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NWSEO represented employees exempt from DOC-wide telework policies under unfair labor practice

(May 17, 2023) The National Weather Service Employees Organization and the Department of Commerce have settled the unfair labor practice case involving the Department’s unilateral implementation of a highly restrictive telework and remote work policy in March 2022.

Under the terms of the agreement , DOC’s March 2022 policies, as well as NOAA’s February 2023 Telework and Remote Work policies, will not apply to NWSEO bargaining unit members – although they will continue to apply to all other Department employees, (except for those at the USPTO).

As a result of an Unfair Labor Practice Charge filed by NWSEO, the General Counsel of the Federal Labor Relations Authority had issued a Complaint against DOC alleging that it committed an unfair labor practice by implementing the new telework and remote work policies without consulting with NWSEO. This case was set for trial on May 31, 2023 before a Federal Administrative Law Judge.

Under the previous DOC Telework Policy in existence before 2022, individual supervisors and employees could jointly determine the appropriate number of days to telework (up to 8 per pay period) and supervisors were encouraged to approve at least 4 days of telework a pay period. Under the new March 22, 2022 policy unilaterally imposed by DOC employees were limited to 2 days per week of telework (or 4 days a pay period), unless a “variance” is granted. This four day a pay period restriction no longer applies to employees represented by NWSEO, and supervisors should not be restricting the amount of telework in this manner.

As part of the March 2022 DOC policy, bureaus were encouraged to establish “core” days on which telework is prohibited, which is a restriction that was not contained in the earlier policy. The March 2022 directive also established a new policy that “[e]ach office will be expected to maintain an on-site presence each workday” and “[a]dequate office coverage must be factored into determinations with respect to how many days a week or pay period any individual employee may work.” These restrictions on the scheduling of telework will no longer apply to NWSEO bargaining units.

The March 2022 Memorandum also virtually eliminated the opportunity for employees to engage in “remote work.” The Memorandum states that “[i]nstances of remote work should be rare and mission-driven,” must be approved annually by the servicing HR office and the Office of General Counsel and may only be granted by either the Deputy Secretary (in the cases of organization, facility or class of jobs) or by the Bureau head in individual cases. A new requirement for approving remote work was established: “Whether there is value in having staff in the proposed remote location should always be factored into the bureau’s decision-making.” These restrictions on remote work will not apply to NWSEO units either.

Earlier this year, NOAA gave the five NWSEO bargaining units notice that it would implement new Telework and Remote work policies that incorporate the changes made by DOC in March 2022. As part of the settlement, NOAA will be rescinding its notice to NWSEO of implementation of these new policy documents.

DOC has also agreed that NOAA will send a broadcast email to all NOAA employees (including managers and those not represented by NWSEO as well as those represented by other unions) that the restrictive policies will not apply to employees represented by NWSEO.

In 2022, NWSEO negotiated a separate agreement covering telework for NWS employees which contains a high degree of flexibility. This agreement was subsequently incorporated into the NWS/NWSEO collective bargaining agreement and can be found here.

Employees of the NOAA General Counsel’s Office have their own telework and remote work agreements negotiated by NWSEO.

Employees represented by NWSEO anywhere in NOAA should immediately report to any instance in which a supervisor or managers seeks to limit the use of telework or remote work in accordance with the terms of the March 2022 DOC or February 2023 NOAA telework or remote work policies.


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