EPA transition back to the office alarms employees

EPA transition back to the office alarms employees
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving ahead with the second phase of returning employees to the office, prompting concerns from employees as the agency’s internal dashboard shows an uptick in cases.

The new guidelines don’t force employees back to the office, but they kick off new restrictions on telework.

“Telework is at the option of the employee but you should notify your supervisor if you choose to telework. Facilities are open and employees have the option to return to the workplace,” EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Trump officials finalize plan to open up protected areas of Tongass to logging | Feds say offshore testing for oil can proceed despite drilling moratorium | Dems question EPA's postponement of inequality training Democrats question EPA postponement of environmental inequality training OVERNIGHT ENERGY: California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 | EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities | House energy package sparks criticism from left and right MORE wrote to employees in an email obtained by The Hill.

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Employees are also expected to return to normal work schedules unless they have “dependent care issues.”

Unions representing EPA employees expressed alarm to the sudden change in status.

“What the email failed to mention is that this week’s update to the Facility Status Dashboard indicates that HQ does not meet all the criteria set forth in the guidelines,” the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents some EPA employees, said in a release.

The changes are in effect for EPA employees in the Washington, D.C., area as well as Boston and other locations.

But internal EPA data for D.C. shows the 14-day trend of new cases is up, and the 14-day incidence rate of new cases is 141.6 per 100,000 people, not under 10 per 100,000 as the agency set forth in its initial guidelines.

“The dashboard is the not the sole driver in reopening decisions but rather helps form decisions,” EPA spokesman James Hewitt said by email. 

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“Moving into Phase 2 doesn’t put any staff at additional risk as it gives employees the option to telework. The Phase 2 reopening for the Capital Region is also determined by guidance from local and state officials,” he added.

Nate James, who represents EPA employees in D.C. with the American Federation of Government Employees Council, equated the return to the workplace as a game of Russian roulette. 

“Sadly, it appears that our senior leadership is ... more concerned with maintaining appearances than employing safeguards that protect employee lives,” he said in a release.