While the Social Security Administration (SSA), like much of the rest of the Federal government has been largely operating in a work from home setting since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency is preparing to return to office through a phased re-entry plan, the agency confirmed to MeriTalk.
The first group of employees to go back to the office will be senior leadership, including Acting SSA Commissioner Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi, beginning Dec. 1, while current plans are for the rest of employees to begin their return Jan. 3, according to the agency and a copy of the plan first published by Federal News Network.
The agency has been under an agency-wide evacuation order since March 13, 2020, and the published proposal includes a targeted Jan. 2, 2022, end to that evacuation order. The plan states that then, on Jan. 3, any employee ineligible for telework will be required to return to on-site work, unless a locality has an evacuation order necessitating remote work.
“Throughout the pandemic, Social Security has helped many people through in-person appointments for certain situations in local offices nationwide and through options like online, telephone, and video service,” SSA Press Officer Mark Hinkle said in a statement to MeriTalk. “We know that those options do not work for everyone.”
“In order to improve service, especially for people who have had difficulty reaching us during the pandemic, Social Security will begin implementing the reentry process agency-wide as soon as possible, including taking steps to increase in-person accessibility,” Hinkle continued. “The agency is engaging with our employee unions around reentry and safety protocols. The outcome of these negotiations will drive important reentry details, including when we will transition from our remote pandemic operations.”
Managers and executives continue to be eligible for telework, and line managers can telework depending on the unit they manage. Additionally, any employee that teleworked in the pandemic will at least be eligible for “episodic telework” as long as they meet the eligibility criteria outlined in the agency’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The proposal also says that the number of scheduled telework days and percentage of teleworking employees will be determined by each of the agency’s deputy commissioners.
Hinkle called the Jan. 3 target date a “proposal,” and said a final target date is in the process of being negotiated with the employees’ union for the agency.