DOJ employees urge the agency to maintain flexibility in the workplace in the event of pandemics
An affinity group representing Justice Department officials urges the agency to permanent staff many of the flexibility leaders introduced for the pandemic – and to establish consistent guidelines across the organization.
The Biden government gave the agencies until July 19 to finalize the agencies’ re-entry plans and urged them to “reconsider” their teleworking, teleworking and other workplace flexibilities.
“As the components develop their post-reintegration post-reintegration post-reintegration work plans, DOJ GEN members advocate updated flexible work guidelines within their own components that are as far-reaching as their components’ missions allow,” said DOJ Gender Equality Network in a letter dated 21st to Lee Lofthus, Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice Management.
Individual DOJ sub-component employees have sent similar letters to their own executives. In total, around 500 DOJ employees have signed these letters, the group said, calling on the department to consider their suggestions and feedback when developing re-entry plans this summer.
Ultimately, it is up to each sub-component of the DOJ to provide flexibility to the workforce, and the Gender Equality Network acknowledged that not all positions are conducive to teleworking. Correctional officers at the Bureau of Prisons, for example, cannot work from home.
However, the group said the department should establish a consistent basis for teleworking and flexible hours across the department, leaving it to the individual components and staff to work out the specifics based on their own missions and needs.
“If lawyers and paralegals in the civil department are allowed to telework four days a week, similarly positioned lawyers and paralegals in the antitrust department should be given the same flexibility,” DOJ GEN said. “We believe that persistence creates justice and that workers’ ability to manage their working lives should not be constrained by leaders who create artificial constraints that are not supported by mission-related necessities.”
The Justice Department did not return a request for comment on the group’s letters.
Specifically, DOJ GEN calls on the department to enable supervisors and employees to telework at least three days a week. It wants the DOJ to change its guidance on teleworking so that employees with older children at home can clearly continue to work remotely.
The executives recommended by the DOJ Civil Department staff allow up to four days of teleworking per week.
“We encourage the civil department to use teleworking as a recruiting tool,” employees wrote in an email to management on June 4th. “In order to attract new talent effectively, we recommend giving new employees the opportunity to apply for teleworking immediately.”
The group recommended that the DOJ give employees the opportunity to work remotely during at least a probationary period, and urged the department to develop guidance and training for supervisors to ensure that those who do telework are given promotions during recruitment and other opportunities are not overlooked.
For example, civil servants in the department asked their supervisors to train supervisors on managing and engaging remote and on-site staff.
“We are concerned that the transition from workplaces to hybrid office and teleworking schedules could see more men returning to offices while women opting for teleworking, a choice that could negatively impact promotion due to a persistent negative stigma surrounding teleworking “Said DOJ Civil Division staff wrote in their letter management. “To minimize such stigma, managers should clearly communicate and publicly endorse the flexibilities and work schedules available to their employees and contractors, as well as their expectations of those who choose to take advantage of new flexibilities.”
Staff also urged the DOJ to adhere to flexible working time guidelines and schedules that were in place during the pandemic. If certain flexibilities such as teleworking are not possible for certain employees, the DOJ should examine whether sub-components can offer other options instead.
Maintaining teleworking and other workplace flexibilities will not only improve work ethic and employee engagement, but will also make the department a more attractive place to work, argued DOJ GEN.
Prior to the pandemic, 5.5% of the DOJ workforce teleworked at least one day a week, according to the department’s 2019 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. About 29% of DOJ employees said they were dissatisfied with the department’s teleworking program at the time.
At the height of the pandemic, 30% of DOJ employees teleworked every day, while 34% said they couldn’t work remotely because of the nature of their work.
In 2020, 17.1% of DOJ employees said they were dissatisfied with their teleworking program, according to the department’s latest FEVS results.
“Civilian employees and contractors live full lives with demanding work schedules, and many of us struggle long to balance heavy workloads with life outside of the office,” co-workers wrote. “Many of us also have long, stressful trips to our offices and spend two or more hours commuting on a typical work day. Over the past year our eyes have opened to the fact that we don’t have to live in constant motion. To keep our skilled, diverse workforce, the civil department should use the tools we relied on last year and establish guidelines that allow for significantly greater flexibility in the workplace. “