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Life is About to Get (Even) Easier for Federal Workers


"[I]t is the policy of the Federal Government to promote a culture in which managers and employees understand the workplace flexibilities..."

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk down the stairs from Air Force One upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Monday, June 16, 2014. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are returning from Palm Springs, Calif. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

President Barack Obama formally published a memo on Friday that calls on government agencies to promote flexible work schedules and other policies aimed at ensuring an optimal work-life balance for federal workers.

The Obama administration indicated he would take this step on Monday, during a White House "summit on working families" that explored ways companies could make it easier for employees to balance their jobs and their families. First Lady Michelle Obama said her husband would try to lead by example by promoting flexible work schedules in his administration.

President Barack Obama published a memo Friday calling on federal agencies to improve the work-life balance of federal workers. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Federal workers are already envied by millions of other working Americans — they among the last group of workers to routinely receive a pension plan, and most contribute far less toward their retirement plan than private sector workers. Federal workers are also known to telecommute, something many did during the several days the government was closed last winter due to snow.

Obama's memo, published in the Friday Federal Register, goes further by calling on agencies to ensure federal workers have as much flexibility as possible on the job.

"[I]t is the policy of the Federal Government to promote a culture in which managers and employees understand the workplace flexibilities and work-life programs available to them and how these measures can improve agency productivity and employee engagement," Obama's memo states. "The federal government must also identify and eliminate any arbitrary or unnecessary barriers or limitations to the use of these flexibilities and develop new strategies consistent with statute and agency mission to foster a more balanced workplace."

The first section of the memo requires agencies to periodically inform employees that they have the right to request flexible work schedules, either under agency policy or pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement. It says agencies have 120 days to either review or establish their policies on flexible schedules.

Those schedules "must provide" flexibilities such as telework, part-time employment or job sharing, and requests for these flexibilities must be discussed by supervisors within 20 business days of the initial request.

The memo says agency heads must also provide options such as alternate work schedules, "including assurance that core hours are limited only to those hours that are necessary."

Other options that must be made available are break times for nursing mothers, providing advance vacation and sick leave for "family care situations," and leave for bereavement, health issues, adoption, and reasons related to domestic violence or stalking.

Obama's memo also encourages agencies to provide on-site child care, and even child care subsidies to their workers.

The memo instructs the director of the Office of Personnel Management to educate federal workers about how to best take advantage of these benefits, and how to develop training programs for that purpose. OPM is also asked to "support agencies in promoting workplace cultures in which workplace flexibilities and work-life programs are a standard part of operating procedures, and identify any arbitrary, unnecessary, or cultural barriers limiting use."

Within 120 days of the memo's publication, OPM will have to report to Obama that includes information on best practices for creating these flexibilities.

Read Obama's memo here:

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