Decision on Recurring Telework Grievance

An arbitrator upheld NTEU’s grievance over HHS’s denial of several recurring telework agreements, ordering the agency to convert episodic arrangements to recurring agreements.

Wooden gavelI want to bring to your attention the latest arbitration decision in our ongoing efforts to force the agency to live up to their telework obligations under the contract. This grievance was filed on behalf of three Compliance Officers (COs) who had episodic telework agreements permitting telework two days per week and sought to obtain recurring telework agreements allowing telework three days per week. NTEU contended that since the employees had already successfully teleworked two days per week, and their job duties comported with the requirements of Article 26 of the parties’ Consolidated Collective Bargaining Agreement, the agency’s mission would be met with the recurring telework arrangement. 

TeleworkingAt the hearing, NTEU presented evidence that the employees were fully successful under their current episodic arrangements to telework two days per week and argued that they could continue to successfully perform their job duties under a recurring telework agreement to telework three days per week. The FDA argued that due to the intake of work and related office coverage concerns, none of the employees could telework on consecutive days, and thus the COs could telework no more than two days per week.

Man on a couch with notebook computer on lapThe arbitrator upheld the grievance in part, and denied it in part. She accepted NTEU’s evidence that the employees were successfully performing their job duties while teleworking two days per week, and ordered the agency to convert their episodic agreements to recurring telework agreements, thus relieving the employees of the need to routinely request permission to telework. However, the arbitrator accepted FDA’s contention that office coverage concerns limit these particular employees to two days of telework per week, even though she agreed with NTEU’s contention that the employees’ duties can generally be performed away from the official duty station. The decision should be helpful for employees in similar situations who wish to have episodic agreements converted to recurring agreements. Because the finding that three days of telework would interfere with legitimate agency needs for office coverage was specific to the circumstances of the office where the three grievants worked, the two-day limit is not necessarily applicable to every employee, whose eligibility for telework must be determined case-by-case.

If you have questions regarding this issue, please contact your chapter president.

4 thoughts on “Decision on Recurring Telework Grievance”

  1. I would appreciate a summary version of the verdict. I am not clear if we won anything, or loss. Or did we just break even? What does this mean to us. Thanks

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    1. I understand why you think this. Per the arbitration decision, the COs asked for 3 days of recurring telework each week and ended up with 2 days of recurring telework each week. However, more took place in between than the arbitration decision reveals.

      The COs were not allowed to telework at all at first. After attending a chapter lunch-and-learn presentation on telework, they decided to submit telework agreements to their supervisor requesting 3 days of recurring telework per week. After their supervisor disapproved this request, they asked for 2 recurring-telework days per week. After management also disapproved this telework agreement, they decided to grieve these management decisions.

      Step 1, step 2, and step 3 grievance deciding officials denied the grievance in its entirety. Management offered them 2 days of episodic telework and entered that telework agreement to start building evidence that they could telework this much without negatively affecting their performance or conduct.

      It was obvious to the arbitrator that the employees’ performance or conduct had not decayed though they were teleworking 2 days per week each week (though they had to request it episodically). This led the arbitrator’s decision to convert the 2-day/week episodic telework to recurring telework (where the employees do not have to request to telework each time).

      This is a great win for us since it breaks down management’s unwritten policy to only approve episodic telework agreements.

      Note that back on March 2017, we also won a grievance (through a settlement agreement with the agency) that challenge management’s unwritten policy to limit telework to 2 days per week. A CSO in this chapter was limited to two days of episodic telework per week. She can now episodically telework up to 5 days per week (she was not interested in recurring telework). See https://nteu254.org/2017/03/23/telework-grievance-win/ for more information.

      Between these two cases, I hope you can see how significant this win is.

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  2. I concur. I view this verdict as a victory. The previous requirement by the agency–namely, of requesting periodic approval of telework–imposed a mental and emotional burden on the employees. They would never know whether the agency would approve or deny their request. Therefore, it would have been very difficult for them to plan their schedules, arrange transportation, and everything else. In addition, it hurt their personal dignity by denying them their rights as an NTEU employee.

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