By Dan Gephart, September 12, 2022

Only six percent of American workers who have been teleworking since the pandemic began want to return to the physical workplace, according to a recent poll.

You know that there are more than a handful of people at your agency who feel the same way. What if one of those employees just never came back to the physical workplace and just kept working from home. What would you do?

Let me spell it out for you.

A-W-O-L.

But they’re still working, you say. Yes, but are they working in the location where they were told to report? No? Well then it looks like you have a clear-cut case of Absence Without Leave.

As FELTG President Deb Hopkins pointed out during the recent training session What You Think You Know About AWOL is Probably Wrong, there are foundational MSPB cases going back to the 1980s on AWOL. The newly quorumed MSPB has already decided AWOL cases. And there are so many AWOL cases in between that you should have little problem finding one with a similar fact pattern to yours. As Deb said during the training, “a lot of employees have gone AWOL over the last 40 years.”

Are you still hesitant to charge AWOL for an employee who works remotely despite orders to return to the physical workspace?  Well, the MSPB has ruled that an employee doesn’t even need to be “absent from the work site to be found AWOL.” Buchanan v. Dep’t. of Energy, 247 F.3d 1333 (2001).

There are several examples of this, including the employee successfully charged with AWOL for conducting personal business while on duty (Mitchell v. DoD, 22 MSPR 271 (1984)) and the employee removed via AWOL for sleeping on the job. Golden v. USPS, 60 MSPR 268, 273 (1994).

And then you have Mr. Lewis. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing employee, still seemingly dismayed by a change of shifts two years previously, refused to obey his supervisor’s order. He was told that he only should return to work only if he was “willing and able to report for duty.”

Lewis took his supervisor’s directive to mean that he was on “approved leave,” and could take his time to determine if he wanted to continue working. The agency disagreed with his assessment and charged him with AWOL. The MSPB agreed with the agency. Lewis v. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, 29 MSPR 447 (1985).

If you missed Deb’s recent session, join us for Feds Gone AWOL: Understanding the Charge and Applying it Correctly, which will be held on October 6 from 1-2 pm ET, and get yourself up to speed on this important charge. Gephart@FELTG.com

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