In October 2019, Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul announced that the Social Security Administration would end a telework program it began 6 years previous serving approximately 12,000 of its employees. Then-Deputy Commissioner Grace Kim wrote a letter to Social Security employees explaining the reasons the program was ending and cited an increased workload and a backlog of cases as reasons for ending the pilot program. This change in the telework policy came on the heels of a negotiation between the American Federal Government Employee Union and the Social Security Administration, a negotiation that had to be brokered by the Federal Services Impasse Panel (a third-party federal organization developed specifically to arbitrate in situations where negotiations between union officials and federal organizations break down and progress halts between the organization and the union representatives) (Wagner, 2019a).
The May 2019 decision by the panel gave Social Security Agency managers the ability to limit or restrict telework for employees using their discretion to ensure that all tasks were being completed and wait times were normal. One of the biggest reasons cited for this was that the organization was able to provide evidence that after the implementation of a telework program, the average wait time for individuals temporarily increased, causing a backlog of work to be completed at a later date. Although the Social Security Administration pushed the official end date for all telework in the agency to March of 2020, the program was officially ended. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress requested a review of the telework policy and raised questions about whether it should be revived to serve as a preventative measure for reducing and slowing the spread of the virus (Wagner, 2019b). Could this allow employees to continue working while not coming to the workplace in order to help prevent the spread of illness? What were the benefits versus the costs of implementing a telework policy again for employees as the spread of the virus continued? What did previous research show related to the positive and negative benefits to the organization and the employees with respect to telework?