The House passed a scaled-back version of its COVID relief package Thursday that still contains several provisions impacting the federal workplace.

Chief among those changes would be a requirement that every telework-authorized federal employee be placed on permanent telework status through the end of the year, reversing many of the return to the office efforts that agencies have enacted over the past few months.

That section of the bill would also require agencies to proactively plan to expand their telework programs, mandate that agencies report to the Office of Personnel Management and Congress if they plan to cut back on any programs and prohibit across-the-board telework cuts.

The legislation would also extend that telework emphasis to the contractor workforce, by instructing agencies to allow telework for contracting personnel “to the maximum extent practicable,” and for as long as the COVID-19 national health emergency lasts.

Several agencies have reported consistent or increased productivity under pandemic-imposed telework, such as the Dallas region of the Social Security Administration, noting in a message to staff that employees answered more calls and cleared more claims this year than they had at the same point last year.

The bill would also create the presumption that any federal employee or postal worker that was required to make contact with the public or coworkers and later diagnosed with COVID-19 contracted the disease at the workplace, making it easier for those employees to file workers' compensation claims.

“We are pleased that our allies in Congress continue to look out for the needs of federal employees during the global health crisis,” said National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon in a statement.

“Across the country, federal employees have stayed on the job throughout the pandemic and the HEROES Act would provide them with some much-needed assistance at work.”

The bill would also maintain early retirement eligibility for federal employees that are forced to move to a different position due to a COVID diagnosis, mandate that health-care providers remove out of pocket costs for medical treatments associated with a COVID-19 diagnosis and extend emergency leave provisions — which allow covered employees to take leave off to self-isolate or care for a sick relative — to federal employees.

The revised HEROES act passed predominantly along party lines, and faces significant challenges in the Republican-controlled Senate, which has not taken action on the first version of the HEROES Act that passed the House in mid-May.

The new version of the bill does not contain previous provisions that would have given premium pay to feds that are required to be in regular contact with the public and risking exposure.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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