Telework, for most people, is remote work from the pre-internet age.
The idea is that teleworkers would carry out their hours at an approved location using assistive technology (such as a telephone) to enable the employee to perform work from that location rather than attending an office.
But what is telework now that remote working is a thing and does it have any relevance in a modern context at all?
Telework In A Modern Context
It’s fair to say that telework would probably have gone the way of the dodo by now if it weren’t for the federal government and its incredible influence over the sphere of remote working.
Working from home is something that the government pioneered when the private sector (still many years pre-Covid) wasn’t as keen to let its employees out of its sight.
Telework And The Government
Teleworking is, in fact, defined in government employment contracts by the Telework Enhancement Act which according to the Office of Personnel Management says; “telework or teleworking as a work flexibility arrangement under which an employee performs the duties and responsibilities of such employee’s position, and other authorized activities, from an approved worksite other than the location from which the employee would otherwise work. In practice, telework is a work arrangement that allows an employee to perform work, during any part of regular, paid hours, at an approved alternative worksite (e.g. home or telework center).”
The Office Of Personnel Management
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is the central power of remote working arrangements for the federal government.
It lays out the conditions under which new legislation is drafted for teleworking and the contractual terms under which the relationship will take place.
This centralized approach to teleworking means that the entire federal government can utilize the same conditions for teleworkers, no matter where they are based to create a free and fair reward structure for employees working from home or another location.
In general, teleworkers tend to be based at home and work online – exactly the same as a remote worker would – it’s just that when they look at their employment contract, it will designate them as a “teleworker” and not as a “remote worker”.
This is becoming more significant because the OPM does recognize the existence of remote workers too and deals with these workers (who are outside of the remit of the Telework Enhancement Act) in a separate contractual fashion.
However, if you’re a worker with a telework contract, nobody would think ill of you for describing yourself as a remote worker even if the exact wording in your contract says teleworker.
The OPM says that remote work differs from telework by the nature of the fact that telework does not include any work done while a person is on official travel for their work or mobile work.
They also stress that while you might think of this arrangement as “flexible working” or “telecommuting” – the OPM does not consider these terms to be interchangeable with “teleworking” and for a contractual purpose uses “teleworking” only as defined by the Telework Enhancement Act.
You may want to see our article on locality pay if you want to better understand how payment areas are defined for teleworkers by the OPM.
An Approved Alternative Worksite e.g Home
One thing that is important in a teleworking agreement is that the place where the individual works from must have been cleared by the government department that they work for – as a suitable place for working from.
This isn’t because the government is a giant busybody (though it could be argued that it is a giant busybody) but simply to ensure that the health and safety obligations for an individual are met by the setting from which they work.
One thing that many employees probably don’t know is that employers can be held liable for accidents in the workplace even if that workplace is your home.
That means it is incumbent upon the employer to carry out a risk assessment of the home office (and technically any other place that you might work) and determine if it is suitable for you to undertake teleworking there.
The OPM has simply formalized this obligation in writing, to ensure that there is no misunderstanding.
Workers on a teleworking contract are engaged to work remotely. However, the federal government has a strict definition of “teleworker” and the work arrangement that they may work under.
If you work in the private sector, you don’t need to worry about the difference between telework and remote work but in government it may constrain how you carry out your duties.