The U.S. Department of Justice will require its employees to work in the office a minimum of six days per biweekly pay period beginning Jan. 14.

That signals an department-wide reduction in telework for many attorneys who had been previously reporting onsite twice a week, though individual agency offices have adopted different rules.

Department components will have discretion to make decisions for their teams about offering greater flexibility when necessary or appropriate, said Colleen Phillips, the acting president of the DOJ Gender Equality Network, a 1,250-member organization of workers employed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The requirement more stringent than what DOJ GEN advocated for earlier this year, when calls from the White House and Congress pushed agencies to aggressively increase the number of employees working on site.

“DOJ GEN remains concerned that a [reentry] policy that requires a baseline of six days per pay period for all employees will result in extreme recruitment and retention issues for DOJ,” said Phillips. “As DOJ GEN communicated to department leadership, we have reviewed the return-to-office policies of 26 other federal agencies, and only four of those agencies are requiring all employees to return for more than four days per pay period.”

With other agencies across government offering flexible hybrid schedules, Phillips said her organization fears that a stricter telework policy will deter diverse talent and aggravate retention. She said it also creates hardships for parents who will have to arrange for after-school in the next three months in the middle of a school year, and in a city that outranks many others in costs for childcare.

In July, after the group sent a letter to department leadership asking it to safeguard work flexibilities, the department said in a statement to Federal Times that the forthcoming telework policy would “permit reasonable accommodations, as required by law, and consideration of individual employees’ circumstances.”

The department employs more than 116,000 employees scattered across more than two dozen offices that include different legal practice areas, as well as law enforcement agencies like the FBI and Bureau of Prisons that could not transition to remote work, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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