USCIS, SEC extend telework amid coronavirus concerns

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Against the backdrop of federal offices allowing their employees to telecommute as a precaution against the coronavirus, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it was implementing a remote work program for its workers.

The decision is in accordance with a 2016 collective bargaining agreement between USCIS and the American Federation of Government Employees' National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council 119, which represents over 13,000 USCIS workers.

USCIS announced the program in a March 9 letter to AFGE Council 119 President Danielle Spooner.

"The Agency intends to implement the Remote Work program throughout every office in the Agency," Labor and Employee Relations Division chief Judy McLaughlin wrote.

"The Agency is seeking to establish effective and efficient remote work arrangements to support a more flexible and agile work environment without diminishing employee performance or accomplishment."

Teleworking has been a major concern for unions like AFGE, which have fought rollbacks of such arrangements in labor talks with agencies.

On March 6, AFGE National President Everett Kelley sent a letter to Office of Personnel Management Director Dale Cabaniss asking her to expand current telework policies to all workers regardless of previous arrangements as a precaution to allow federal workers to prioritize their health.

Remote work, however, would allow employees to work in locations other than USCIS offices "most or all of the time," and would allow employees who live at least 50 miles away from the near USCIS duty station to work at locations of their choosing. The program would not mandate employees to report to an agency office for the two days per pay period as dictated by current telework policies.

McLaughlin wrote that management would determine eligible and approve workers who apply for the remote work program.

An AFGE spokesman told FCW in an email that the union supports USCIS's decision to implement the remote work policy. As of publication, USCIS did not answer an inquiry into when it was planning on implementing the program.

SEC telework

The Securities and Exchange Commission said it was encouraging employees in its Washington, D.C. headquarters to telework as a cautionary measure as of March 9 after an employee was treated for respiratory issues.

"Late [on the afternoon of March 9], the SEC was informed that a Washington, DC Headquarters employee was treated for respiratory symptoms on Monday. The employee was informed by a physician that the employee may have the coronavirus and was referred for testing," an SEC spokesman said in an email to FCW.

"Amongst other precautions, the SEC is encouraging Headquarters employees to telework until further guidance."

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, adverse respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath and coughing are one side effect of the coronavirus.

There were 20 known cases of COVID-19 across Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia as of March 10, according to data from an interactive map maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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