A new presidential memorandum establishes a new baseline for the federal workforce, one that is trying to catch up to what has become the norm in the private sector: flexible work is good for the individual and the employer.
The memo in question — Enhancing Workplace Flexibilities and Work-Life Program — is explicitly organized around the premise that the government needs to catch up to the 21st century to attract talented employees:
To attract, empower, and retain a talented and productive workforce in the 21st century, the Federal Government must continue to make progress in enabling employees to balance their responsibilities at work and at home. We should build on our record of leadership through better education and training, expanded availability of workplace flexibilities and work-life programs, as appropriate, and improved tracking of outcomes and accountability. In doing so, we can help ensure that the Federal workforce is engaged and empowered to deliver exceptional and efficient service to the American public while meeting family and other needs at home.
The most important aspect of this memo (from my view) is that it clearly states that federal employees have the right to request flexible work schedules, that agencies need to inform employees of these rights, and that agencies need to respond to these requests for telework, part-time employment, and job sharing within 20 business days or less.
That might not be enough if agencies can simply turn down such requests. But the memo states that ‘Agency heads shall ensure that the following workplace flexibilities are available to the maximum extent practicable, in accordance with the laws and regulations governing these programs and consistent with mission needs’.
The list of workplace flexibility practices is extremely comprehensive:
(a) part-time employment and job sharing, including for temporary periods of time where appropriate;
(b) alternative work schedules, including assurance that core hours are limited only to those hours that are necessary;
(c) break times for nursing mothers and a private space to express milk;
(e) annual leave and sick leave, including the advancement of leave for employee and family care situations;
(f) sick leave for family care and bereavement;
(g) sick leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition;
(h) sick leave for adoption;
(i) leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), including allowing employees to take their FMLA leave intermittently as allowed under the Act, including for childbirth, adoption, and foster care;
(j) leave transfer programs, including leave banks;
(k) bone marrow and organ donor leave; and
(l) leave policies related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking situations.
The Office of Personnel Management — the director is Katherine Achuleta, is directed by the memo to help agencies make the transition, and ensure that the agencies ‘review its workplace flexibilities and work-life policies and programs to assess whether they are being effectively used to the maximum extent practicable’.
I hope that we’ll see a report from Director Achuleta sometime after the 120 day period to learn what the state of the practice is in government agencies, and how she intends to pursue this program. I will try to speak with the agency around that time, and find out.