DOJ employees call on agency to keep pandemic workplace flexibilities for long haul

An affinity group representing Justice Department employees urges the agency to make permanent many of the flexible workplace leaders set up for the pandemic – and to establish consistent political safeguards in it. whole organization.

The Biden administration gave agencies until July 19 to finalize agency reinstatement plans and urged them to “reimagine” their telecommuting, remote working and other flexibilities in the workplace.

“As the components develop their post-re-entry work plans, DOJ GEN members advocate, within their own components, for up-to-date flexible work policies that are as broad as the missions of their components allow.” , the DOJ Gender Equality Network said in a June 21 statement. letter to Lee Lofthus, Deputy Attorney General of the Justice Management Division.

Employees of individual DOJ sub-components sent similar letters to their own leaders. Some 500 Justice Department employees in total signed the letters, the group said, and urged the department to take their suggestions and comments into account when developing reintegration plans this summer.

It is ultimately up to each sub-component of the Department of Justice to make workforce flexibilities available, and the Gender Equality Network has recognized that not all jobs are suitable for teleworking. Correctional officers from the Bureau of Prisons, for example, cannot work from home.

But the group said the department should set a consistent baseline for telecommuting and flexible working hours across the department, leaving individual components and employees to define the details according to their own assignments. and needs.

“If lawyers and paralegals in the Civil Division are allowed to telecommute four days a week, lawyers and paralegals in the Antitrust Division should have the same flexibility,” DOJ GEN said. “We believe that consistency breeds fairness and that workers’ ability to manage their working lives should not be constrained by leaders who create artificial limitations that are not supported by mission necessities.

The Justice Department did not return a request for comment on the group’s letters.

Specifically, the DOJ GEN asks the department to allow supervisors and employees to telecommute at least three days a week. He wants the Justice Department to change its guidelines on teleworking so that employees with older children at home can clearly continue to work remotely.

Employees in the Civil Division of the Department of Justice recommended up to four days of telecommuting per week.

“We encourage the civilian division to use telecommuting as a recruiting tool,” the employees wrote in an email to management on June 4. “To effectively attract new talent, we recommend allowing new recruits to be immediately eligible for telecommuting. “

The group recommended that the Justice Department allow employees to work remotely over longer distances, at least on a trial basis, and urged the Department to develop guidance and training. for supervisors to ensure those who telecommute are not overlooked for hiring, promotions and other opportunities.

Employees in the ministry’s civilian division, for example, have asked their managers to consider training supervisors on how to manage and hire staff remotely and in person.

“We are concerned that as workplaces shift to hybrid office and telecommuting schedules, more men may return to the office while women opt for telecommuting, a move that could negatively affect career advancement. Because of a continued negative stigma associated with telecommuting, ”the DOJ’s Civilian Division employees wrote in their management of the letter. “To minimize such stigma, supervisors need to clearly communicate and publicly approve the flexibilities and working hours available to their employees and contractors, as well as their expectations of those who choose to use new flexibilities. . “

Employees also urged DOJ to maintain the policies and flexible working hours that were in place during the pandemic. If certain flexibilities like telecommuting are not possible for some employees, the DOJ should consider whether the subcomponents can offer other options instead.

Maintaining telecommuting and other flexibilities in the workplace will not only improve employee morale and engagement, but also make the department a more attractive place to work, DOJ GEN argued.

Before the pandemic, 5.5% of the Justice Department’s workforce teleworked at least one day a week, according to the department’s 2019 Perspective of Federal Employees survey results. About 29% of Justice Department employees said they were not satisfied with the department’s telecommuting program at the time.

At the height of the pandemic, 30% of Justice Department employees teleworked every day, while 34% said they could not work remotely due to the nature of their work.

In 2020, 17.1% of Justice Department employees said they were not satisfied with their telecommuting program, according to the department latest FEVS results.

“Civilian division employees and contractors lead busy lives with demanding work schedules, and many of us have long struggled to balance heavy workloads with life outside the office,” said writes employees. “Many of us also have long and stressful trips to our offices, spending two or more hours commuting in a typical work day. Over the past year, our eyes have been opened to the fact that we don’t need to live in perpetual motion. In order to retain our skilled and diverse workforce, the Civil Division should embrace the tools we have relied on over the past year and establish policies that significantly increase workplace flexibility.

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