clock showing paid time off

NFFE: Forest Service staff routinely denied COVID-19 administrative leave

The union representing most Forest Service employees is hitting back against the Department of Agriculture for its pattern of denying reasonable requests for administrative leave during the current COVID-19 crisis.

During a pandemic that has sickened hundreds of thousands and is killing more than 1,000 people in the U.S. per day, the Forest Service continues to battle USDA management over its HR practices, the union complained in a recent release. During the current crisis, thousands of FS employees struggle to do their work, stay safe and—with schools and day care services suspended—give children lessons at home.

For many FS employees, telework is impractical, so administrative leave may be the best solution.

Management’s refusal to grant administrative leave time, one National Federation of Federal Employees official told FederalSoup, is at odds with COVID-19 guidance from the Office of Personnel Management pressing agencies to “assist employees who are trying to balance working with having children/dependents at home.”

“They are making no provisions for employees who are doing double duty trying to care for dependents while working 40 hours per week,” Melissa Baumann, president of NFFE’s Forest Service Council said.

“USDA’s stance throughout the pandemic is that ‘USDA is open for business,’” Baumann added. “And although they belatedly approved telework for many employees, they are trying to have everyone continue to work fulltime throughout this emergency.”

For years, NFFE has called out USDA for impeding workplace flexibilities that improve efficiency as well as morale—such as telework and, as here, the judicious use of administrative leave time.

“While many federal agencies and departments throughout the federal government have appropriately utilized administrative leave to aid workers coping with difficult circumstances associated with working from home during the pandemic,” the union said in its statement, “the USDA has failed to utilize the flexibilities it has, and Forest Service workers across the country are bearing the brunt of the Department’s inaction.”

Baumann emphasized the lengths to which management went to deny employees administrative leave—even when, with many facilities closed during the pandemic, there is nothing for staff to do. “They have not authorized administrative leave for people who have little or no work to do on telework, so those people are being instructed to do ‘make work’ just to remain in a pay status,” she said.

“The primary impact of [denying administrative leave when appropriate] is in the area of morale and well-being of our employees,” Baumann told FederalSoup.

Baumann shared a polling metric that illustrates the negative effect on employee morale of not being granted administrative leave when neither commuting to the usual workplace nor telework is practical.

“In a survey we sent to all the employees we represent asking, ‘How are you personally coping with how things are going at home and your community regarding this pandemic situation?’ those who were able to telework fulltime, without kids at home, rated themselves at a 3.6 [out of 5] while those who were not able to telework fulltime because of dependents who needed care rated themselves at 2.4.”

Reader comments

Mon, May 11, 2020

Eliminate all inept, corrupt, self-serving management based on what hard working employees indicate through confidential inquiries. Those managers who destroy the morale and function of the operations should be eliminated from the civil service ranks. The employees conduct themselves with honesty and integrity and are always ready to perform at their best.

Tue, Apr 28, 2020

Get rid, fire, RIF the management relics at the Department of Interior. They have destroyed a great organization. This is also happening at NIH.

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