Federal Agencies Prepare to Return to the Office

As the weather gets warmer and the number of people getting vaccinated increases, a return to normalcy seems to be on the horizon. While this means a return to in-person gatherings and events for vaccinated individuals, it also marks a return to the office. While some employees may be eager to get back to “normal,” others may be feeling apprehensive and concerned about their safety and the safety of their families when they return to the office.

Safety First

In response to these concerns, and to encourage federal agencies to reopen their doors, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force announced in early June that all agencies must submit their finalized reentry and post-reentry plans to the President’s Management Council and agency chiefs of staff by July 19, 2021, with drafts due by June 18, 2021.

These plans should adhere to state and local COVID-19 safety requirements. They must include schedules for a phased office reentry and safety measures that are in line with current guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the task force, and any other relevant guidance.

Policy Guidance

The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force guidance states that fully vaccinated individuals may gather indoors without wearing a mask without the need to physically distance. However, because many federal agencies do not require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, agencies will have to create non-discriminatory policies toward unvaccinated individuals. Examples of such policies could include:

  • Requiring all employees to wear a mask when in the office.
  • Imposing occupancy limits to encourage social distancing in the office.
  • Rearranging the office to provide space for employees to social distance.
  • Establishing COVID-19 screening and contact-tracing protocols.
  • Enhancing cleaning protocols, especially for high-traffic areas.
  • Requiring employees to sign a disclosure acknowledging the risk of COVID-19 transmission upon return to the office.

Stay Flexible

Department and agency leaders should address telework and alternative working arrangements within their reentry and post-reentry plans. Agencies should give at least a 30-day notice to individuals before requiring them to return to the office so they can make childcare or alternative working arrangements.

To help agencies understand what their plans should include, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issued Memorandum M-21-25 on Integrating Planning for A Safe Increased Return of Federal Employees and Contractors to Physical Workplaces with Post-Reentry Personnel Policies and Work Environment. This memorandum should be used with applicable federal, state, and local guidance to form every agency’s phased reentry and post-reentry plans.

Your Reentry and Post-Reentry Plan

As your agency creates a reentry and post-reentry plan, what have you found to be the biggest obstacles or concerns? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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