March 21, 2020

Van Hollen, Lankford, Sinema Announce Bipartisan Legislation Requiring Federal Agencies to Maximize Telework for Employees

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) announced the Emergency Telework Act, legislation requiring federal agencies to maximize their telework policies for federal employees. During the current public health emergency, this legislation would give a clear directive to all federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so. It would further direct agencies to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible. The Senators’ bipartisan bill comes in response to the lack of clear and direct guidance from the White House, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding federal employee telework policies. 

“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. We must act to maximize telework now,” said Senator Van Hollen, who also led a letter to the President, urging him to issue an Executive Order to this effect

“This is common-sense legislation that is needed to ensure federal employees also have the ability to telework as the federal government is encouraging Americans to stay at home. If federal employees have the ability to serve Americans from home during this time it is right to allow them to do so,” said Senator Lankford.

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 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.