Bipartisan Senate Bill Would Maximize Telework for Federal Employees

Sen. Chris Van Hollen

Sen. Chris Van Hollen Senate Television via AP

Lawmakers continue to push for more telework options for federal employees.

Senators Monday introduced the Emergency Telework Act, which would require federal agencies to maximize telework policies for all federal employees.

The bipartisan legislation, introduced Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., James Lankford, R-Okla., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., would direct all agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full time. In addition, it would mandate agencies to evaluate whether personnel currently ineligible for telework could be telework-eligible.

The bill follows what lawmakers say has been a lack of guidance for the federal and contracting workforce in response to the outbreak of COVID-19.

“When it comes to telework, the federal government should lead by example. Instead, we’re hearing from employees across the federal government who have been forced to come into the office even when they’re able to work from home. The inconsistent federal response is senseless, and ultimately, in the face of the coronavirus, it endangers the health and safety of thousands,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

Lankford called the Emergency Telework Act “common-sense legislation” that ensures the government practices what it preaches, which is to stay home to perform work if at all possible.

“If federal employees have the ability to serve Americans from home during this time it is right to allow them to do so,” Lankford said.

The Emergency Telework Act would: 

  • Allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full time and evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible during the current public COVID-19 health emergency.
  • Require the Trump administration to continue those requirements if they determine that they would help reduce the risk of community spread and the public health emergency for COVID-19 is extended. If not, the requirements still need to be applied for high-risk employees and in high-risk areas.
  • Provide for an agency head to waive any of the above requirements for employees where there is a clear and compelling reason to do so. It sets a default for maximum telework but gives agencies flexibility for jobs that cannot be done remotely.
  • Compel the executive branch to develop a plan to maximize telework in the event of a future public health emergency for an infectious disease.

The proposed legislation follows guidance from OMB last week for agencies to provide “maximum telework flexibility,” though critics said the guidance didn’t address contractors’ safety. OMB subsequently released additional guidance for agencies regarding federal contracting and using technology in response to coronavirus.