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EPA Further Softens Return-to-Work Plans With More Telecommuting

July 17, 2020, 1:50 PM

EPA employees at risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus will be allowed to keep telecommuting even after they are formally expected back in the office, according to an internal agency email obtained by Bloomberg Law.

The changes represent a win for Environmental Protection Agency employees, many of whom have rejected the agency’s return-to-work plans as coronavirus cases spike across the nation.

Telecommuting will be available for up to two months after an agency office enters the third and final phase of President Donald Trump’s three-stage reopening plan, according to the Thursday evening email from Doug Benevento, the EPA’s associate deputy administrator.

No EPA offices have yet entered Phase 3, but several are swiftly moving toward that stage.

The new rules giving more leeway only apply to workers who are at higher risk for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. It also applies to those who live with someone in one of those categories, or have unresolved dependent care responsibilities, Benevento wrote. The additional telecommuting flexibility can be extended “as appropriate,” he said.

Extra telecommuting can also be granted if mass transit isn’t available, according to the email.

Rotations in Office

Further, once an office enters a Phase 3 reopening, workers will rotate into the office and do some telecommuting during the first two weeks of that time, Benevento wrote. Managers will be authorized to grant up to five telecommuting days per pay period for “appropriate social distancing” during the first two months of Phase 3, he wrote.

The changes are consistent with data the EPA has collected and “what state and local governments are doing,” according to Benevento.

The EPA has consistently said it would be opening offices carefully and monitoring local data provided by the CDC, Johns Hopkins University, Carnegie Mellon University, and others.

Several EPA employees say they have been working from home effectively during the national self-quarantine.

“Why spend all the time talking about mitigation and gating if we’re doing just fine being safe at home?” said Tad Wysor, an EPA engineer in Michigan and vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3907. He spoke to reporters during a Zoom call earlier this month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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