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Will the Telework Act lead to Teleworker discrimination?

- January 4, 2011 - 0 Comments

Here at Break Down the Walls, we were truly excited to see Congress pass the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act and President Barack Obama sign it into law.

The act requires agencies to determine telework-eligible employees, establish telework policies and establish programs to communicate these telework policies to their employees. The Act also requires agencies to name an official to oversee their telework program and incorporate telework into continuity of operations planning.

The act is a solid first step in the government embracing telework which is not only greener, but also has significant potential to cut costs for a government that is looking to tighten its belt during difficult financial times.

However, a recent article that surfaced over the holidays in Newsweek got us doing a bit of thinking. In the article, Mickey Kaus argues without particular protections being put in place for teleworking government employees, there’s a good chance that they could start to be overlooked for promotions, slammed in performance reviews and see other problems from management. He then goes on to ask questions about just how much money telework will save the government and just how productive teleworking employees can possibly be.

The tone of the article suggests that it’s written by someone who doesn’t personally believe that government employees are as dedicated to their mission as we know they are. In fact, he comes out and says that if they’re in the office, things will at least get done because “there’s nothing else to do.”

We disagree whole-heartedly with Mr. Kaus on this one. We believe that the increased adoption of telework will result in significant savings for the government. How? Because it’s already being used in some government agencies and private sector organizations to help address many of the problems facing the government today.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) currently sees over 80 percent of its eligible workforce telework. As a result, the USPTO is currently a very hot place to work and having no problems recruiting despite the rest of the government struggling to fill tens of thousands of federal vacancies. And, although it’s a private sector organization, Microsoft recently saved $90 million in one year by substituting teleconferencing for travel.

As far as teleworking discrimination goes, we can only speculate since teleworking across the federal government is still in its infancy. However, with organizations like the USPTO already embracing telework with no reported problems, it would seem somewhat far fetched. And with a generation of mobile workers coming up through the schools, teleworking will be expected by the best and brightest when they hit the job market – which would mean the government losing them to private enterprises and agencies that DO promote telework.

In fact, if promotions and performance reviews are still based on getting the mission accomplished and being productive, perceived discrimination against employees who DON’T telework could become an issue. By eliminating commutes and allowing employees to work from anywhere, the government is making their workforce more productive and effective. They’re also ensuring that they can do their work and accomplish their mission even when they can’t get to the office due to weather, disaster, etc.

To us, it seems the article is way off base. This is the first we’ve heard that telework could possibly make the government less productive. In fact, all signs point to the opposite. And if telework helps make government employees work better and smarter, wouldn’t they be the ones with the advantage?

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