The use of telework or flexi-place has become an attractive feature for both employees and management for a variety of different reasons. However, a poorly administered program can be more of a burden than the problem one may be trying to solve.
There are enormous issues that need to be addressed for this to work. Some of the questions that can arise are among the following:
- What assignments and work are portable?
- What is the employees’ status who is scheduled to telework when there is a major snowstorm that shuts down their permanent duty station in a federal building?
- Does the telework arrangement still provide for coverage in the office?
- What is the impact of telework on a person’s pay if the telework site is outside of the locality pay area?
- Is the nonexempt employee on the clock for performing work before or after the duty hours?
- Is there an entitlement to mileage reimbursement for going directly from your home to an alternate worksite or even if the employee is called back into the office unexpectedly?
These are serious issues that must be addressed if both management and employees wish to avoid future disputes.
While many of these issues are already addressed by public policy, does everyone know the policies and regulations behind each, and are they communicated and enforced?
Certainly, all of these should be spelled out clearly in the telework agreement between the participant and their manager, and in a collectively organized environment the impact and implementation of a telework program is negotiable. Entitlements are based on an employee’s “official duty station” as shown on their official personnel record in the form of a SF-50.
So what is the problem? In my 37 years of federal human resources experience rarely are these issues clearly communicated and included in a telework agreement so everyone has a clear understanding of the rules of engagement.
Let’s first address the official duty station. In most telework arrangements the person is allowed to work from home one or two days per week. This arrangement does not disturb a person’s pay or benefits.
However, there are a small number of situations where the person’s home becomes their “official duty station.” Again, a personnel action must be processed reflecting this as the person’s permanent duty station. This can present a problem if the person’s home is outside the vicinity of their locality pay. Is this person still entitled to the locality pay where their agency is located? The answer is no. They are entitled to the locality pay where their permanent duty station is, as shown on a SF-50, and that could be higher or lower. This is governed by OPM’s pay policies which state:
- If an employee is in temporary duty travel status away from the official worksite for his or her position of record, the employee’s official worksite and associated pay entitlements are not affected.
- If an employee is temporarily detailed to a position in a different location, the employee’s official worksite and associated pay entitlements are not affected.
- If an employee is authorized to receive relocation expenses under 5 U.S.C. 5737, in connection with an extended assignment resulting in temporary change of station, the worksite associated with the extended assignment is the official worksite. (See 41 CFR 302-1.1.)
- If an employee is temporarily reassigned or promoted to another position in a different geographic area, the temporary work location is considered the official worksite for pay purposes.
- The official worksite for an employee covered by a telework agreement is the location of the regular worksite for the employee’s position (i.e., the place where the employee would normally work absent a telework agreement), as long as the employee is scheduled to report physically at least twice each biweekly pay period on a regular and recurring basis to that regular worksite.
- In the case of a telework employee whose work location varies on a recurring basis, the employee need not report at least twice each biweekly pay period to the regular worksite established by the agency as long as the employee is performing work within the same geographic area (established for the purpose of a given pay entitlement) as the employee’s regular worksite. For example, if a telework employee with a varying work location works at least twice each biweekly pay period on a regular and recurring basis in the same locality pay area in which the established official worksite is located, the employee need not report at least twice each biweekly pay period to that official worksite to maintain entitlement to the locality payment for that area.
- The official worksite for an employee covered by a telework agreement who is not scheduled to report at least twice each biweekly pay period on a regular and recurring basis to the regular worksite is the location of the telework site (i.e., home, telework center, or other alternative worksite).
In certain temporary situations, an agency may designate the location of the regular worksite as the official worksite of an employee who teleworks on a regular basis at an alternative worksite, even though the employee is not able to report at least twice each biweekly pay period on a regular and recurring basis to the regular worksite. This exception is envisioned to be temporary and one caused by a reasonable accommodation because of injury or illness or some other condition which is known upfront to be of a short duration.
According to OPM, “The fact that an employee may receive lesser pay or benefits if the official worksite is changed to the telework location is not a basis or justification for using this temporary exception. A key consideration is the need to preserve equity between the telework employee and non-telework employees who are working in the same area as the telework location.”
Managers and employees are not expected to know all of the nuances of the various pay policy ramifications. That is the role of the human resources office. However, all telework arrangements that change a person’s permanent duty station should be coordinated with the servicing personnel office in advance to avoid problems and hardships.
If a telework arrangement violates the federal pay policies, then human resources offices are required to collect the erroneous overpayment of salary, and this invokes another administrative quagmire in terms of debt collection and appeals.
All of this can be easily avoided with due diligence up front. When I was the regional human resources officer, I was involved in several of these debt collections, only because we learned about an unconventional arrangement well after the fact. Needless to say, a great deal of unproductive time was spent with a lot of hardship and ill-feelings as the end result.
In my next article, I’ll address the aspects of overtime and FLSA with respect to telework.