The nation’s largest employer, the federal government, is also expanding telework. Halfway through his first term, President Barack Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. The law greatly increased telework opportunities among federal workers by requiring all executive agency heads to develop telework plans and encourage employees to use them. In its most recent report to Congress, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)—the federal human resources agency—found federal telework participation rates hovering around 22% before the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 3, 2020, the OPM released Preliminary Guidance to Agencies During COVID-19, a memorandum outlining operational recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force. In the document, OPM urged agencies to become telework-ready, identifying as many eligible employees as possible in their continuity of operations plans. Heeding OPM guidance, agencies quickly extended telework capabilities to eligible federal workers in the spring, transitioning many into the virtual environment for the first time. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released further federal guidance to state and local governments, as well as private employers, on telework policies as they relate to the ADA and other Equal Employment Opportunity laws.
With the fall of 2020 bringing a new wave of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, and critics wary of a premature return, Congress is considering bipartisan legislation to encourage the use of telework. The Pandemic Federal Telework Act of 2020, sponsored by Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), extends full-time telework to all eligible federal employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the proposed legislation invests in telework projects from the Technology Modernization Fund.
To ease the financial strain of state spending on COVID-19 mitigation and response measures, Congress included $150 billion in direct assistance for state, local and tribal governments as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Known as the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), each state received a minimum allocation of $1.25 billion, and local governments with a population of at least 500,000 were eligible for direct payments. Provided the funds are spent by Dec. 30, 2020, the law authorized states and other government recipients to use their funds to expand broadband capacity for distance learning and telework. NCSL is actively tracking state CRF allocations.