Health, Safety Take Priority
HHS Announces Return-to-Workplace Planning Efforts
HHS has released the outline for its Return to Physical Workspace plan for all operating divisions, including NIH.
The four-phased HHS plan has replaced the NIH Framework for Returning to Physical Workplace that had been in place since June 2020.
The new plan is contingent upon a reasonable trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic over the coming weeks. Should there be another significant surge, it is possible these plans might need to be delayed.
“Our number one priority remains the health and safety of our workforce,” said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins in a Nov. 4 all-staff email. “We will not be returning to a pre-Covid-19 workplace. The past 20 months have demonstrated that large segments of our workforce have been able to successfully telework and use other workplace flexibilities. We expect these flexibilities to continue for most staff as we begin to return.”
At NIH, the first phase has already started. Since early September, federal employees, fellows and trainees who perform laboratory and clinical activities that must be done on site have been eligible to apply for voluntary return on site.
Recently, the voluntary return process expanded to include all federal employees, fellows and trainees, regardless of the type of work they’re performing. Contractors are not eligible to apply to voluntarily return on site.
Those interested in applying to voluntarily return to NIH facilities must complete an application form found on the Return to the Physical Workplace intranet web page.
Beginning Dec. 5, senior NIH leadership—including the NIH director and deputy director and IC directors—and their support staff will start to return.
On Jan. 2, 2022, budget/finance, grants, acquisition, human resources, equal employment opportunity and information technology employees will begin their return.
All remaining employees will start returning on Jan. 16. Federal employees will be provided at least 30 days of notice before returning. They will receive further details about their phase assignment and workplace schedule.
“Many of you all will have questions about our return to the physical worksite process,” Collins said. “While I don’t have all the answers today, I strongly encourage supervisors and staff to work with one another and have an open dialogue.”
The Return to the Physical Workplace intranet webpage now reflects the HHS plan: https://employees.nih.gov/pages/coronavirus/return-physical-workspaces-guidance.aspx. It will be updated as more information becomes available.