What is remote work?
Remote is a workplace flexibility allowing an employee to work at an approved alternative worksite, within or outside the local commuting area of the agency worksite, with no expectation to report to the agency worksite on a regular and recurring basis.
Who is eligible to work remotely?
Eligibility to participate in remote work as part of the Workplace Flexibilities Program is determined by assessing several key elements involving the position, organizational/business needs, and the employee:
- The nature of work associated with the position can be performed by allowing some or all duties to be completed without visiting the official worksite. This may include work assignments that involve field work or physical presence in some other location (e.g., court, other federal work site) that is not the official worksite.
- Must assess position eligibility against the business needs of the organization, ensuring that the level of participation does not diminish organizational performance including, but not limited to, the impact to whether telework or remote status would negatively impact the effective accomplishment of work for others.
- The resources required for the employee to complete the work are available/accessible virtually including, but not limited to, a computer to connect to the virtual private network (VPN), the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
- The ability to evaluate the quantity, quality, manner of performance, and timeliness, as appropriate, for the work.
- The number of hours required to perform work at the agency worksite determines whether the position is eligible for telework (routine or situational) or remote work (within or outside of the commuting area of the agency worksite), or onsite work.
- Remote Work Eligible: When duties require less than 16 hours per bi-weekly pay period at the agency worksite.
- Routine Telework Eligible: When duties require 16 - 64 hours per bi-weekly pay period at the agency worksite.
- Situational/Ad-hoc Telework Eligible: No minimum number of hours per bi-weekly pay period, determined on a project, work assignment, mission need, or in response to an employee request.
For incumbent employees to be eligible to participate in a Workplace Flexibilities Agreement (WFA) for remote work, the employee must have a performance plan in place and be performing at least at the fully successful level and participation is not expected to diminish organizational performance.
Note: Employees hired in positions that were advertised as remote have no additional eligibility requirements.
What is the difference between local remote and non-local remote?
The main differences between local remote and non-local remote pertain to two factors: 1) the frequency of onsite presence, and 2) the physical location of a remote employee's approved alternative worksite.
Positions should be designated as “remote within the local commuting area of the agency worksite” (or local remote), if there is some frequency with which the position requires an onsite presence (e.g., employee may be required at the agency worksite less than 2 days per bi-weekly pay period, or employee may be required at in-person work activities including, for collaboration, on an irregular basis, or duties require an irregular, but consistent, e.g., twice per month, presence at the agency worksite). For these positions, employees should have an official worksite/alternative worksite within the local commuting area.
Positions should be designated as “remote outside the local commuting area of the agency worksite” (or non-local remote), if the position requires little to no onsite presence (e.g., once annually). For these positions, employees are not required to have an official worksite/alternative worksite within the local commuting area. Refer to the HHS Travel Policy for specific guidance.
What is the defined local commuting area and how does it impact remote work?
The commuting area is the geographic area that usually constitutes one area for employment purposes. It includes any population center (or two or more neighboring ones) and the surrounding localities in which people live and can reasonably be expected to travel back and forth daily to the agency worksite. The local commuting area will be defined by the locality pay area of the Agency physical worksite that requires the employee’s onsite presence.
A local remote employee will be entitled to reimbursement for travel to the agency’s physical worksite upon request if the agency has requested the employees to travel to the worksite and the employee is required to travel more than 50 miles each way.
Can a remote worker have more than one approved alternative worksite?
No, remote workers can only have one approved alternative worksite. For a remote worker, the official worksite is the alternative worksite to which the agency and the employee agreed (e.g., the employee’s residence). The official worksite is generally the location of an employee’s duty station as documented at item 39 on an employee’s Standard Form (SF) 50.
How is locality pay for a remote worker determined?
Locality pay is determined by the location of the duty station. The official worksite is generally the location of an employee’s duty station as documented at item 39 on an employee’s Standard Form (SF) 50. In the case of a remote worker, the official worksite is the alternative worksite to which the agency and the employee agreed (e.g., the employee’s residence).
Who has the discretion to determine remote work eligibility and approve remote work requests?
First-line supervisors are responsible for determining eligibility for workplace flexibilities, including remote work, given their familiarity and awareness of the relative portability of each employee’s duties and responsibilities and the regularity by which the employee must perform work onsite. This eligibility determination will be the first step in the approval process. First-line supervisors must then obtain concurrence from Division Director (or equivalent) and IC Executive Officer (or their designee) before finalizing workplace flexibility decisions, to include remote work.
For more information on your IC-specific policy, please contact your Workplace Flexibilities IC POC.
Is there a limit on the amount of people who are remote work eligible within an office/division?
There is no official cap on the number of employees who are remote work eligible within an office or division. Position eligibility for telework is determined by the nature of work and how many hours of work must be accomplished at the agency worksite during the typical bi-weekly pay period.
However, during the implementation of the HHS Workplace Flexibilities policy, Division Directors (or their equivalent) and Executive Officers (or their designee) may require review and concurrence of telework eligibility decisions and ensure that first-line supervisor decisions for similarly situated employees are being made in an equitable fashion. The EO will have ultimate authority for ensuring equity across the IC.
For more information on your IC-specific policy, please contact your Workplace Flexibilities IC POC.
Can a remote work agreement be terminated?
Participation in a remote work agreement is voluntary and extended to provide the flexibility required of a changing workforce. A remote work WFA may be terminated by the supervisor or the employee at any time. Reasons for termination may include circumstances when the arrangement is no longer conducive to the business needs of the organization, the employee’s performance diminishes, or the employee no longer wants to work from a remote worksite.
If a remote work agreement is terminated, are employees eligible for relocation reimbursement?
If the WFA for remote work is terminated by the supervisor because the arrangement no longer meets the business needs of the organization, and the supervisor reassigns the employee to the agency worksite or other official worksite, the employee is entitled to relocation reimbursement.
If a WFA for remote work is terminated due to diminished performance or conduct violations and the supervisor elects to reassign the employee to the agency worksite, the employee is not entitled to relocation reimbursement. Management should contact their labor and employee relations specialists prior to terminating a remote work agreement for a federal employee.
Is there a waiting period or time in grade requirement that must be met in order to work remotely?
There is no official waiting period in policy that must be met in order to be a remote worker; however, individual organizations may determine that establishing a waiting period in a new position (ie. 30 days) is necessary for business reasons.
Note that the employee must have a current performance plan in place and must be performing at least at the fully successful level to be eligible for remote work. Performance plans must be established within thirty (30) calendar days of an employee’s entrance on duty or assignment to a new position. For new employees, supervisors may determine whether the employee is performing successfully, based on PMAP standards and any initial work product, instead of waiting until the official rating period.
Furthermore, eligibility is not tied to the individual’s series or time in grade. Eligibility for remote work is connected to the nature of the work and level of onsite presence required. Employees hired in positions that were advertised as remote have no additional eligibility requirements.
If the employee has been officially disciplined, how does this impact remote work eligibility?
An employee is considered not eligible for remote work if:
- The employee has been officially disciplined for being absent without leave for more than 5 days in any calendar year or;
- An employee has been officially disciplined for violations of subpart G of the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch for viewing, downloading, or exchanging pornography, including child pornography on a Federal Government computer or while performing Federal Government duties.
What rating level of diminishing performance will end the remote work Workplace Flexibilities Agreement (WFA)? Level 2?
For incumbent employees to be eligible to participate in a WFA for remote work, they must be performing at least at the fully successful level (Level 3). If performance has diminished below the fully successful level (overall Level 3) while on a remote work agreement, management must work with their assigned Employee and Labor Relations Specialist to determine appropriate action which may include termination of remote work.
Will Employee and Labor Relations need to concur as they do now with a performance assessment which results in the termination of a WFA?
Yes, coordination with the Employee and Labor Relations Office is required if there is risk of termination of a WFA for performance reasons. Per PMAP Policy, whenever supervisors observe employee performance that is less than the Achieved Expected Results level on any critical element, they must promptly initiate appropriate action such as counseling, increased feedback sessions, developmental opportunities, and assistance from the Labor and Employee Relations Office.
Does an existing remote work Workplace Flexibilities Agreement (WFA) transfer with an employee, if they take a new position?
No. Approval of a workplace flexibility agreement for remote work is based on a supervisory determination of the nature of the work, and how many essential functions of the position require onsite presence. Transferring to a new position would require a new workplace flexibilities agreement with the new supervisor.
Can an employee work remotely with a dependent in the household?
A WFA for remote work is not a substitute for dependent care. Employees may not work remotely with the intent of or for the sole purpose of meeting their dependent care responsibilities while performing official duties. While performing official duties, teleworkers and remote workers are expected to arrange for dependent care just as they would if they were working at an agency worksite; however, remote work may be used as part of a more flexible work arrangement.
Is a WFA required if an employee has been approved for remote work as part of an approved Reasonable Accommodation (RA)?
Yes, any employee using workplace flexibilities, including those approved through a RA, must complete a WFA.
Are employees who were hired from a remote work announcement required to complete a WFA?
Yes, all remote employees (local and non-local) must sign a WFA, including employees who were hired from a position advertised as remote work. The only exception is if the selectee from a remote announcement chooses to not become a remote employee and does not choose to request any workplace flexibilities. For the WFA, a note can be added in the comment box indicating that the employee was hired from a remote work announcement.
What hours am I expected to work as a remote employee?
Work schedule and hours for employees on a remote Workplace Flexibilities Agreement (WFA) should be discussed with and approved by a supervisor. This communication is especially important for remote employees located in different time zones from the agency worksite, as employee pay may be affected. See the Alternative Work Schedule webpage for more information.
How should I record my tour hours in the Integrated Time and Attendance System (ITAS), if my alternative worksite differs from the time zone of my agency worksite?
Hours should be captured based on the actual hours worked based on the time zone in which the employee is located.
Am I entitled to night differential for work required between the hours of 6 PM - 6 AM?
An employee required to work between the hours of 6 PM - 6 AM, in the time zone in which they are located, would be compensated for night differential. An employee on a flexible work schedule who chooses to work during the hours of 6 PM - 6 AM would not be entitled to night differential.
How often am I expected to travel to the official worksite as a remote employee?
For employees on a remote WFA outside of the local commuting area, travel to the agency worksite outside of the Washington DC locality pay area should not exceed 4 times per year.
For employees on a remote WFA outside of the local commuting area, travel to the agency worksite inside the Washington DC locality pay area (but outside the 50-mile radius) may occur more than 4 times per year but no more than 10 times per year.
Employees on a local remote WFA may be required to travel to the agency worksite. This should be less than 2 days or 16 hours per pay period. The first-line supervisor should include this expectation of onsite presence requirements in the WFA.
Will the agency pay for travel reimbursement?
Remote employees who have an approved alternative worksite/official worksite within 50 miles of the agency worksite may not be eligible for travel reimbursement when commuting to and from the agency worksite. Please visit NIH Travel Regulations for further questions or email the NIH Travel office.
Can supervisors/managers work remotely while staff are onsite?
Eligibility for remote work is based on the essential functions of the position and how many hours of work must be accomplished at the agency worksite during the typical bi-weekly pay period. Review and concurrence of remote work eligibility and approval for supervisory employees while their staff is onsite would rest with Division Directors (or their equivalent) and Executive Officers (or their designee).
For more information on your IC-specific policy, please contact your Workplace Flexibilities IC POC.
Does this guidance apply to Contractors?
This guidance is intended for Federal employees. Workplace Flexibilities Eligibility for contractors is a separate determination based on agreement between the contracting supervisor, federal supervisor, and contractor.
Does this policy apply to Fellows?
The HHS Workplace Flexibilities Policy applies to all Federal employees. Thus, the policy applies to Title 42 (g) fellows since they meet the definition of a Federal Employee, per 5 U.S. Code § 2105.
An employee is approved for remote work outside of the location commuting area. If the employee plans personal travel every quarter to the local commuting area of the agency worksite, can the employee physically report to the agency worksite on an ad-hoc basis without the IC paying for their travel?
Since the travel to the agency worksite is not at the agency direction or request, the agency would not have to pay for their travel. The policy only speaks on the potential for travel reimbursement for remote employees when they are directed to report to the agency worksite.
If the employee moves (without being directed by the agency), does NIH have to pay for their relocation?
The employee must submit a new Workplace Flexibilities Agreement (WFA) any time there is a change to the location of the remote worksite. Employees may not begin working at a new worksite until it has been approved as the alternative worksite by their manager. If this is done then yes, position may be eligible for remote work (within or outside of the commuting area) if the nature of work requires onsite work to be performed 7 hours or less per week during a typical bi-weekly pay period.
Additionally, the HHS policy, participation in the WFP is voluntary. Employees are responsible for all expenses that may be incurred because of voluntary relocation. Employees whose WFA is modified at the request of the employee, are responsible for all expenses that may be incurred associated with the relocation.
Note: The provisions of the Workplace Flexibilities Policy are conditions of employment for bargaining unit employees and are fully negotiable in accordance with 5 U.S.C. Chapter 71, and any such actions may require notification to labor organizations when impacted employees are bargaining unit employees. When the provisions of the Workplace Flexibilities Policy differ from the requirements of any applicable Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA), the CBA takes precedence for bargaining unit employees over the new Workplace Flexibilities Policy. The FAQs will be updated once bargaining obligations with the NIH unions are complete.
Is a change of duty station personnel action required for local remote employees?
Yes. The approved alternative worksite (official duty station) for remote employees may be inside or outside the local commuting area of the Agency worksite and is typically, although not always, the employee’s residence. Any remote work arrangement changes the official duty station - so these will all require a change in duty location action.
Can remote employees work from their home during a closure without a telework agreement?
Yes. According to OPM’s Weather and Dismissal Guide, an employee whose home is considered the employee’s official worksite is generally not granted weather and safety leave when the employee’s parent office (i.e., the office where the employee would work but for the remote work arrangement) is closed, since the employee is able to safely perform work at an approved location. For remote employees, the official worksite is their approved alternate worksite therefore, as long as they are able to safely perform work, they should work.
I'm a remote worker. What's my Emergency Tier Designation (ETD)?
Telework, not remote work, drives Emergency Tier Designation. A remote worker approved for ad-hoc telework would be considered a Tier II employee. A remote worker who opts out of ad-hoc telework would be considered Tier III. Please refer to the NIH ETD Guidelines for more information.
Are remote workers required to also have an ad-hoc telework agreement?
No. Remote employees may, but are not required, to have ad-hoc telework noted in their WFA. However, remote employees who do not also have an ad-hoc telework WFA may not telework from a location other than their approved alternative worksite, which is their official duty station.
Can I telework or remote work from an international location? What about Hawaii or a U.S. territory outside the continental United States?
Federal employees are prohibited from “teleworking” from an alternative location outside of the continental United States without official approval from the employee’s agency and the Department of State. Working for a Federal agency overseas is defined by the Department of State as Domestic Employees Teleworking Overseas (DETO). DETO arrangements are rare in the Federal Government due to increased security concerns and costs to employing agencies. HHS will consider requests on a case-by-case basis. Please refer to the DETO webpage for more information. However, DETO rules do not apply to employees working from a U.S. Territory. U.S. Territories are not foreign countries, and do not fall under State Department Chief of Mission authority. Teleworking from a U.S. Territory would fall under Department and Agency telework guidance.
Are NIH Top 5 employees eligible to work remotely?
NIH “Top 5” employees are ineligible for remote work, but eligible for Telework and Alternative Work Schedules. Top 5 employees include IC Directors, IC Deputy Directors, Scientific Directors, Clinical Directors, EOs, and other SES/T42 Extramural Leadership who report to the IC Director.
If a Remote employee reports to the agency worksite, is that considered telework?
No, if a remote employee reports to the agency worksite, it is not considered telework. If a remote employee works from an approved alternate worksite, (other than their residence) that would be considered ad hoc telework and should be indicated as such in ITAS.
Is an employee who does not have a permanent address (i.e, using P.O. Box, traveling in an RV) eligible for remote work?
No. A critical piece of remote work is having employees work primarily from one listed duty station on record, which is the approved alternative worksite. Their pay is based on the location of the work being done. If there is no address available for an approved alternative worksite, then the employee is not eligible for remote work.
The only way to properly report this type of situation would be to submit a new Workplace Flexibilities Agreement (WFA) each time the worksite changes, which is not advisable as it is against the spirit of the HHS Workplace Flexibilities Policy 990-1. There are several requirements and implications of working remotely in different locations throughout the year, including changing duty stations, modifying personnel documentation/records on both OHR and the employee’s end upon each relocation.
Essentially an unhoused employee would be unable to fill out a complete WFA without an address that would be their approved alternative worksite and therefore, ineligible for remote work. In this situation, a potential solution is to have this employee be a teleworker, where they’d need to report onsite at least twice per pay period. Then the agency worksite would be their official duty station, and they could ad-hoc telework from another location for the remainder of the pay period.