Maloney and Connolly, who chair the House Oversight and Reform Committee and its government operations subcommittee, asked congressional leaders to include a number of federal workforce related provisions in a planned upcoming coronavirus relief bill.
For employees who must continue coming to their regular work sites, they recommend payments of up to $2,000 per month per child for additional day-care costs because of school and child-care center closings.
They also seek to specify that agencies could not restrict teleworking days for those eligible and could not require teleworkers to take personal leave or unpaid time off because dependents also are in their homes.
Those whose workplaces are closed but whose jobs do not allow for teleworking should be guaranteed to remain on full pay through a special form of leave called weather and safety leave, they said.
They also propose to allow all federal employees to newly enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program or to make changes to existing coverage and to extend by a year the age cutoffs for covering children under that program and a separate one for vision and dental coverage.
Among changes affecting contractors would be to bar agencies from requiring those employees to perform their work at a federal site if it could be done remotely. Agencies also would be barred from adjusting contracts if the contractor could not perform work because federal facilities are closed. Contractors would be paid to “keep their employees or subcontractors in a ready state so they do not have to lay off their employees.”
“We’re trying to protect people who get sick or who have family members who might be sick or exposed, that they don’t lose pay because of this pandemic,” Connolly said in a phone interview. “Credit goes to the federal workforce and the federal contract employees for showing up and still doing their jobs under very adverse circumstances.”
“We want some consistency so that employees have clear guidance they can follow,” he added. “I hear from federal employees all the time, we don’t know what we’re supposed to do, we’re worried that we have to go to work, or that we won’t get paid because we’re not going to work, or we’d like to telework, but we’re not set up for it.”
The proposals would follow changes already enacted in two earlier coronavirus relief laws affecting federal employees among others. One created a paid sick leave entitlement under certain conditions, including family care, while the second provided money for agencies to buy protective equipment, sanitize offices and accommodate increased telework.
However, federal employee unions continue to raise concerns that a month after the pandemic was formally declared an emergency, agencies still are not fully embracing telework and are not providing proper protections or paying a hazardous work allowance to employees forced to go to their regular work sites.
Federal employees also would benefit from some parts of several other packages of proposals offered for inclusion in a future relief bill, including one focusing on the health and safety of front-line employees and another providing premium pay for such workers.
“There are many safety issues and priorities that must be addressed as Congress works on the next COVID-19 legislative package,” American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley said in an emailed statement. “That includes ensuring that front-line workers have sufficient personal protective equipment, receive enhanced hazardous duty pay, and are approved for the extra sick and caregiver leave Congress has already provided.”
The timing and terms of a further relief bill are uncertain. House leaders on Monday set back the projected return date of that chamber from a recess by two weeks, until May 4.
A shortcut process that would require only a few members to be present is available but would require reaching a unanimous agreement on the numerous differences already arising over such a bill.