- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has settled a complaint over its office reopening policy with a group of staffers represented by the American Federation of Government Employees labor union, AFGE said in a statement Thursday.
- In May, AFGE Council 216 filed an unfair labor practice charge against the EEOC alleging that it “unilaterally implemented” the policy, which required the immediate return of bargaining staff and terminated fully remote work arrangements before negotiations were complete. The Federal Labor Relations Authority subsequently issued a complaint against the EEOC in July.
- The commission and the union signed a memorandum of understanding Nov. 22, under which employees will report to physical offices three days per biweekly pay period for the two months of 2023, then four days per pay period starting in March. The EEOC also committed to establishing a remote work plan to be bargained with AFGE and completing health and safety inspections of all worksites, among other terms. “I am pleased that we have an agreement with the union and look forward to our continued partnership working to advance equal employment opportunities in the workplace,” EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows told HR Dive in an email.
Not even the agencies in charge of enforcing workplace laws have been able to avoid telework debates. The topic has been a particularly active one for the Biden administration in 2022; President Joe Biden said in his most recent State of the Union address that remote workers “can feel safe to begin to return to the office,” adding that the “vast majority” of federal government employees would resume in-person work.
The months prior to Biden’s speech saw some notable reopening announcements within the federal government. For example, the Social Security Administration announced last January that it had reached an agreement with three labor unions on a reentry plan. But many federal workers still continue to telework at least part of the time. An October survey by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management found that slightly fewer than one-third of federal employees were not teleworking at least some of the time.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has at times had to defend agency telework operations in the face of skepticism from lawmakers, as OPM Director Kiran Ahuja did before the House Oversight Committee in July, Government Executive reported.
HR teams are likely familiar with pushback against flexible work arrangements, given the number of high-profile private sector employers that have rolled back remote work policies in recent months. The reasons for doing so vary, with respondents to a November VMWare survey citing innovation as a motivating factor. Others may cite management preferences and culture.
Still, it may be difficult to deny the appeal of flexibility. Lack of access to remote or hybrid work drove considerable turnover during the early months of 2022, according to business review website GoodFirms, while a September meQuilibrium study found that workers may see improved psychological safety as a result of having access to remote and hybrid work.
Employers also may expose themselves to legal liabilities if they are too quick to rescind flexible work options. That can potentially include triggering collective bargaining duties as well as the duty to accommodate employees with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and state and local laws.