OPM offers guidance for feds who telework from home with children, dependents

Telework can be a helpful tool for work-life balance, but that doesn't mean working from home is an excuse to give the babysitter the day off.

Federal employees teleworking from home need to draw a clear line between their office and family responsibilities.

The Office of Personnel Management recently released guidance for the workforce on how to handle working from home and balancing the care of a child or adult dependent.

“While the presence of dependents in the household should not be an absolute bar to teleworking, employees should not be engaging in dependent care activities when performing official duties,” the guidance stated. “While an occasional, brief interruption may occur when a dependent is present in the home, teleworkers must be careful to keep interruptions to a minimum to avoid disruptions in work accomplishment.”

Telework is a tool for maintaining a work-life balance, OPM said in its guidance, but that doesn’t mean working from home is an excuse to spend the day focused on your family.

“Employees may not telework with the intent of or for the sole purpose of meeting their dependent care responsibilities while performing official duties,” the guidance stated. “While performing official duties, teleworkers are expected to arrange for dependent care just as they would if they were working in the office.”

That doesn’t mean if there’s an emergency an employee can’t take a break to address it, but these interruptions should be brief, and the exception, not the rule when teleworking, OPM said.

“Although an occasional or brief interruption may occur when a dependent is present in the home, teleworkers should be careful to keep such interruptions to a minimum in order to avoid disruptions in work accomplishment,” the guidance stated. “Also, employees should not engage in dependent care activities while performing official duties. Employees should work with their supervisors to determine whether scheduled breaks may be appropriate for such activities (e.g., using a lunch break). In instances in which the employee is unable to perform official duties because of dependent care responsibilities, he or she should advise his or her supervisor of the situation and request appropriate leave for that time.”

The key to setting a home telework schedule is establishing a dialogue between an employee and manager, OPM said, to define expectations and work output, while also understanding the level of dependency required by other members of the employee’s household.

“Managers must hold teleworkers to the same performance standards as non-teleworking employees,” the guidance stated. “It is important to maintain open lines of communication, and to provide all employees with objective feedback regarding performance expectations (including work outputs completed in the office or at an alternate worksite). Any management decisions regarding telework eligibility and participation should focus on effective performance management and accountability measurement principles that are clearly addressed in the employee’s performance plan.”

According to OPM’s latest telework congressional report, about 44 percent of the federal workforce was eligible in 2015 to use an alternative worksite, but only 46 percent of those eligible workers took advantage of the option.

The same percentage of federal employees was eligible to telework in 2014, while 42 percent of eligible workers actually used the program that year.

OPM published a memo in August describing ways in which the agency would make more of an effort to monitor departments’ telework reporting.

“We will provide agency and subagency reports summarizing your agency’s data submissions for a single pay period under separate cover,” Mark Reinhold, OPM chief human capital officer, said in an Aug. 11 memo to agency CHCOs. “We are asking each agency to work with your HR staff and Telework Managing Officers (TMO) to examine the report to assess the accuracy of the data and determine any potential issues that may be affecting data reporting and accuracy. OPM will initiate a series of agency meetings that will bring together HR Directors, TMOs, and payroll providers to identify and discuss steps and assistance needed to ensure accurate data reporting to [the Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) system].”

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