A return to the office for the “vast majority” of the federal workforce is happening, or may have already happened to you, depending on which agency or office you work for.
The Biden administration made the “when” part of office reentry clear last during the State of the Union address. Most feds, President Joe Biden said, should go back to the office, for at least part of the work week, to help jumpstart the downtown business districts of cities across the country.
Many of the other questions swirling around office reentry, at this point, however, are being left up to individual agencies to answer.
Telework days, transit subsidies, parking and reserving a desk at the office — as well as COVID-19 health and safety measures — are the focus of the many questions managers and supervisors are addressing now.
Beyond that, however, some feds are asking how much the dress code should change, after spending about two years on mandatory telework.
Federal employees getting reacquainted with their office (or maybe visiting it for the first time) have gotten used to spending less time getting “office-ready,” and more time in the morning working out, sleeping in, taking care of their children or maybe enjoying an unrushed breakfast.
Those are hard things to give up, and central to the reason why many feds insist on keeping telework in their lives, especially if they work at an agency that wasn’t receptive to telework before the pandemic.
Last year, in a survey of more than 700 assistant U.S. attorneys, 95% of respondents told the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys (NAAUSA) that they were successfully getting their jobs done by teleworking, while 93% supported a departmentwide policy of two days of telework a week.
“The eliminated commute and eliminated time ‘getting ready’ for work — especially for women whose expectations for physical appearance require much more time and effort — contribute to more time to get my work done,” one anonymous assistant U.S. attorney, working in the Eastern District of Arkansas, said in the survey.
While acceptable attire will obviously vary on the agency and the position, there’s some anecdotal evidence that some feds are getting some flexibility with the dress code.
Take, for example, the New Orleans Passport Center, a facility operated by the State Department.
Local agency leadership in March reached an agreement with the National Federation of Federal Employees Local 1998 to follow a “casual dress policy” on all workdays.
Approved clothing under this category includes jeans or slacks (nothing “torn, dirty or frayed”) and capri pants that fall below the knee. Employees are also allowed to wear casual shirts, dress shirts, sweaters, polo shirts, turtlenecks and sneakers on the job.
The memo, which lasts for two years, states that all clothing and footwear should be “clean, laundered, and in good repair.”
In some scenarios, such as participating in outreach events, or visits from members of Congress or regional directors, employees may be expected to follow a business casual dress code. The memo says employees will be given 48 hours’ notice to prepare for those cases.
T-shirts and sweatshirts with professional sports team logos are allowed on casual days for all employees. So too are clothes with the logos of the U.S. military or other local, state, or federal governmental entities.
The memo states that passport services employees aren’t allowed to wear shorts at work unless working on a Saturday or Sunday. The same rules apply for strapless or low-cut tops, as well as uncovered tank tops.
“When working overtime on the weekends and the public is not present, you may dress casually and comfortably,” the memo states.
The memo states supervisors and managers will address any situation in which inappropriate attire is worn.
“If an obvious violation occurs, the supervisor/manager will hold a personal, respectful private discussion with the employee to advise the employee regarding the inappropriate attire, the employee may be required to leave work or their workstation to change their attire and may be required to take annual leave or [leave without pay] away from work.”
NFFE Local 1998 President Lee Wentz said the agreement doesn’t have anything to do with a return to the office, since passport services employees have been working in the office throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of federal offices are just coming back now, putting their people back in their offices. We’ve been working the whole time, basically. We’ve been in our offices the whole time. It’s not like we’ve been working remotely, and now we’re just coming back. We’ve physically been in our cubicles working every day,” Wentz said.
Comfortability, Wentz said, seems to be the driving force behind this negotiated agreement. New Orleans, after all, is a hot, humid place that’s only going to get hotter or more humid as we get closer to summertime.
“Some offices have more relaxed dress codes than others. They’ve negotiated this in years past, and so I guess I would say New Orleans, in many ways, finally caught up to some of the other offices around the country,” Wentz said.
At this point, it’s a stretch to look at what’s happening with the dress code at the New Orleans Passport Center and to extrapolate that as some new trend across the rest of the federal workforce. But it’s an interesting anecdote for office workers rethinking the future of work in the federal government.
Wentz said he’s unsure whether this might have a ripple effect across other passport services offices.
“When things like this happen, a lot of times other offices, other stewards will say, ‘Hey, if they got that, why don’t we get this.’ I could see this happening at other offices. Because it happened at one office, maybe other stewards in other offices will pursue the same topic,” he said.
Has your agency or workplace implemented a new dress code? Let us know at [email protected]
Nearly Useless Factoid
By Amelia Brust
In 1822 a Scottish man named Gregor MacGregor scammed hundreds of investors into funding a new colony of “Poyais” on the coast of Honduras. He raised the equivalent of about £3.6 billion (about $4.5 billion) and convinced seven ships worth of settlers to travel to the new land. Poyais, however, did not exist, and only the first two ships carrying 250 passengers made it to Honduras where they found nothing MacGregor had promised. Two-thirds of them died and the survivors were rescued by a passing ship. MacGregor repeated the con again in France but was found out and fled to Caracas, Venezuela.