Telework can be used to help slow the spread of disease by keeping face-to-face contact to a minimum (often referred to as "social distancing") while maintaining operations as close to normal as possible. Therefore, Federal agencies must plan to deal with the potential implications for human resources management.

Telework can be an important tool in two different ways:

  1. As the pandemic influenza approaches and intensifies in a geographic area, telework can be used in advance of any formal evacuation orders and requirements to work at home
  2. If an evacuation is ordered, and designated employees must work at home, agencies who have prepared for and tested telework capabilities as part of their normal HR flexibilities program, will be in a far better position to meet mission needs.

Agencies need to implement and maintain a robust IT system with the necessary infrastructure (including bandwidth and VPN access) to accommodate a sudden spike in remote usage of agency systems as well as the accompanying technical support personnel to resolve remote connectivity issues.  Agencies also need to maintain a robust routine telework program. As many employees as possible should have telework capability; meaning that they have current telework arrangements, connectivity and equipment commensurate with their work needs, and frequent opportunities to telework so that systems are tested and known to be functional.

The identification, protection, and ready availability of essential records, databases, and hardcopy documents needed to support essential functions under the full spectrum of all-hazards emergencies are critical elements of a successful continuity plan and program.  Requirements for organizations as it relates to essential records management in a continuity event are found in Annex I of the Federal Continuity Directive (FCD) 1 (PDF file).  Additionally the National Archives & Records Management (external link)provides guidance to agencies and their employees that applies to Federal records in a telework environment on NARA's FAQs about Telework (external link).

The identification, protection, and ready availability of essential records, databases, and hardcopy documents needed to support essential functions under the full spectrum of all-hazards emergencies are critical elements of a successful continuity plan and program. “Essential records” refers to information systems technology, applications and infrastructure, electronic and hardcopy documents, references, and records needed to support the continued performance of essential functions during a continuity activation.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) develops and issues standards, guidelines, and other publications to assist Federal agencies in implementing the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002 and in managing cost-effective programs to protect their information and information systems.  NIST has issued guidance for Federal information system contingency planning. Contingency planning refers to interim measures to recover information system services after a disruption.  For more information please refer to:

Additional requirements for organizations as it relates to essential records management (including protection of information and information systems) in a continuity event are found in Annex I of the Federal Continuity Directive (FCD) 1 (PDF file).

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