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Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, Partner at Federal Practice Group, discusses what to expect as agencies develop returning to the office plans and how federal employees can start a dialogue on work arrangements

Government agencies and the Office of Management and Budget are working on plans for employees to come back to offices all across government. Some federal employees who have been just as productive or more productive at home may not want to come back, and some have already reached out to their human resources offices expressing their desire to continue teleworking.

As agency HR offices are still in the process of developing and implementing optimal approaches to dealing with the pandemic, the Office of Personnel Management is encouraging them to continue to be flexible in thinking about strategies, according to Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, Partner at Federal Practice Group.

Pitts-Wiley said federal employees who are interested in continued flexible work arrangements should start a discussion with their agency identifying their concerns as well as their capabilities. “To the extent that some employees have been brought back or are about to be brought back into the workplace, the best thing that those employees can do is start a dialogue with both their management chain as well as with human resources,” he said.

If a federal employee is interested in making the case to their agency for continuing to telework, there a few different ways to go about it. Some positions have definable metrics in place that employees can use to show their productivity rate, explained Pitts-Wiley. “But otherwise, you should just demonstrate the type of work that you have been able to accomplish … since you’ve been on a telework status, and compare that to previous performance periods.”

Pitts-Wiley said that while performance does not entitle employees to be able to telework, “I do think that employees are in a good position now to be able to talk about telework, because they’ve been able to do it successfully for a sustained period of time, and I also think managers are going to be hard-pressed to require employees to come back into the workplace unless they’re first able to demonstrate that it’s absolutely safe there.”

If an employee has concerns about safety but is called back to the office, they can take advantage of reasonable accomodations, and they can also turn to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said Pitts-Wiley. “OSHA, I believe, has been invigorated and emboldened to do more in light of recent memoranda and executive orders from President Biden, so I think that OSHA is going to play a much more significant and effective role in combating the pandemic and ensuring that individuals that don’t need to be or should not be in the workplace due to their vulnerability will not have to be required to go into the office.”

Pitts-Wiley said that as agency plans start to come out in the coming weeks, it will likely be difficult to return to pre-pandemic norms at this time. He expects to see an expansion of telework policies for all federal government agencies.

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