Labor Dept delays return-to-office plans as union negotiations continue

Federal employees working at the Labor Department will have a little more breathing room before an anticipated increase in their in-person work requirements.

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su announced a delay in the department’s initial return-to-office plans, according to an all-staff email obtained by Federal News Network.

Labor initially shared return-to-office plans for telework-eligible employees back in November. The workplace changes, originally set to take effect on Jan. 28, would have required employees to report to work in person at least five days per two-week pay period. In many cases for Labor employees, onsite work can also mean field work, and it’s not necessarily limited to work in an office-specific setting.

But with ongoing labor-management discussions over the planned telework reduction, Labor officials opted to delay the implementation of the increased in-office requirements, at least for a couple more weeks.

“Because DOL remains actively engaged in negotiations with our unions, implementation will not happen on Jan. 28,” Su said Friday in the all-staff email.

Su said she plans to update affected Labor employees about the negotiations by Feb. 9.

In the email, Su additionally reminded employees that the new in-office requirements for Senior Executive Service (SES) and Schedule C employees, as well as managers and supervisors, remain in effect. The more senior-level Labor employees have been reporting to work in person five days per pay period since October 2023.

Labor did not immediately respond to Federal News Network’s calls or emails requesting additional comments.

For Labor, about one-third of the department’s 15,000-employee workforce is relatively new. The department has hired more than 5,300 employees since January 2021. In her November email on return-to-office plans, Su said a greater in-person presence will allow the department to hold training and team-building activities more effectively.

“One of the challenges many of you continue to identify is that the pandemic and our reliance on maximum telework has made it difficult to develop relationships with colleagues and build a sense of community — the very things that often make work most fulfilling,” Su said in November.

But federal unions representing many different agencies have been pushing to maintain current telework levels for employees.

In some cases, the efforts have proven successful. At the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for instance, agency leaders walked back their initial return-to-office plans for employees after receiving pushback from their unions.

At many agencies, federal employees began heading back to the office more often in fall 2023. Several agencies are also preparing to have their employees work in person more often starting in the early months of 2024.

Federal News Network has compiled a list of federal agencies’ return-to-office plans, and regularly updates the information as it becomes available.

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