Federal Employees News Digest

HEROES Act pushes telework, extends protections to feds

The House of Representatives May 12 COVID-19 relief bill appropriates more than $3 trillion for economic rescue of individuals and small business, but it also provides for expanded telework for federal workers and contractors during the coronavirus pandemic.

While eligibility to telework had been a source of confusion during the early days of the virus outbreak, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act would push agencies to expand telework and disincentivize any efforts to scale it back.

The bill also would require agencies to allow contractors to telework during the pandemic if the nature of their jobs allowed for it. Additionally, contractors who received adverse performance ratings as a result of contract disruptions due to COVID-19 would not be penalized.

Federal workers who were no longer able to meet the physical requirements of their jobs due to exposure to COVID-19 and who, as a result, moved to other civil service jobs, would be allowed to remain on their existing retirement plans.

Workers who contracted COVID-19 and whose jobs required extensive contact with the public, such as Transportation Security Officers, would be presumed to have contracted the virus while on the job and would be granted workers compensation accordingly.

The HEROES Act would also extend a provision of premium pay intended for a wide range of frontline essential workers in the private sector and in state and local government -- from grocery store workers to mass transit operators to first responders -- to feds. Under the bill, federal workers would be eligible for the premium pay, and the Office of Personnel Management would be tasked with developing corresponding regulations.

Senate leadership is not looking to move the bill anytime soon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that he doesn't feel "urgency" to take up the House legislation. At the same press conference, Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) called the bill a "laundry list" and said "it's not going anywhere."

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