New EPA order limits telework post-pandemic

New EPA order limits telework post-pandemic
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A newly implemented order from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires employees to work from the office at least three days per week, though the agency says it does not apply to the current situation involving the coronavirus pandemic.

"Full-time employees are expected to report to the official worksite and duty station a minimum of three (3) days per week," says the order, which was obtained by Inside EPA and E&E News.

An EPA spokesperson told The Hill on Tuesday that the agency adopted the new policy on March 15 but continues to tell all of its employees to telework for the time being. 

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“This work schedule policy was drafted well before the Covid-19 matter arose, and was finalized several weeks ago,” the spokesperson said. “Many of our non-bargaining unit employees asked for the flexibilities offered in this policy to offer them increased flexibility, therefore we implemented.”

By contrast, a 2016 EPA order obtained by E&E had said certain eligible employees could telework full time. 

Tim Whitehouse, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, slammed the new requirements in a statement to The Hill. 

"At a time when businesses and many government agencies are managing for performance, EPA is insistent on establishing arbitrary telework policies that do not comport to the needs of EPA's modern workforce," Whitehouse said. 

"EPA has provided no justification for this policy and seems intent on driving out as many career staff as possible to satisfy its broader political objectives," he added. 

Telework policy has also been a point of contention between the EPA and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union that represents many of its workers. 

In a December statement announcing that the EPA would return to the bargaining table, the AFGE said it would be able to negotiate for “improvements on important provisions around telework” in addition to other priorities. 

The EPA spokesperson told The Hill on Tuesday that the new policy has additionally “provided expanded hours that employees can work and allow expanded breaks during the day for things like childcare or educational responsibilities.”