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DOJ Employees Want Some Telework to Be Permanent

July 6, 2021 by Dan McCue
The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — As a deadline approaches for federal departments and agencies to solidify their post-COVID re-entry programs, a group of Justice Department employees is encouraging its bosses to keep at least some telework and other flexibility measures in place permanently.

The Biden administration has given the departments and agencies until July 19 to submit employee and contractor reentry plans to the Office of Management and Budget.

“Agencies have been advised that they should satisfy applicable collective-bargaining obligations and provide ample notice to any employees who will be returning to the physical workplace, who will have altered work schedules, or who will otherwise have altered work circumstances, consistent with the agency’s intended post-reentry work environment,” said an email from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, an entity led by the White House COVID-19 Response Team, the General Services Administration, and the Office of Personnel Management.

“These determinations should be informed by ongoing discussions with employees, their representatives at all levels of the agency, supervisors, agency leadership, and other stakeholders about how to set up the agency and its workforce for success in the post-reentry environment,” the email said.

Draft reentry plans were expected to be submitted to the OMB last month.

At the Justice Department, a group of employees, under the banner of the DOJ Gender Equality Network, or DOJ GEN, is encouraging individual components of the department to implement “long-term flexible work policies that are generous and equitable.”

“As components develop their post-reentry workplace plans, DOJ GEN members are

advocating, within their own components, for updated flexible work policies that are as

expansive as their components’ missions allow,” the group says in a letter to Assistant Attorney General Lee Lofthus.

Almost 500 of DOJ GEN’s members have signed or will soon sign on to one of 15 letters to different Department components. Each letter explains why offering a range of flexible work options will expand the component’s ability to recruit, hire and retain top talent, while advancing each component’s mission and the goal of gender equity and equality. 

The letters also include detailed recommendations that the signatories believe their specific component should take. 

These suggestions include:

  • All Civil Division offices should permit telework four days per week; 
  • Supervisors should be permitted to telework; 
  • The Civil Division should develop guidance and training for supervisors to ensure teleworking employees and contractors are not disadvantaged;
  • Supervisors should not require excessive telework reporting from staff;
  • The Civil Division should permit distant telework for eligible employees and contractors for limited time periods;
  • The Civil Division should adopt maxiflex, glide, and compressed work schedules to encourage greater work schedule flexibility;
  • The Civil Division should make investments in training and communications equipment; and
  • The Civil Division should modify its directives to clearly incorporate JMD Guidance permitting telework with older children at home. 

They also ask that the department set consistent policy guardrails across the organization, as “doing this will help ensure that each component, to the maximum extent possible, will continue to achieve its mission while also building ‘a collaborative and flexible workplace environment that embraces the wellbeing of its employees.’”

The Justice Department did not return a request for comment about the group’s letter.

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