Attorney General Bill Barr and the top officials at the Justice Department are keeping the staff high and dry trying to figure out how to work in the era of the coronavirus crisis.
According to BuzzFeed News, a letter was sent by DOJ staff asking for clarification about paid time off and flexible work schedules.
"Each office within the Justice Department has been responsible for developing policies that address how employees can work during the pandemic, including how much flexibility they have while working from home, and how much additional coronavirus-related paid leave they can get while caring for elderly relatives and children home from school," the report said. "Those policies vary, and some offices haven’t issued one at all, according to a letter from the DOJ Gender Equality Network (DOJ GEN) to management."
"[M]any workers are now in their fourth week of teleworking with no caretaking assistance and have been forced to use considerable amounts of annual leave,” the letter said.
The U.S. government isn't any different from other corporations trying to do business in the era of the COVID outbreak. Not only are there different policies for every agency, but there is also different guidance for departments within those agencies, leading to even more confusion. The letter doesn't specify which department is having issues.
BuzzFeed investigated four separate policies showing one of the main differences is for lawyers and staff in the Environment and Natural Resources Division. They received a memo explaining that they could ask for paid leave under what is called the "evacuation pay" authority. They could even do it retroactively. However, those in the Civil Rights and Antitrust Division along with the Executive Office for Immigration Review doesn't have that same language.
"DOJ employees facing coronavirus-specific job pressures have raised concerns about the department’s response to the pandemic so far," said BuzzFeed News. "Immigration judges and prosecutors have protested the department’s decision to keep some immigration courts open during the pandemic. The union representing Federal Bureau of Prisons employees has accused the government of failing to provide enough protective equipment and take other steps to keep staff and inmates safe. A class action lawsuit filed in federal court last month accuses the government of failing to pay special 'hazard pay' to BOP employees and other federal workers exposed to the coronavirus."
“Uniformly the communication has been absolutely horrible,” said lead attorney for BOP Heidi Burakiewicz, who filed a hazard pay lawsuit. “It's been contradictory, it's not been uniform.”
The Justice Department released a statement:
“The Department of Justice is enacting all work flexibility guidance issued by [the Office of Management and Budget] and OPM. Based on evacuation orders, the Department of Justice Management Division issued additional flexibility guidance to executive officers for implementation on April 1. The Department of Justice will continue to take measures to protect employees while ensuring critical DOJ functions such as national security continue.”
It's unknown why there isn't a uniform policy for non-medical staff working in the U.S. government or why Attorney General Barr, who leads the DOJ, isn't issuing a blanket policy for the entire agency and allowing the ambiguity to continue.