Master Agreement
between the
department of Veterans Affairs
and the
American Federation
of Government Employees

2011


TABLE OF CONTENTS

                Preamble                vi

                Introduction                1

                ARTICLE 1 - RECOGNITION AND COVERAGE                2

                ARTICLE 2 - GOVERNING LAWS AND REGULATIONS                5

                Labor-Management Collaboration                8

                ARTICLE 3 - LABOR-MANAGEMENT COOPERATION                9

                ARTICLE 4 - LABOR-MANAGEMENT TRAINING                12

                ARTICLE 5 - LABOR-MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE                17

                ARTICLE 6 - ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION                18

                ARTICLE 7 - QUALITY PROGRAMS                21

                Employee Rights and Privileges                32

                ARTICLE 8 - CHILD CARE                33

                ARTICLE 9 - CLASSIFICATION                35

                ARTICLE 10 - COMPETENCE                38

                ARTICLE 11 - CONTRACTING OUT                39

                ARTICLE 12 - DETAILS AND TEMPORARY PROMOTIONS                40

                ARTICLE 13 - REASSIGNMENT, SHIFT CHANGES, AND RELOCATIONS                43

                ARTICLE 14 - DISCIPLINE AND ADVERSE ACTION                47

                ARTICLE 15 - EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE                50

                ARTICLE 16 - EMPLOYEE AWARDS AND RECOGNITION                52

                ARTICLE 17 - EMPLOYEE RIGHTS                56

                ARTICLE 18 - EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY                61

                ARTICLE 19 - FITNESS FOR DUTY                68

                ARTICLE 20 - TELEWORK                71

                ARTICLE 21 - HOURS OF WORK AND OVERTIME                79

                ARTICLE 22 - INVESTIGATIONS                89

                ARTICLE 23 - MERIT PROMOTION                91

                ARTICLE 24 - OFFICIAL RECORDS                108

                ARTICLE 25 - OFFICIAL TRAVEL                110

                ARTICLE 26 - PARKING AND TRANSPORTATION                115

                ARTICLE 27 - PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL                117

                ARTICLE 28 - REDUCTION IN FORCE                129

                ARTICLE 29 - SAFETY, HEALTH, AND ENVIRONMENT                135

                ARTICLE 30 - OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH                160

                ARTICLE 31 - SILENT MONITORING                164

                ARTICLE 32 - STAFF LOUNGES                165

                ARTICLE 33 - TEMPORARY, PART-TIME, AND PROBATIONARY EMPLOYEES                166

                ARTICLE 34 - JOB SHARING                173

                ARTICLE 35 - TIME AND LEAVE                175

                ARTICLE 36 - TIMELY AND PROPER COMPENSATION                193

                ARTICLE 37 - TRAINING AND CAREER DEVELOPMENT                194

                ARTICLE 38 - UNIFORMS                197

                ARTICLE 39 - UPWARD MOBILITY                199

                ARTICLE 40 - WITHIN-GRADE INCREASES AND PERIODIC STEP INCREASES                201

                ARTICLE 41 - WORKERS’ COMPENSATION                206

                Union Rights and Privileges                211

                ARTICLE 42 - AFFILIATIONS                212

                ARTICLE 43 - GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE                213

                ARTICLE 44 - ARBITRATION                219

                ARTICLE 45 - DUES WITHHOLDING                221

                ARTICLE 46 - LOCAL SUPPLEMENT                224

                ARTICLE 47 - MID-TERM BARGAINING                226

                ARTICLE 48 - OFFICIAL TIME                229

                ARTICLE 49 - RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES                234

                ARTICLE 50 - SURVEILLANCE                238

                ARTICLE 51 - USE OF OFFICIAL FACILITIES                239

                Title 38                243

                ARTICLE 52 - TITLE 38 ADVANCEMENT                244

                ARTICLE 53 - CLINICAL RESEARCH                245

                ARTICLE 54 - TITLE 38 NURSE PAY/SURVEY                246

                ARTICLE 55 - VHA PHYSICIAN AND DENTIST PAY                248

                ARTICLE 56 - TITLE 38 HYBRIDS                255

                ARTICLE 57 - PHYSICAL STANDARDS BOARD                263

                ARTICLE 58 - PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS BOARD                266

                ARTICLE 59 - PROFICIENCY                267

                ARTICLE 60 - TITLE 38 REPRESENTATION AT BOARDS OR HEARINGS                268

                ARTICLE 61 - TITLE 38 VACANCY ANNOUNCEMENTS                269

                ARTICLE 62 - VETERANS CANTEEN SERVICE                270

                General Provisions                272

                ARTICLE 63 - RESEARCH GRANTS                273

                ARTICLE 64 - RESEARCH PROGRAMS AND DEMONSTRATION PROJECTS                274

                ARTICLE 65 - WAGE SURVEYS                275

                ARTICLE 66 - TECHNOLOGY FOR ADMINISTERING, TRACKING, AND MEASURING VBA WORK                276

                DURATION OF AGREEMENT                278

                INDEX                281

Preamble


Section - 1

This Master Agreement is made between the Department of Veterans Affairs (the Department) and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Veterans Affairs Council of Locals (the Union).

Section - 2

The Department and the Union agree that a constructive and cooperative working relationship between labor and management is essential to achieving the Department’s mission and to ensuring a quality work environment for all employees.  The parties recognize that this relationship must be built on a solid foundation of trust, mutual respect, and a shared responsibility for organizational success.  Therefore, the parties agree to work together using partnership principles, Labor-Management Forums, and the Master Agreement to identify problems and craft solutions, enhance productivity, and deliver the best quality of service to the nation’s veterans.


 

Introduction


ARTICLE 1 - RECOGNITION AND COVERAGE

Section 1 - Exclusive Representative

AFGE is recognized as the sole and exclusive representative for all of those previously certified nonprofessional and professional employees, full-time, part-time, and temporary, in units consolidated and certified by the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) in Certificate No. 22-08518 (UC), dated February 28, 1980, and any subsequent amendments or certifications.  The parties agree that should AFGE request the FLRA to include subsequently organized employees in the consolidated unit, such FLRA certification will not be opposed by the Department if the unit would otherwise be considered an appropriate unit under the law.  Upon certification of FLRA, such groupings automatically come under this Agreement.

Section 2 - AFGE Role

As the sole and exclusive representative, the Union is entitled to act for and to negotiate agreements covering all employees in the bargaining unit.  The Union is responsible for representing the interests of all employees in the bargaining unit.

Section 3 - Employee Representation

  1. The Department recognizes that, as the exclusive representative of employees in the bargaining unit, the Union has the right to speak for and to bargain on behalf of the employees it represents.  The Department will not bypass the Union by entering into any formal discussions or agreements with other employee organizations or bargaining unit employees concerning all matters affecting personnel policies, practices, or working conditions.  The Department will not assist or sponsor any labor organization other than AFGE in any matter related to grievances, collective bargaining, or conditions of employment of employees in the AFGE bargaining unit.
  2. Pursuant to 5 USC 7114(a)(2)(A), an exclusive representative of an appropriate unit in an agency shall be given the opportunity to be represented at any formal discussion (including those held with other employee organizations) between one or more representatives of the agency and one or more employees in the unit or their representatives concerning any grievance or any personnel policy or practices or other general condition of employment.
  3. The Department’s consultations and dealings with other employee organizations shall not assume the character of negotiations concerning conditions of employment in the AFGE bargaining unit.

Section 4 - Unit Clarification

  1. The Union will be predecisionally involved in bargaining unit determinations for position changes and establishment of new positions.  When a position changes, and the parties do not agree over whether the position(s) is/are inside or outside the unit, the parties are encouraged to utilize the Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) process.  If still unresolved, either party may file a Clarification of Unit (CU) petition with the FLRA.  If the position previously has been in the bargaining unit, the employee and/or position will remain in the bargaining unit until a decision is issued on the petition.
  2. If after predecisional involvement, the Department determines that a new, unencumbered position is outside the bargaining unit, the parties are encouraged to first attempt to resolve any disagreements through ADR methods.  If no agreement is reached, the Union may file a CU petition through the FLRA.
  3. The Department and the Union are encouraged to mutually decide CU issues and develop a system to communicate these decisions.

Section 5 - Elections and Extensions of Represented Facilities

  1. Whenever a CU or election petition is filed by either party, the filing party will send copies of the petition to the AFGE National Office at Membership and Organizing Department, 80 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001-1583 and to the Department at The Office of Labor-Management Relations (LMR), 810 Vermont Street, NW, Washington, DC 20420.
  2. If employees are drawn from an existing facility and assigned to an unrepresented Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) (or similar entity) under the administrative control of the originating facility, and AFGE is the exclusive representative of all employees at the originating facility, the Department will not oppose any AFGE petition to represent employees who are assigned to that CBOC.
  3. If an unrepresented CBOC (or similar entity) is staffed by new employees, and is under the administrative control of a facility entirely represented by AFGE, the Department will not oppose any AFGE election petition to represent employees who are assigned to the CBOC (or similar entity).

Section 6 - Bargaining Unit Lists

  1. Once per calendar year, upon request, the Department will provide to the Union, to the extent available in an existing automated database, listings of bargaining unit employee names, job titles, series, professional or non-professional status, service, work location, and duty station.
  2. Twice per calendar year, upon request, a field facility will provide the local union, to the extent available in an existing automated database, listings of bargaining unit employee names, job titles, series, professional or non‑professional status, service, work location, and duty station.
  3. If the Department is temporarily unable to comply with the Union’s request made under either A or B, it will immediately notify the Union of when the information will be available.

Section 7 - Certification

The Department and the AFGE National Office will meet annually to discuss and review the accuracy of the AFGE certification and jointly request that the FLRA update the certification as necessary.

 

 

 

ARTICLE 2 - GOVERNING LAWS AND REGULATIONS

Section 1 - Relationship to Laws and Regulations

In the administration of all matters covered by this Agreement, officials and employees shall be governed by applicable federal statutes.  They will also be governed by government-wide regulations in existence at the time this Agreement was approved.

Section 2 - Department Regulations

Where any Department regulation conflicts with this Agreement and/or a Supplemental Agreement, the Agreement shall govern.



 

Labor-Management Collaboration


ARTICLE 3 - LABOR-MANAGEMENT COOPERATION

Section 1 - Guidance

The parties agree that the following sections should be interpreted as suggestions, not prescriptions.

Section 2 - History

  1. Since the inception of 5 USC Chapter 71, cooperation and communication have been and remain goals of labor-management relations.  The implementation and maintenance of a cooperative working relationship between labor and management known as “Partnership” was established by Executive Order 12871 and a Presidential Memorandum dated October 28, 1999.  The Order and the Memorandum were revoked by Executive Order 13203 in 2001.
  2. In December, 2009, Executive Order 13522 was issued, creating Labor‑Management Forums.  Pursuant to the spirit of that Executive Order and this Master Agreement, the Department shall allow employees and their Union representatives to have predecisional involvement in all workplace matters to the fullest extent practicable, without regard to whether those matters are negotiable subjects of bargaining under 5 USC 7106; provide adequate information on such matters expeditiously to Union representatives where not prohibited by law; and make a good‑faith attempt to resolve issues concerning proposed changes in conditions of employment, including those involving the subjects set forth in 5 USC 7106(b)(1), through discussion in its Labor-Management Forums.

Section 3 - Purpose

While the parties are no longer required by Presidential Executive Order to engage in Partnership, the desire and intent in this Article is to describe and encourage effective labor-management cooperation.  The Department and the Union are committed to working together at all levels to improve service to veterans, ensure a quality work environment for employees, and effect a more efficient administration of VA programs.  The parties support and encourage cooperative labor-management relationships at all levels.

Section 4 - Principles

 Labor-management cooperation is premised on open communication between Union and Department officials.  Because different approaches may effectively foster communication in different settings, specific methods for cooperation will be jointly determined by the affected parties.  Normally, these efforts should be guided by the following principles:

  1. Cooperation;
  2. Mutual respect;
  3. Open communication and sharing of information at all points along the decision-making process;
  4. Trust;
  5. Efficiency;
  6. Consideration of each other’s views and interests;
  7. Identification of problems and workable solutions;
  8. Understanding of, and respect for, the different roles that the Department and the Union can play in achieving mutual goals; and,
  9. Minimizing or eliminating collective bargaining disputes.

Section 5 - Scope

  1. In a cooperative labor-management relationship, the parties may discuss any topic, including:
  1. Matters involving personnel policies, practices, and working conditions;
  2. Numbers, types, and grades of employees as well as methods, means and technology of work; and,
  3. Participation on labor-management committees.
  1. If an agreement is reached using cooperative methods, by mutual consent the parties may choose to fulfill the collective bargaining obligation through such cooperation.

 Section 6 - Training

To promote effective labor-management relationships, the parties may determine the need for, and identify, appropriate training.  Some types of training that may be appropriate include ADR, work process improvement, group dynamics, and relationship by objectives.

Section 7 - Use of Time

  1. Where the parties establish a joint labor-management committee (forum) under this article, union representatives will be on official time.  This official time will not be counted against any allocated official time as described in this agreement.
  2. In instances where sub-committees are established by this joint labor‑management committee, and the parties have determined that Subject Matter Experts (SME) and/or union representatives are required, the Union will notify the Department of the appointment of a person to participate in sub-committee activities under this article and whether that person is participating as a SME for which duty time would be appropriate or as a union representative for which official time would be appropriate.  If designated as a union representative, that time will not be counted against any allocated official time as described in this agreement.
  3. To the extent possible, activities will be conducted during the normal duty hours of the participants.  Committee members will be compensated in accordance with applicable law.  Once an individual has been designated by the Union to participate in cooperative labor-management activities, that person will be made available for such participation.

Section 8 - Expenses

When activities are conducted under this article, the Department will bear the travel and per diem expenses of bargaining unit members involved in that activity to the extent permitted under the Federal Travel Regulations.

ARTICLE 4 - LABOR-MANAGEMENT TRAINING

Section 1 - Union Sponsored or Requested Labor-Management Relations Training

  1. The parties agree that Union sponsored Labor-Management Relations (LMR) training is of mutual benefit when it covers appropriate areas (examples are: contract administration, grievance handling and information relating to federal personnel/labor relations laws, regulations, and procedures).  Training which relates to internal union business will not be conducted or attended on official time.
  2. Scheduling arrangements for the use of official time for training will be determined locally.  Department personnel responsible for work scheduling will be given appropriate and adequate notice, to include specific agendas, of scheduled LMR training for maximum attendance.
  3. The amount and use of official time for LMR training, other than joint LMR training, is an appropriate subject for local negotiation.

Section 2 - Joint Master Agreement Training

The parties will jointly provide Master Agreement training.  The cost of the Master Agreement joint training will be paid by the Department.  Training will be done jointly; however, this does not preclude additional training by each party.  Any training document will be prepared jointly.

Section 3 - Joint Labor-Management Training

  1. Each field facility will have a joint LMR training program.  The ongoing program will have equal representation between the Union and the Department and decisions will be made by consensus consistent with interest-based bargaining principles.  The local joint LMR training activity will develop a local LMR training plan which could consist of Interest‑Based Bargaining, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Quality Programs, Cooperative LMR, communication skills, local supplements, district or regional training, etc.
  2. LMR training will be recorded in each employee’s individual training record.
  3. Trainers appointed by the union will be on official time.  This official time will not be counted against any allocated official time as described in this agreement.  Attendees at joint labor management training will be on duty time.  LMR training will normally be presented jointly unless training is conducted by a mutually agreed upon third-party.  The parties may develop a joint train-the-trainer/facilitator program.
  4. Local facilities are encouraged to give recognition to individuals or groups who materially advance the process of LMR training.
  5. Normally, local facilities will ensure that appropriate resources are made available at the local level for joint LMR training.
  6. The parties are encouraged to share training materials or experiences to nurture better LMR training.
  7. The provisions of this article apply to joint training at all levels from local through national.

Section 4 - Third-Party Sponsored Training

Third-party sponsored training may be considered duty time or official time, as appropriate.

Section 5 - National Joint Training and Education Committee Charter

  1. Purpose

The national parties have jointly established a National Training and Education Committee (NTEC) that will advise the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration (HRA) on joint labor-management training and education needs and will plan the development of agreed upon national labor relations training programs.  The NTEC will recommend priorities and curricula for joint labor relations training and education to be accomplished in the Department with a national focus.

  1. Objectives:
  1. To identify national labor relations training and education needs of common interest to the Union, the Department, and the Administration;
  2. To determine type and degree of joint training needed;
  3. To determine the priorities for proposed national joint training;
  4. To identify delivery methods for the proposed national joint training;
  5. To recommend proposals to the Assistant Secretary for HRA and the Administrations for national joint training and education activities;
  6. To charter appropriate sub-groups (this will include guidance, resources, and evaluation of final products);
  7. To develop a communication and marketing plan for national joint training;
  8. To plan uniform and consistent national labor relations training for the Union and the Department;
  9. To facilitate and encourage participation of all parties in labor relations training and/or other educational programs, including facility requests for joint labor relations training;
  10. To evaluate the success of training programs accomplished and share best practices;
  11. To initiate needs assessments as appropriate to determine topics for joint training;
  12. To provide subject matter experts for developing curricula and serving as faculty as needed;
  13. To keep NPC advised of joint LMR training initiatives;
  14. To allow any member of the NTEC to suggest an agenda item but the co-chairs will establish the agenda; and,
  15. To assure that Department participants on the NTEC will have the authority to speak for their Administrations or staff offices.
  1. Guiding Principles (Process Boundaries):
  1. To ensure consistency with national goals of participating organizations;
  2. To seek input/feedback from all organizations affected/involved;
  3. To establish an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect;
  4. To establish open and honest communications with a view toward recognizing and addressing the interests of the parties;
  5. To share information and responsibility;
  6. To focus on global issues of interest at the national and local levels; and,
  7. To ensure a One-VA approach to national joint labor relations training.
  1. Membership
  1. NCA – 1 member
  2. VHA – 1 member
  3. VBA – 1 member
  4. LMR – 1 member
  5. OI&T – 1 member
  6. EES – 1 member
  7. AFGE – 6 members
  8. AFGE support – 1 member (non-voting)
  9. LMR support – 1 member (non-voting)
  1. Structure and Decision Making Process:
  1. There shall be six Department members and six Union members;
  2. Co-chairpersons will represent the Union and the Department and will serve for two years.  The responsibility for chairing the meetings will be rotated between the chairpersons;
  3. The NTEC will meet quarterly;
  4. Each year the NTEC will determine the agenda for the following year;
  5. Conference calls will be scheduled every two months and additional calls will be scheduled if needed;
  6. The Department will fund the travel and per diem for meetings of the NTEC;
  7. The Union will commit members to participate on curriculum development subgroups and to participate as instructors in joint training;
  8. Decisions will be made by using the consensus approach that integrates the interests of the parties (if consensus is not reached by the NTEC, the chairs will attempt to resolve the dispute); and
  9. Minutes will be recorded at each meeting and distributed to each member for review and comment, and then distributed as appropriate.
  1. Definitions:
  1. Joint training - training agreed to by both parties.
  2. National joint training - national labor relations training mutually agreed to and developed by both the Union and Department to address mutual needs/concerns.
  3. National focus training and education - labor relations training which is global in content to assure uniformity and consistency at all levels.
  4. Intended audience of training and education - local union officials, stewards and representatives; Union national officials; first‑level supervisors, managers and executives; Human Resources Management Officers and specialists; and employees.
  1. Desired Outcomes:
  1. More efficient use of resources through better collaboration and coordination of training and education activities affecting the Union and the Department;
  2. Foster clear and effective communication mechanisms between the Union and the Department to ensure better collaboration;
  3. Improve the relationship between the Union and the Department through collaborative and coordinated training and education activities;
  4. Maximize participation in joint training and education at all levels;
  5. Improve access to labor relations training at all levels; and,
  6. Develop outcome measures to demonstrate success.
  1. Additions:

The NTEC may add to this section, by mutual agreement.

 

 

ARTICLE 5 - LABOR-MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE

There shall be a joint Labor-Management Relations Committee which shall meet twice a year in Washington, normally approximately six months apart, for up to a maximum of three days.  The Department will authorize official time (if otherwise in a duty status) and travel and per diem for the five National Veterans Affairs Council Officers, fifteen District Representatives, five National Safety and Health Representatives, and twelve National Representatives, or alternates, for participation in these meetings.  The parties will exchange agenda items sufficiently in advance so that arrangements can be made for appropriate representation.  The Union will provide the Department with the names of the Union designated representatives as far in advance as possible but no later than three weeks in advance of the meeting so that official time, travel, and per diem may be arranged.

 

ARTICLE 6 - ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION

Section 1 - Commitment

The Department and the Union are committed to the use of ADR problem‑solving methods to foster a good labor-management relationship.  The Union and Department at all levels should be committed to the use of ADR problem-solving methods as a priority to resolve disputed matters.  Those involved in the development and use of an ADR system shall be trained in the principles and methods of ADR.

Section 2 - Definitions and Intentions

  1. ADR is an informal process which seeks early resolution of employee(s), labor, and management disputes.
  2. Any ADR process must be jointly designed by the Union and the Department.  ADR should be effective, timely, and efficient.  It should focus on conflict resolution and problem-solving and foster a cooperative labor and management relationship.  Participation in the ADR process must be voluntary.
  3. ADR may be used in the context of labor-management cooperation.
  4. The parties agree to ongoing evaluation to improve the process.

Section 3 - Rights and Responsibilities

  1. The parties have the responsibility of informing employees and management officials of the ADR option to resolve disputes.  ADR should be undertaken in good faith and not circumscribed by formal rules and regulations.
  2. Both parties will:
  1. Respond to questions about the ADR process;
  2. Provide information to employees on the ADR process; and,
  3. Help employees complete the designated ADR form.
  1. Employees may utilize the ADR process to resolve individual concerns with the mutual consent of the Union and the Department.  However, the parties agree to encourage the use of ADR except for the most egregious or frivolous matters.
  2. Disputes resolved by ADR are final when written and signed.  The Union and the Department will have the right to participate in all stages of the ADR process.  This is in addition to an employee’s right to Union representation.
  3. ADR resolutions shall not set precedent unless agreed to by the parties.  Resolutions under ADR cannot conflict with or supersede agreements between the parties.
  4. Once an employee elects to use an ADR process, the Union has a right to participate in that process.  This right is in addition to an employee’s right to Union representation.

Section 4 - Implementation

  1. ADR is an appropriate subject matter for local negotiations.
  2. ADR agreements must state the objective of all parties as well as a commitment from all parties to resolve their disputes in a non‑adversarial environment.
  3. The parties at all levels shall jointly adopt an ADR problem-solving method that will include mutually agreed upon third parties.  ADR methods may include but are not limited to early neutral evaluation, mediation, interest‑based problem solving, peer review, conciliation, facilitation, and neutral fact-finding.
  4. ADR methods may be used prior to or during a grievance/arbitration or statutory appeal.  In the use of ADR processes, contractual time frames will be stayed by mutual agreement.  Statutory time frames cannot be stayed.
  5. ADR data that is collected nationally for the use of the VA ADR Steering Committee will be provided to the Union member of that committee.

Section 5 - Characteristics

  1. Characteristics of a successful ADR program generally include:
  1. The program is designed in cooperation with the local union;
  2. Employees are educated on and made aware of the program;
  3. All parties are encouraged to use the process and resolve workplace conflict at the earliest stage possible;
  4. Adequate resources are allocated to the development and maintenance of the program;
  5. The process is evaluated on an on-going basis; and,
  6. Mediators and facilitators are adequately trained.
  1. Successful mediators and facilitators generally are able to:
  1. Assist the parties in identifying the issues;
  2. Foster joint problem-solving;
  3. Explore settlement opportunities;
  4. Maintain strict neutrality;
  5. Maintain complete confidentiality;
  6. Structure the session so there will be an exchange of information;
  7. Consider options to resolve issues;
  8. Assist the parties in developing skills for defusing emotions; and,
  9. Assist in developing a settlement agreement with the concurrence of all parties.

ARTICLE 7 - QUALITY PROGRAMS

Section 1 - Introduction

  1. Both parties recognize the importance of a strong commitment to comprehensive quality programs in the Department.  Service to the veteran is the cornerstone of the relationship between the Department and employees.
  2. Both parties agree that a successful quality program must empower all employees to fully participate in the development and implementation of Department programs and processes.  The Department recognizes the Union as the exclusive bargaining unit representative in implementing, maintaining, and improving these quality programs.  Participation of bargaining unit employees in the Department’s quality programs is a matter left to the discretion of the Union in its role on the facility Quality Council.

Section 2 - General

  1. The Quality Programs referred to in this article are to include Quality Programs initiated by the Department utilizing methods (such as LEAN, Six Sigma, Baldridge Criteria and Systems Redesign) aimed at reviewing and improving Department programs and processes.
  2. Both parties agree that the commitment of the local facility Director and local union President is critical for success of Quality Programs.
  3. Bargaining unit employees who spend time on Quality Programs initiated by the Department in a nonrepresentational capacity will be on duty time.  Bargaining unit employees serving in a union representational capacity will be on official time.  This official time will not be counted against any allocated official time as described in this agreement.
  4. Time spent on Quality Programs initiated by the Department will be considered duty time.
  5. It is recognized that all levels of the Department and the Union are responsible for successful implementation, maintenance, and improvement of quality programs.  Therefore, the parties should strive for open communication, developing teamwork, sharing of information, integration and acceptance of the union/management role, reduced paperwork, improved work processes, etc.
  6. It is in the interest of both parties that there be a sharing and communication of information regarding, e.g., Joint Commission, requirements, processes, and results.

Section 3 - Quality Programs Council Charter

The following is the Charter agreed to by the parties.

VA QUALITY COUNCIL CHARTER FOR QUALITY PROGRAMS

          I.         PURPOSE

This charter establishes a National Quality Council (NQC/work group) and quality councils throughout the Department.  Members of the councils will demonstrate continuing commitment to the principles and practices of quality improvement both as council members and as participants in their respective organizations.

               II.          SCOPE

This charter applies to quality programs within the VA.

  1. Both the Department and the AFGE National VA Council (NVAC) mutually agree that the scope of the agreement will be limited to process, programs, and related issues as covered by this charter.  The Councils/Teams will not establish projects which are matters solely and properly subject to collective bargaining, matters currently covered by the Master Agreement, and individual/employee grievances and problems or other appeals/complaints processes as projects.  The AFGE NVAC will communicate this requirement to their locally appointed quality representatives.  The Department will similarly communicate this requirement.
  2. Neither the union nor the Department waives the right to bargain over quality initiatives which would otherwise be bargainable, nor do they waive any other legal, contractual, or past practice right.
  3. The Department and the union recognize that, in order for quality programs to be a successful tool in problem solving, the parties may agree to depart from the Federal Labor Management Relations Statute in such areas as the parties’ rights and the negotiability of subjects.
  4. No bargaining unit employees will be coerced or intimidated into participating in Quality Improvement Teams (QITs).  Participation in the process is entirely voluntary.
  5. Union and management will recognize each other as legitimate customers in their everyday dealings with each other.

                    III.       GENERAL ROLES OF VA and AFGE

The Department and the NVAC serve as champions of quality throughout the organization.  The National Quality Council and other work teams/groups, will provide an environment that supports employee involvement, contribution, teamwork, and a positive atmosphere of trust/respect between management and employees.

               IV.         QUALITY COUNCILS/WORK GROUPS - GENERAL

  1. Purpose:
  1. All Quality Councils/work groups will foster quality improvement by:
  1. Providing visible leadership,
  2. Encouraging subordinate managers and employees to use quality improvement techniques, and
  3. Fostering the integration of quality improvement with management support systems.  Such systems include, e.g., strategic planning, performance management, and awards and recognition.
  1. Organization and Membership:

The union may, at their discretion, select a number of employees equal to management’s selections to serve on the Councils/work groups.  There must be present at least one person from both management and union.  In the event multiple unions participate in the program, the number of union members on a council shall not exceed that of management and AFGE shall determine the union membership mix.  All members will make every effort to attend the meetings.  All quality council members must have had quality improvement awareness training.  The union and the Department, respectively, will endeavor to select employees who they feel best represent the various components of the organizational entity.

                    V.       THE NATIONAL QUALITY COUNCIL

  1. Purpose
  1. Serves as the model for VA’s quality improvement effort,
  2. Provides leadership to foster quality improvement within VA, and,
  3. Supports the integration of quality improvement in the day-to-day operations of VA.
  1. Membership
  1. The NQC/work group shall include up to 4 representatives on the National Quality Council, each with an equal voice.  The NVAC President will make the selection of NVAC employees to sit on the NQC/work group.  Management will have equal membership to Union membership.
  2. Each member of the Council will normally serve a minimum of 18 months.  The Council will be co-chaired by the union and management.
  1. Function

The NQC/work group fosters implementation of quality improvement by:

  1. Examining the Department’s Mission of the Quality Improvement (QI) Program and promoting the goals and principles established in it;
  2. As necessary, establishing cross-functional and other projects designed to foster quality improvement throughout VA;
  3. Providing assistance and support to other Councils/work groups;
  4. Reviewing positive/negative quality improvement experiences from specific facilities as presented by NQC members;
  5. Establishing guidance, procedures, and format for implementing quality improvement projects at the NQC/work group level; and,
  6. Operating under the rules and procedures specified in Appendix A.

          VI.      REGIONAL/AREA COUNCILS

Regional/Area Councils may be established at management’s discretion.  If such councils are established they shall comply with the guidelines for facility councils and/or national councils as appropriate.

               VII.        FACILITY QUALITY COUNCILS

  1. Where practicable, based upon the size of the activity, each activity will establish a Facility Quality Council (FQC/work group) or work group.  Each FQC/work group will operate under a charter which includes at a minimum a statement of purpose, organization, membership, responsibilities, and functions.  However, if the parties mutually agree, they may combine the functions of the FQC/work group into any facility partnership council.
  2. Membership.  The membership shall be personnel who work at the facility.  Each council and/or work group will have co-chairs selected by consensus of the membership.  The co-chairs may be rotated periodically.
  3. Responsibilities
  1. Promote quality improvement goals and principles,
  2. Identify quality improvement opportunities, and
  3. Recognize participation and accomplishments in the quality improvement process.
  1. Procedures

Each QC/work group will establish its own operating procedures, deciding such issues as frequency of meetings, communication processes, and membership tenure.  All QC/work groups have the option to invite additional people to their meetings when the need for additional expertise arises.  All QC/work groups will make decisions based on consensus.

  1. QC/work groups are encouraged to use an experienced facilitator for conducting Council meetings for the first year.
  2. All quality council/work group meetings will be conducted during normal duty hours with the following exception: meetings may be held during normal/regular lunch or break periods with consensus of the council or team.  Any overtime related to Quality Council/work group work will be paid in accordance with governing directives and law.  Union representative participation shall be considered official time.  This official time will not be counted against any allocated official time as described in this agreement.
  3. Quality Councils sponsor QIT activities.  The Councils:
  1. Determine the scope of the processes to be examined (e.g., is it a local or cross-component issue?);
  2. Prioritize and select processes for team action in their scope of authority (office staffing needs and workloads will necessarily be considered in making these decisions);
  3. Solicit volunteers and select team members, based on the particular skills and expertise needed by the team;
  4. Monitor and support teams and individuals working on quality efforts, including obtaining or providing necessary training;
  5. Obtain periodic reports from active teams; and,
  6. Obtain administrative support as necessary.
  1. QC/work groups receive recommendations from the QITs they have sponsored.  They:
  1. Review all recommendations from their teams;
  2. Determine whether each recommendation is within their scope of authority to implement; and,
  3. Determine whether a recommendation should be referred to a higher level within the facility because of scope.
  1. Implementation of recommendation from QITs will be handled as follows:
  1. The Service/Division Quality Council (S/DQC)/work groups will recommend to appropriate management quality improvement changes which can be implemented at the local level.
  2. When practicable based upon the size of the facility, the FQC/work group will receive recommendations from QITs they have sponsored and from the S/DQC/work groups.  The FQC/work group will recommend to the appropriate senior management official those quality improvement changes that can be implemented at the Facility level.
  3. The QIT recommendations may be adopted and implemented, returned to a QIT for reconsideration, or rejected.  On a timely basis, reconsidered or rejected recommendations will be accompanied by a clear, reasoned explanation to the QIT.
  4. Quality councils at the facility can approve projects within their scope and authority for QIT consideration.  Projects involving cross-functional areas must be approved by the appropriate quality council (national, facility, or service/division).

                    VIII.               QUALITY IMPROVEMENT TEAMS

  1. Purpose

The purpose of QITs is to conduct quality improvement projects which will result in improved VA operations.

  1. Scope of Projects
  1. The Sponsoring Council will define the purpose and scope of each quality improvement project.
  2. QI initiatives will not focus on or result in loss of grade, pay, or bargaining unit positions (i.e., reduction in staffing).
  1. Membership
  1. QIT members will be appointed by the appropriate Quality Council and may be drawn from employees in a VA component and representatives of outside groups, such as VA customers and partners who are closely associated with a particular process.  The union may, at its discretion, designate a representative to fully participate as a member on each QIT without the need to use official time.  The union representative will be appointed at the same time as other members of the QIT.
  2. Employee participation in QI is voluntary.  Employees may resign from the team at any time by notifying a Team Leader in writing.  Employees will be fully informed concerning QI objectives and processes before their participation is requested.  Employees will not be disadvantaged if they choose not to volunteer to serve on a team.
  3. Prior to serving on a team, employees will be trained on QI techniques.
  1. Team Leaders
  1. Are selected by the QIT, or QC/work group;
  2. May be any member of the team; and
  3. Are responsible for calling meetings, communicating resource needs (e.g., personnel, training, funding, and equipment) and keeping the Council informed.
  1. Team Facilitators

Team facilitators will be chosen by the Sponsoring QC/work group and should be from outside the team.  The facilitator must be trained in QI problem solving methods and group dynamics.  The facilitator may help in selecting and using problem-solving tools, train members of the team in their use, and help guide discussions.

  1. Union Participation and Official Time
  1. The union has the right to be present at all QIT Meetings.  The union will determine who the representative will be at the team meetings, and in the event that he/she cannot be released from duty, the union may designate another representative or request the meeting be postponed until they are available.
  2. The union will be provided the same advance notice of meetings that team members receive.  Official time to attend such meetings, not to exceed a total of 5 hours per week/facility, shall be in addition to any official time presently allowed by local agreements.
  1. Procedures
  1. Descriptions of improvement projects will be accessible to all facilities and QITs via computer, where practicable, based upon the size of the facility.
  2. All QIT meetings will be conducted during normal duty hours with the following exception: meetings may be held during normal/regular lunch or break periods with consensus of the team.  Any overtime related to QIT work will be paid in accordance with governing directives and law.  Union representative participation shall be considered official time.  This official time will not be counted against any allocated official time as described in this agreement.
  3. Quality improvement projects will be selected by Quality Councils and/or QITs.  When a QIT has selected a quality improvement project, the project will be submitted to the Quality Council for approval.  Each QIT member will be trained in QI techniques and will apply those techniques towards the successful completion of the improvement project(s) on which the team is working.
  4. To the extent possible, teams will receive the support they need for projects.  Projects not self-generated will be defined and presented to the team.  Team members who happen to be Union representatives will serve on the team as employees, not as the Union’s representative.
  5. QIT meetings are to be scheduled on a regular basis.  Management will make every effort to insure that bargaining unit team members are released from normal duties to attend meetings.
  6. The Sponsoring Council and/or management are responsible, to the extent possible, for providing teams access to data, staff, and contractors and with resources (training, travel funds, equipment, office supplies, facilities, time, etc.) necessary to carry out the quality improvement project.
  1. Performance Appraisals

No adverse inference will be made in performance appraisals for professionally expressed opinions or positions taken on QIT issues by employees serving on QITs, or by employees not serving on QITs.  Time spent performing QIT activities will not be evaluated in relation to performance standards of the employees’ regular positions.

  1. Awards

 Any awards provided to QI teams will be group awards.  Monetary awards for employees not participating on QI teams will not be adversely affected due to non-participation.

                    IX.      TRAINING

  1. Every effort will be made to provide QI awareness training to all employees.  The union’s on-site representatives located in each local facility will be trained at the same time as other bargaining unit employees in the facility.  If multiple sessions are required, the union representative will be offered attendance in the first session held at his/her facility.
  2. VA management agrees to provide facilitator training courses for those employees selected to serve as facilitators.
  3. Management and union/bargaining unit employees will receive training appropriate to their QI task or responsibility.

                    X.       COMMUNICATION/PUBLIC RELATIONS

  1. All existing “Mission Statements” will be jointly examined by the appropriate Quality Council with changes made as necessary.  All new “Mission Statements” will be jointly developed by the appropriate Quality Council.
  2. All QI publications, memoranda, circulars, directives, etc., unique to AFGE will be identified by both the official VA and union logos.

                    XI.      MANAGEMENT RESPONSIBILITIES

  1. Local Management
  1. Local management will reimburse employee authorized travel and other authorized expenses related to QI training and Council/Team participation.
  2. The impact of QI Council/Team meetings and workload/tasking will be recognized by supervisors as valid work and appropriate/necessary adjustments will be made to employees’ normal work loads, concerning due date extensions, workload counts, and deadlines.
  1. Central Office (CO) management will provide administrative support to the NQC/work group.  Specifically, CO will:
  1. Provide overall staff support to the NQC/work group.
  2. Record, disseminate and modify/amend the minutes of all meetings of the NQC/work group.
  3. Compile, distribute, and maintain a QI bibliography.
  4. Share expertise in the quality field with the Facility Councils.
  5. Maintain an inventory of QI courses and serve as liaison with the training coordinators of the Department.
  6. Support the NQC/work group in issuing the newsletter and in other communication efforts.
  7. Provide support and assistance to quality councils, as necessary.

          XII.     NOTICE

  1. Any local QI agreement(s) in conflict with this charter will be superseded by this charter in those specific areas where the conflict exists.
  2. It is understood that QI now exists at some facilities and that it will require an expeditious transition period to implement all features of this QI national agreement.  The transition period will be no more than one hundred twenty (120) days from receipt of this program at the local station or conclusion of local bargaining, whichever is later, and less than one hundred twenty (120) days where possible.
  3. The composition of QITs in existence prior to the effective date of this agreement shall not be affected by this agreement.  Each facility will notify the local union of the QITs in existence prior to the effective date of this agreement.
  4. It is recognized by both parties that QI projects are initiated at all levels.  VA management must pay special attention to its obligation to provide union notification before implementation of QIT recommendations where appropriate.  VA management will closely monitor QI activities at all levels to assure that managers do not bypass the union.

                    XIII.    DURATION

Both the union and management recognize that to achieve cultural transformation, many changes in the operating process have to occur; therefore, either party may give written notice to reopen this charter 30 to 60 calendar days prior to the first annual anniversary of this charter.  The request for renegotiating the provision(s) of this charter shall be in writing and submitted 30 days prior to beginning the negotiations.  If reopened, all provisions of this charter shall remain in effect until conclusion of negotiations unless otherwise mutually agreed.  Participation by an individual employee in the QI effort remains voluntary despite any opposing position by management or the union.  Participation in the QI effort remains voluntary.  While either party may withdraw from the agreement at any time after 1 year, the parties are committed to utilizing QI for 1 year from the conclusion of their transition period or the establishment of a program.  Both union and management will consider withdrawal as the option of last resort only after extensive discussion and consultation fail to resolve a problem.  The union maintains that participation in QI is a union permissive right.

               XIV.       TRAINING

The Department will provide joint training to the parties prior to implementation of the QI Program at the facility.  The parties agree that the Department will provide the necessary resources and training to ensure a successful program.

APPENDIX A

The National Quality Council will adhere to the following rules and behaviors:

  1. The Council meetings will be attended by principals/designees only.  Every effort will be made to insure principals/designees are available for meetings.  Observers, technical experts, and presenters may be invited to attend Council meetings in a non-voting/participating capacity.  Any member may request to be briefed on decisions made at a previous meeting if the member was not in attendance when the decisions were made.
  2. The Chairperson will designate a Council member in their absence to chair Council meetings.
  3. The Council will operate by consensus decision-making.  Consensus shall be defined as stated in Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary or newer edition.
  4. A quorum must be present to conduct official business, with a quorum consisting of two thirds of the members.
  5. An agenda will be prepared in advance for each meeting of the NQC/work group with each member being given the opportunity to submit items.
  6. Discussion and decisions of the NQC/work group will be recorded in meeting reports and sent in draft to the members for approval before publication.
  7. Facilitators will be obtained when needed.  Facilitators will remain neutral and will not participate in decisions.

Employee Rights and Privileges


ARTICLE 8 - CHILD CARE

Section 1 - Policy and Purpose

The parties recognize that working parents may have special child care needs during working hours.  The parties recognize the need for such parents to secure appropriate child care arrangements.  The Department will continue its efforts to secure adequate funding in order to support and foster child care services for its employees.

Section 2 - Child Care Activities

  1. The Department will continue to provide and/or support various activities in order to meet ongoing child care needs.  These may include, but are not limited to, such things as child care and parenting information, child care resource and referral information, workshops, and counseling as available through the Employee Assistance Program.
  2. It is the Department’s intention to utilize available funds nationwide to foster local solutions to child care needs.  These may include construction of on-site facilities or near-site facilities, participation in shared facilities with other federal agencies, establishment of mini-centers, or other child care services.
  3. In accordance with PL 101-509 of the 1991 GSA Appropriations Act, the Department agrees to pay legally permissible expenses for training, conferences, or other meetings in connection with the provision of child care services for persons employed to provide child care services if the Department determines that such training, etc., is relevant and necessary.  The Department also agrees to pay similar expenses for Department employees who have oversight responsibilities for the operation of child care facilities, i.e., members of local child care Committees and Boards of Directors, if it is determined such training is relevant and necessary.
  4. The head of each facility or appropriate designee will provide inquiring employees with current listings of the qualified, licensed child care centers in the immediate area.  Recognizing that a broad range of child care needs exists in compiling such listings, management will request specific information i.e., age groups served, types of programs offered, and special needs programs.

Section 3 - Local Child Care Committees

  1. When a site for a VA Child Care Center is selected, the parties will establish a local Committee comprised of one Department representative, one local union representative, parents, and other parties as appropriate.  The Department will have subject matter experts available to meet with the Committee on an as-needed basis.  The Committee will guide development of the local child care program, including development of marketing strategies, operating procedures, and admission priorities.
  2. The Committee will have the opportunity to review and make recommendations which will be considered in the design of the facility.  The Committee will participate in the selection of the child care provider.
  3. Once the Center becomes operational, the Committee will be replaced by a Board of Directors which the Committee will assist in establishing.  The local union will designate one representative to serve on the Board of Directors.
  4. Bargaining unit employees who perform Child Care Committee functions in a nonrepresentational capacity will be on duty time.  Bargaining unit employees serving in a union representational capacity will be on official time.  This official time will not be counted against any allocated official time as described in this agreement.

Section 4 - Employee Needs

  1. It is agreed that the responsible official will grant emergency annual leave requests and consider emergency requests for leave without pay brought about by unexpected changes in child care arrangements, contingent upon operational exigency.
  2. The Department agrees to utilize programs which may assist employees with child care needs; for example, part-time employment, job sharing, leave, flextime, etc.
  3. The Department recognizes that it may be necessary for employees to contact child care providers during duty hours.

Section 5 - Facilities

In accordance with 40 USC 490(b), the Department will provide space, equipment, furnishings, and other services necessary to support the operation of each child care facility on federal property.

Section 6 - Miscellaneous

The parties agree that this Article will not delay or impact any pending child care initiatives.  The Union will be kept informed of the child care initiatives.

ARTICLE 9 - CLASSIFICATION

Section 1 - General

  1. Each position covered by this Agreement that is established or changed must be accurately described in writing and classified to the proper occupational title, series, code, and grade.
  2. Title 5 position descriptions (PD) must clearly and concisely state the principal and grade controlling duties, responsibilities, and supervisory relationships of the position.
  3. Employees will be furnished a current, accurate copy of the description of the position to which assigned at the time of assignment and upon request.  In order to ensure accurate PDs, the term “other duties as assigned” should not be used to assign duties that are not related to the employee’s position.  In such instances, the employee should discuss these duties with the supervisor to determine whether the PD is accurate.  The Department reserves its right to assign work that is not in the PD.  If that occurs on a regular basis, the PD must be revised to accurately reflect the job duties.
  4. Position descriptions will be kept current and accurate, and positions will be classified properly.  Employees shall be properly compensated for duties performed on a regular and recurring basis.  Changes to a position will be incorporated in the PD to assure that the position is correctly classified/graded to the proper title, series, and grade.  Incidental changes may be made in the form of pen and ink notations on the PD as requested by the Department.  The local union will be provided the opportunity to review proposed changes in PD descriptions and copies of updated PDs.  Current PDs will be provided to the local union, upon request.
  5. Employees dissatisfied with the classification of their positions should first discuss the problem with their supervisors.  If a supervisor is unable to resolve the issue to the employee’s satisfaction, the employee can discuss the matter with the Human Resources Manager or appropriate staff member who will explain the basis for the classification/job grading.  An employee and/or the local union, upon request, will have access to the PD, evaluation report, if available, organizational and functional charts, and other pertinent information directly related to the classification of the position.  This informal classification review process should be completed in a reasonable period of time.  When a desk audit is conducted it will be completed within 90 days of the local union or employee request.  This time frame may be extended by mutual consent.  As appropriate, desk audits will be performed at the employee’s work station.  If the employee still believes there is an inequity, an appeal may be filed with the Department or Office of Personnel Management (OPM), as appropriate.  An employee may file a classification/job grading appeal at any time through appropriate channels whether or not this informal classification review process was followed.
  6. The Department will meet and confer with the local union on procedures pertaining to systematic position classification and special maintenance reviews.
  7. Vacant positions will not be posted until the appointing authority assures that they are authorized, properly described, evaluated, and classified according to series, title, and grade.
  8. No position(s) will be downgraded without a thorough review.  For a downgraded position, the employee’s pay and grade will be maintained on an incumbent basis in accordance with law and regulations.
  9. Delegations of authority for the classification of positions will be specified in Department policies and regulations.

Section 2 - Classification Standards

  1. Title 5 positions will be classified by comparing the duties, responsibilities, and supervisory relationships in the official PD with the appropriate classification and job grading standard.
  2. The Department will apply newly issued OPM classification and job grading standards within a reasonable period of time.  The local union will be provided with copies of new standards.  Current standards will be provided upon request.
  3. The Department will provide the Union with copies of any Department guidance provided to OPM in connection with any classification standards.

Section 3 - Classification Appeals

  1. The Department will provide employees and the local union with copies of procedures for filing classification appeals through the Department or OPM channels, upon request.
  2. Employees or their representatives are encouraged to submit their classification/job grading appeals through the local Human Resources Management (HRM) office.  The HRM office will forward the appeal to the Department or OPM, as appropriate, no later than 15 days from receipt and will provide the Local with 2 copies of the employee’s appeal request.  However, this does not preclude an employee from filing a classification/job grading appeal directly to the Department or OPM, as appropriate.
  3. An employee who files a classification appeal is entitled to a copy of the classification appeal file.  The local union is entitled to the same material, upon request.
  4. General Schedule (GS) and Federal Wage System (FWS) employees who file appeals with the Department concerning the title, series and grade, and/or coverage of their position will have their appeal decided within a reasonable period of time with a goal of 60 days from the date the Appeals Office receives a completed application.  Classification appeal decisions will be forwarded to the local union.

Section 4 - Effective Date

The effective date of a personnel action taken as a result of an appeal should not be later than the beginning of the fourth pay period following the date of the decision.

ARTICLE 10 - COMPETENCE

  1. The Department shall train bargaining unit employees on all new equipment, technology changes, and clinical procedures needed to perform the duties of their job.  For employees who are subject to production and timeliness standards, the training time will be excluded from the production or timeliness standard.
  2. Competencies established for an employee’s position shall be in writing and communicated to the employee when the employee enters a position or when a new competency is established for the employee’s position.
  3. Prior to the assignment of an out of the ordinary duty, employees shall be encouraged to state if they feel that this is an area that they need to review.  The request should not be used punitively against them and the review shall be authorized by the Department.
  4. The local union shall have input into the training of employees who are expected to cross cover areas.
  5. If problems arise with employees’ competencies, remedial training shall be afforded.
  6. Competencies must not exceed the scope of licensure, registration, or certification, whichever is applicable.
  7. Copies of competencies will be provided to the local union.  When the Department changes an employee’s competency, the local union will be afforded a reasonable opportunity to bargain regarding negotiable matters related to the change.
  8. Disputes over the matters that may be bargained concerning competencies may be referred to partnerships or the equivalent at the appropriate level.
  9. For the purposes covered by this Agreement, competencies as such shall not be used for performance evaluations, as replacements for or additions to performance standards, or as qualification standards.

ARTICLE 11 - CONTRACTING OUT 

Section 1 - Periodic Briefings

Periodic briefings will be held with AFGE officials at the local and national levels to provide the Union with information concerning any Department decisions that may impact bargaining unit employees in implementing Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-76.

Section 2 - Site Visits

The Department will notify the local union if a site visit is going to be conducted for potential bidders seeking contracts for work performed by bargaining unit employees.  A local union representative may attend such a site visit.

Section 3 - Union Notification

When the Department determines that unit work will be contracted out, the Department will notify the local union to provide them an opportunity to request to negotiate as appropriate.

Section 4 - Employee Placement

  1. When employees are adversely affected by a decision to contract out, the Department will make maximum effort to find available positions for employees.  This effort will include:
  2. Giving priority consideration for available positions within the Department;
  3. Establishing an employment priority list and a placement program; and,
  4. Paying reasonable costs for training and relocation that contribute to placement.

Section 5 - Inventory of Commercial Activities

 The Department will maintain an inventory of all in-house commercial activities performed by the Department and will update this inventory annually.  The inventory will include information on all completed cost comparisons and will be made available to the Union upon request.

Section 6 - Reopener

The parties agree that any agreement reached in Mid-term Bargaining regarding Contracting Out may be incorporated in this Agreement.

ARTICLE 12 - DETAILS AND TEMPORARY PROMOTIONS

Section 1 - General

  1. A detail is the temporary assignment of an employee to a different position for a specified period of time, with the employee returning to his or her regular duties at the end of the detail.  Details are intended only for the needs of the Department’s work requirements when necessary services cannot be obtained by other desirable or practicable means.
  2. Employees shall be recognized for the work they perform.  Details of one week or more shall be recorded and maintained in the Official Personnel Folder/electronic Official Personnel Folder (OPF/eOPF).  In addition, employees may document in the eOPF details of less than one week, by submitting an SF-172 or a memorandum.
  3. The Department will provide notification of all details to the local union President.  Where the detail did not result in changes to conditions of employment, the notification will be at least weekly.  Where changes to conditions of employment would result, the Department will provide reasonable advance notice.  When a detail is known far enough in advance and affects conditions of employment, the notification should occur as soon as practicable but no later than 10 days prior to the employee being detailed.
  4. The following procedures shall apply when offering noncompetitive details of 10 consecutive workdays or more to both classified and unclassified positions:
  1. The Department will canvass the qualified employees to determine if anyone wishes to be detailed.  If the same number of volunteers as vacancies exist, they shall be selected.  If an employee believes he/she is qualified and is excluded from consideration for a detail because of lack of qualifications, the Department, upon request of the local union, will articulate in writing the qualifications required for performance of the detail that the employee lacks.
  2. If more employees volunteer than vacancies exist, the Department will select from the qualified volunteers.  Seniority will be the selection criterion, except when management demonstrates and determines that the position to which an employee will be detailed requires unique skills and abilities that are not possessed by another qualified employee or that a medical or operational need requires or precludes the detail of a particular employee.
  3. If there are no volunteers, then the least senior qualified employee(s) will be selected, except when the Department demonstrates and determines that the position to which an employee will be detailed requires unique skills and abilities that are not possessed by another qualified employee or that a medical or operational need requires or precludes the detail of a particular employee or when the Department makes a detail to accommodate a substantiated medical or health problem.
  4. If there are fewer volunteers than vacancies, then the volunteers will be selected and additional persons will be selected as in Paragraph D. 3 in this section.
  5. Seniority shall be defined locally through negotiations between the local union and the Department.  Examples include service computation date, continuous service in the Department, continuous service in the facility, continuous government-wide service, and service time in a work unit.  Once established, the definition of seniority will not be changed for the duration of the Master Agreement.
  1. Details of less than 10 consecutive workdays shall be on a fair and equitable basis and procedures for such details will be a subject for local negotiations.
  2. For details outside of the duty station, a case-by-case analysis must be done comparing the distance from the old duty station to the employee’s residence versus the distance from the new duty station to the employee’s residence.  When a significant difference exists, the employee shall be given duty time for travel commensurate with the new duty station.

Section 2 - Temporary Promotions

  1. Employees detailed to a higher graded position for a period of more than 10 consecutive work days must be temporarily promoted.  The employee will be paid for the temporary promotion beginning the first day of the detail.  The temporary promotion should be initiated at the earliest date it is known by the Department that the detail is expected to exceed 10 consecutive work days.  The 10 consecutive work day provision will not be circumvented by rotating employees into a higher-grade position for less than 10 days solely to avoid the higher rate of pay.  For the purposes of this section, a GS employee, who performs the grade-controlling duties of a higher-graded position for at least 25% of his/her time for 10 consecutive work days or a FWS employee who performs higher-graded duties on a regular and recurring basis, shall be temporarily promoted.  A Title 38 or Hybrid Title 38 employee who is detailed to a higher-graded assignment shall be referred, at the effective date of the detail, to a Professional Standards Board for expedited promotion consideration.  The Professional Standards Board will be held within 30 days of the effective date of the detail.  The approving official should issue the decision as soon as possible.
  2. Title 5 temporary promotions in excess of 60 calendar days shall be filled through competitive procedures under Article 23 - Merit Promotion as though the promotion were permanent.  Temporary promotions of 60 days or less shall be made in accordance with Section 1.

Section 3 - Detail to Lower-Graded Duties

Should the requirements of the Department necessitate a detail to a lower-level graded position, this will in no way adversely affect the detailed employee’s salary, classification, or position of record.

Section 4 - Representatives

The Department will make every effort to avoid placing a local union representative on a detail that would prevent that individual from performing representational functions.  The Department agrees to notify the appropriate local union office prior to placing any designated local union representative(s) on detail away from the representative’s normal duty station.

Section 5 - Details for Medical Reasons

  1. Employees who are temporarily unable to perform their assigned duties as certified by a health care provider may voluntarily submit a written request to the Department for temporary assignment to duties commensurate with the serious injury or illness and the employee’s qualifications.  The request will be accompanied by medical certification.  The Department may require that such requests be reviewed by a Federal Medical Officer for medical sufficiency and appropriate recommendations.  The Department will consider such requests in accordance with applicable rules and regulations and medical recommendations.  The Department will, to the extent that it is operationally feasible, temporarily reassign the employee to an appropriate vacancy or duties and responsibilities within his/her own service/section.  Such reassignment will be commensurate with the employee’s limitations and qualifications.  Employees will continue to be considered for promotional opportunities for which they are otherwise qualified.
  2. This section does not provide the procedures for employees affected by job‑related injuries or who request reasonable accommodation; those subjects are addressed in other articles of this Agreement.

Section 6 - Local Negotiations

The parties at the local level may negotiate additional procedures for details and temporary promotions.

Section 7- Rotations

When the rotation of employees through higher-graded positions has the effect that compensation at the higher grade is avoided, the Department will comply with government-wide regulations.

ARTICLE 13 - REASSIGNMENT, SHIFT CHANGES, AND RELOCATIONS

Section 1 - General

  1. Definition

For purposes of this Article, a reassignment means a change of an employee from one position to another while serving continuously within the Department, without promotion or demotion.  Because they are permanent, all reassignments will be documented in the employee’s electronic Official Personnel Folder (eOPF).

  1. Reassignments in connection with reductions in force for Title 38 staffing adjustments are not governed by this Article, but are governed by procedures similar to Title 5 Reduction in Force (RIF) procedures.
  2. If a reassignment, shift change, or relocation of a Title 38 employee involves an issue of professional conduct or competence, then 38 USC 7422 applies.
  3. Reassignments shall not be used as punishment, harassment, or reprisal.
  4. If more employees volunteer than vacancies exist, the Department will select from the qualified volunteers.  Seniority will be the selection criterion.  If there are an insufficient number of volunteers, then the least senior qualified employee(s) will be selected.
  5. Seniority shall be defined locally.
  6. Reassignment to a position that provides specialized experience that the employee does not already have and is required for subsequent promotion to a designated higher-graded position and/or to a position with known promotion potential must be made on a competitive basis.  All excepted service reassignments shall be done fairly and equitably, with a full opportunity for the employee to be reassigned.
  7. The request of an employee seeking reassignment shall be entitled to prompt and fair consideration.

Section 2 - Local Bargaining

The parties agree that reassignment is a subject appropriate for local bargaining.  General areas which should be addressed include, but are not limited to:

  1. Posting of job notices;
  2. Submitting voluntary requests;
  3. Consideration of requests; and,
  4. Notification of reassignments.

Section 3 - Shift Change and Relocation

The parties recognize that giving consideration to seniority promotes improved employee morale and productivity.  Employees may request to relocate from one area of the local duty station to another (or from one shift to another) in the same position, title, and series within the same service and with the same advancement potential.  In filling such vacancy, seniority will be considered and the request will be granted if the employee has the requisite skills and abilities provided such relocation would be consistent with effective and efficient staffing.  The Department reserves the right to make the assignments based on other good faith considerations in assuring effective management of the work force. 

Section 4 - Voluntary Requests for Reassignment

Employees may, in writing, make the following requests under the following conditions:

  1. Types of Requests:
  1. To work a particular shift within a work area (days, evenings and nights);
  2. To work in a particular work location within the same shift
    (e.g., Building 4 second/pm shift);
  3. To work in a particular building or work unit (e.g., Building 5 or Building 4-5E);
  4. To be given relief assignments within the same shift on a continuing basis (e.g., an Environmental Management Service Housekeeping Aide or Nutrition & Food Service Worker relieves for two workers on their days off and a third employee on one day off.  Examples of voluntary requests may include, but are not limited to the following: Housekeeping Aide, WG-2, to Laundry Worker, WG-2; Nursing Assistant, GS-4, to Health Technician, GS-4; File Clerk, GS-4 to Mail Clerk, GS-4);
  5. To be reassigned to another facility;
  6. Any additional types as negotiated locally.
  1. Conditions:
  1. An available vacancy must exist;
  2. The employee must meet basic qualifications for the position (grade, title, and physical requirements);
  3. The employee must be performing at an acceptable level of performance; 
  4. Requests for voluntary reassignments will be considered;
  1. First, within the work area
  2. Second, within the building and/or service
  3. Third, within the duty station
  1. The selected employee shall normally be released and reassigned within two pay periods after written notification.
  2. Requests will remain active and on file until rescinded by the employee.

Disputes involving reassignments shall be resolved through the negotiated grievance procedure.

Section 5 - Administrative/Involuntary Reassignments

Administrative reassignments/involuntary reassignments are reassignments initiated by the Department to meet valid operational needs.  When such a reassignment is to be done, the Department will provide the local union with 30 days’ notice, and bargain to the extent required by law and this agreement prior to effectuating the involuntary reassignment.  In an emergent situation where the Department has less than 30 days’ notice of the need for the reassignment, the Department will provide the local union with as much advance notice as it has, and an explanation of why the 30 day timeframe could not be met.  The Department will provide the local union with the reasons for the action, the number/title(s) of positions affected, and the actions the Department intends to take to reduce the impact on employees.  Reassignments that are noted in other articles, such as but not limited to, Discipline, Investigations, Performance, Workers’ Compensation, RIF, and Reasonable Accommodation, shall follow the procedural requirements found within those respective articles.

Section 6 - Leave

All leave previously requested and approved will be transferred with the employee.

Section 7 - Relocation Expenses

An employee whose duty station changes either involuntarily not for cause or due to promotion shall be entitled to relocation expenses in accordance with regulations.  Employees who request to relocate, absent a promotion, may be entitled to relocation expenses.

Section 8 - Voluntary Reduction in Grade

Prior to acting on an employee’s request for a voluntary reduction in grade, the Department will assure that:

  1. The employee has been fully apprised in writing about the effects of such an action; and,
  2. The employee has been given an explanation of other alternatives relevant to the particular case.

Section 9 - Reassignments for Medical Reasons

  1. Employees who are unable to perform their assigned duties as certified by a health care provider may voluntarily submit a written request to the Department for assignment to duties commensurate with the serious injury or illness and the employee’s qualifications.  The request will be accompanied by medical certification.  The Department may require that such requests be reviewed by a federal medical officer for medical sufficiency and appropriate recommendations.  The Department will consider such requests in accordance with applicable rules and regulations and medical recommendations.
  2. The Department will, to the extent that it is operationally feasible, reassign the employee to an appropriate vacancy or duties and responsibilities within his/her own service/section.  Such reassignment will be commensurate with the employee’s limitations and qualifications.  Employees will continue to be considered for promotional opportunities for which they are otherwise qualified.
  3. This section does not provide the procedures for employees affected by job-related injuries or who request reasonable accommodation; those subjects are addressed in other articles of this Agreement.

ARTICLE 14 - DISCIPLINE AND ADVERSE ACTION

Section 1 - General

The Department and the Union recognize that the public interest requires the maintenance of high standards of conduct.  No bargaining unit employees will be subject to disciplinary action except for just and sufficient cause.  Disciplinary actions will be taken only for such cause as will promote the efficiency of the service.  Actions based upon substantively unacceptable performance should be taken in accordance with Title 5, Chapter 43 and will be covered in Article 27 - Performance Appraisal System.

Section 2 - Definitions

For purposes of this article, the following definitions are used:

  1. For Title 5 Employees:
  1. A disciplinary action is defined as admonishment, reprimand, or suspension of 14 calendar days or less and
  2. Adverse actions are removals, suspensions of more than 14 calendars days, reduction in pay or grade, or furloughs of 30 calendar days or less.
  1. For Title 38 Employees:
  1. A disciplinary action is defined as an admonishment or reprimand taken against an employee for misconduct and
  2. A major adverse action is a suspension, transfer, reduction in grade, reduction in basic pay, or discharge taken against an employee for misconduct.

Section 3 - Removal of Disciplinary Actions

Admonishments and reprimands may be removed from an employee’s files after a six month period.  If an employee requests removal of such actions after six months, they should be removed if the purpose of the discipline has been served.  In all cases, an admonishment should be removed from an employee’s file after two years and a reprimand will be removed after three years.

Section 4 - Administrative Reassignment

Administrative reassignments will not be used as discipline against any employees, unless appropriate procedures are followed.

Section 5 - Alternative and Progressive Discipline

The parties agree to a concept of alternative discipline which shall be a subject for local negotiations.  The parties also agree to the concept of progressive discipline, which is discipline designed primarily to correct and improve employee behavior, rather than punish.

Section 6 - Fairness and Timeliness

Disciplinary actions must be consistent with applicable laws, regulations, policy, and accepted practice within the Department.  Discipline will be applied fairly and equitably and will not be used to harass employees.  Disciplinary actions will be timely based upon the circumstances and complexity of each case.

Section 7 - Processing Admonishments and Reprimands

  1. An employee against whom an admonishment or reprimand is proposed is entitled to a 14 day advance written notice, unless the crime provisions are invoked.  The notice will state the specific reasons for the proposed action.  The Department agrees that the employee shall be given up to eight hours of time to review the evidence on which the notice of disciplinary action is based and that is being relied on to support the proposed action.  Additional time may be granted on a case by case basis.  Upon request, one copy of any document(s) in the evidence file will be provided to the employee and/or his designated representative.
  2. The employee or his representative may respond orally and/or in writing as soon as practical but no later than 10 calendars days from receipt of the proposed disciplinary action notice.  The response may include written statements of persons having relevant information and/or appropriate evidence.
  3. Extensions for replying to proposed disciplinary actions may be granted for good cause.  The management official will issue a written decision at the earliest practicable date.  The written decision shall include the reason for the disciplinary action and a statement of findings and conclusions as to each charge.  The decision shall also include a statement as to whether any sustained charges arose out of “professional conduct or competence,” and a statement of the employee’s appeal rights.  In responding to a proposed disciplinary action, the employee will be entitled to local union representation.

Section 8 - Processing Suspensions, Adverse Actions, and Major Adverse Actions

  1. An employee against whom a suspension, adverse action, or major adverse action is proposed is entitled to 30 days advance written notice, except when the crime provisions have been invoked.  The notice will state specific reasons for the proposed action.  The Department agrees that the employee shall be given the opportunity to use up to eight hours of time to review the evidence on which the notice is based and that is being relied on to support the proposed action.  Additional time may be granted on a case-by-case basis.  Upon request, one copy of any document(s) in the evidence file will be provided to the employee and his/her designated representative.
  2. The employee and/or representative may respond orally and/or in writing as soon as practical but no later than 14 calendar days from receipt of the proposed action notice.  The response may include written statements of the persons having relevant information and/or other appropriate evidence.  The Department has the right to restrict the response time to seven days when invoking the crime provision.
  3. Extensions for replying to proposed adverse actions and suspensions may be granted when good cause is shown.  The appropriate management official will issue a written decision at least five days prior to the effective date.  The written decision shall include the reason for the disciplinary action and a statement of findings and conclusions as to each charge.  The decision shall also include a statement if any sustained charges arose out of “professional conduct or competence” and a statement of the employee’s appeal rights.  In responding to a proposed disciplinary action, the employee will be entitled to local union representation.
  4. These provisions do not apply to probationary or trial employees.

Section 9 - Notice of Disciplinary Actions

  1. Notice of a final decision to take disciplinary action shall be in writing and shall inform the employee of appeal and grievance rights and his/her right to representation.  The employee will be given two copies of the notice; one copy may be furnished to the local union by the employee.  The Department will inform the local union when it takes a disciplinary action against a unit employee.
  2. Notices shall explain in detail the reasons for the action taken and all evidence relied upon to support the decision.  The notice will also advise the employee how long the action will be maintained in his/her file.  The supervisor shall discuss the notice with the employee.  If the employee elects to have a Union representative present, the discussion will be delayed until the local union has an opportunity to furnish a representative.

Section 10 - Investigation of Disciplinary Actions

  1. The Department will investigate an incident or situation as soon as possible to determine whether or not discipline is warranted.  Ordinarily this inquiry will be made by the appropriate line supervisor.  The employee who is the subject of the investigation will be informed of his/her right to representation before any questioning takes places or signed statements are obtained.  Other employees questioned in connection with the incident who reasonably believe they may be subject to disciplinary action have the right to Union representation upon request.
  2. Disciplinary investigations will be conducted fairly and impartially, and a reasonable effort will be made to reconcile conflicting statements by developing additional evidence.  In all cases, the information obtained will be documented.  Supervisory notes may be used to support an action detrimental to an employee only when the notes have been shown to the employee in a timely manner after the occurrence of the act and a copy provided to an employee as provided for in Article 24 - Official Records.

ARTICLE 15 - EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE

Section 1 - Program Purpose

The purpose of the Department’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is the appropriate prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of employees with alcohol, drug abuse or other biopsychosocial problems that are adversely affecting the employee’s job performance and/or conduct.  Biopsychosocial problems may include physical, emotional, financial, marital, family, legal, or vocational issues.  Employees who suspect they may have such a problem, even in the early stage, are encouraged to voluntarily seek counseling and information on a confidential basis by contacting the individual(s) designated to provide such services.  Supervisors are also encouraged to note when employees appear to be experiencing difficulties for which EAP may provide assistance, and to refer the employee to EAP for assistance.  Early intervention may be helpful in returning the employee to full productivity.  Employees and supervisors will be informed about the program annually.

Section 2 - Record of Participation

  1. The Department will ensure that the confidentiality of medical records of employees concerning treatment for problems related to alcohol, drugs, emotional concerns, or other personal issues will be preserved in accordance with current public laws and OPM regulations.
  2. After an employee is no longer participating in the program, records will be maintained confidentially and preserved in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.

Section 3 - Voluntary Participation

  1. The Department will assure that no employee will have job security, performance rating, proficiency rating, or promotion opportunities jeopardized, or be subject to disciplinary action, adverse action or major adverse action, solely because of a request for counseling or referral assistance.
  2. Although the existence and functions of counseling and referral programs will be publicized to employees, no employee will be required to participate or be penalized for merely declining referral to EAP services.

Section 4 - Confidentiality

  1. The parties recognize that employee trust and confidence in the program are keys to its success.  For that reason, all confidential information and records concerning employee counseling and treatment will be maintained in accordance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations.
  2. Without an employee’s specific written consent, the supervisor may not obtain information about the substance of the employee’s involvement with a counseling program.  Information obtained with the employee’s authorization from such counseling programs may not serve as the basis for disciplinary action, adverse action or major adverse action.

Section 5 - Relationship to Other Actions

A fundamental purpose of EAP is to assist employees with problems that may result in conduct or performance deficiencies.  However, the program is not intended to shield employees from corrective action in all instances.  For this reason, the Department will hold in abeyance a proposed corrective action so long as the employee participates in EAP, does not engage in new instances of misconduct or performance deficiency, and successfully completes the treatment to which he/she is referred.  If the employee meets these requirements, the proposed corrective action will be rescinded.  This provision only applies in the first instance of the problem(s) requiring EAP assistance and does not apply if severe, egregious, or criminal misconduct is involved.  A successful program assists the employee in overcoming a personal problem so that performance and/or conduct improves and corrective action, such as disciplinary action, adverse action, major adverse action, or other performance-based actions, becomes unnecessary.

Section 6 - Excused Absence

A supervisor or manager shall grant up to 1 hour (or more as necessitated by travel time or unusual circumstances) of excused absence for each counseling session, up to a maximum of 8 total hours, during the assessment/referral phase of rehabilitation.

Section 7 - Leave Associated with EAP

It is the policy of the Department to grant leave (sick, annual, or LWOP) for the purpose of treatment or rehabilitation for employees under the EAP as would be granted for employees with any other health problem.

ARTICLE 16 - EMPLOYEE AWARDS AND RECOGNITION

Section 1 - Background and Purpose

Recognition of employees through monetary and non-monetary awards reflects the parties’ efforts to promote continuous improvement in Department performance.  The employee recognition program provides a positive indication of the parties’ commitment to providing quality public service.  The employee recognition program, as described in this article, has the following characteristics:

  1. It is an incentive program; that is, employee recognition is based on achievement and improvement.  Achievements are linked to the Department’s mission of providing high quality care and service to veterans and the public.  The program is intended to motivate employees to strive for excellence.  Strong emphasis is placed on recognition of efforts to improve service to veterans and the public.
  2. It recognizes the accomplishments of employees both as individuals and as members of groups or teams.  Because of the interrelationship of work performed by employees, enhanced Department performance is sought through teamwork, not through competition among individuals.  This program is based on the concept that individual employees who, through personal efforts and accomplishments support the goals of their teams, work units and, thus, deserve recognition.  It is also based on the concept that groups or teams which improve Department performance deserve recognition.  It recognizes that the Department, the Union, and employees have important roles in identifying and recognizing employees deserving of awards and praise.  The intent of this program is to promote a positive work environment and to link awards to employee contributions that enhance Department performance.
  3. Further, it is the intent of this program to ensure that employees will be appropriately rewarded regardless of changes in the Department’s organizational structure, work processes, or work initiatives.

Section 2 - Policy

  1. There is no limit on the number of awards that employees may receive or the frequency with which they may receive awards unless otherwise stated in this article.
  2. When employees are considered for awards, the relative significance and impact of their contributions will be considered in determining which type of award would constitute appropriate recognition and, for monetary awards, in determining the amount of money to be granted.  Funding availability must also be considered in the granting of monetary awards.
  3. Awards will be processed in a timely and expeditious manner.
  4. The Department will provide an award recipient with written documentation that clearly articulates the specific reason(s) that the employee received the award.  Employees are encouraged to relate this information to specific evaluation criteria when completing applications for merit promotion.

Section 3 - Types of Awards

Awards which employees may be eligible to receive include but are not limited to:

  1. Special Contribution Award
  2. Instant Award
  3. Suggestion Award
  4. Time-off Award

Section 4 - Award Panels

 Each facility will establish award panels consisting of management and bargaining unit employees.  The composition and membership of each panel will be decided jointly by the local union and the Department.  The local union will designate the bargaining unit panel members.  Panel decisions will be made by consensus and will then be forwarded to the Director of the facility.  Award panels will be formed at the beginning of assessment period.  Panels will perform the following functions, maintaining the strictest confidentiality and avoiding even the appearance of conflicts of interest:

  1. Establish fair and equitable mission-related criteria for awards.
  2. Operate within parameters as negotiated locally.

Section 5 - Monetary Awards

  1. Special Contribution Awards

The special contribution award is a special act or service award which recognizes individuals or groups for major accomplishments or contributions which have promoted the mission of the organization.  Award amounts should be linked to the significance and impact of the accomplishment or contribution.  A special contribution award may be made to an individual employee or to a group.  A group may consist of individuals from a single organization or multiple components/offices/units.

  1. Instant Awards

This is a special act or service award given to an employee for noteworthy contributions or accomplishments in the public interest which are connected with or related to the recipient’s official employment.  The distinction between a special contribution award and an instant award rests in the relative significance of the contribution or accomplishment.

  1. Suggestion Awards

The Department will encourage employees to file suggestions under the Department’s Suggestion Program.  Suggestions will be considered in a fair and equitable manner.  Suggestion awards will be appropriate for tangible suggestions, intangible suggestions, and problem identification, as defined in the Department’s Suggestion Program.

  1. In the event no decision is made regarding adoption or non-adoption of a suggestion within 90 days of submission, the employee, upon request, will be given a written or oral status report.
  2. Non-adoption of employee suggestions is to be written and contain specific reasons for non-adoption.
  3. If the idea set forth in a rejected suggestion is later adopted, the appropriate suggestion coordinator will reopen the case for award consideration if the matter is brought to their attention within two years after the date of rejection notice.

Section 6 - Time-Off Awards

Time-off awards may be granted to an individual or group of employees for contributions that benefit the Department.  These awards may be granted for contributions such as, but not limited to, the following:

  1. A significant contribution involving completion of a difficult project or assignment of importance to the mission of the Department;
  2. The completion of a specific assignment or project in advance of an established deadline and with favorable results;
  3. Displaying unusual initiative, innovation, or creativity in completing a project or improving the operation of a program or service;
  4. Displaying unusual courtesy or responsiveness to the public which clearly demonstrates performance beyond the call of duty and which produces positive results for the Department; and,
  5. Exemplary work by an employee as a canvasser for special campaigns or programs such as the Combined Federal Campaign, US Savings Bonds, or blood donor program.  (An award for such an effort may not exceed one work day per activity.)

Section 7 - Award Nomination Procedures

  1. Employees and management officials are encouraged to identify individual employees who they believe should be recognized for high quality accomplishments or contributions.
  2. Nominations of individual employees should be submitted in writing to the appropriate manager or award panel.  The nominations should include a description of the accomplishments or contributions of the nominee(s) and an explanation of their significance, as well as the name and telephone number of the employee submitting the nomination.  Nominations should not include suggestions for the type of award or the amount of money to be granted.  Information provided in the nominations will be considered in determining appropriate recognition.

ARTICLE 17 - EMPLOYEE RIGHTS

Section 1 - General

  1. In an atmosphere of mutual respect, all employees shall be treated fairly and equitably and without discrimination in regard to their political affiliation, union activity, race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, age, or non-disqualifying handicapping conditions irrespective of the work performed or grade assigned.  Employees will also be afforded proper regard for and protection of their privacy and constitutional rights.  It is therefore agreed that the Department will endeavor to establish working conditions that are conducive to enhancing and improving employee morale and efficiency.
  2. Instructions will be given in a reasonable and constructive manner.  Such guidance will be provided in an atmosphere that will avoid public embarrassment or ridicule.
  3. If an employee is to be served with a warrant or subpoena, it will be done in private without the knowledge of other employees to the extent it is within the Department’s control.
  4. No disciplinary, adverse, or major adverse action will be taken against an employee upon an ill-founded basis such as unsubstantiated rumors or gossip.
  5. No employee will be subjected to intimidation, coercion, harassment, or unreasonable working conditions as reprisal or be used as an example to threaten other employees.
  6. Recognizing that productivity is enhanced when employee morale is high, managers, supervisors, and employees shall endeavor to treat one another with utmost respect and dignity.
  7. An employee who exercises any statutory or contractual right shall not be subjected to reprisal or retaliation, and shall be treated fairly and equitably.
  8. All VA employees will, consistent with the Master Agreement and other collective bargaining agreements:
  1. Be provided a healthy and safe environment;
  2. Be encouraged to give suggestions and ideas to make the Department a better workplace and enable the Department to better serve veterans;
  3. Be encouraged to enhance their work life and career development; and,
  4. Be afforded assistance and told of expectations by the Department to enable them to perform their jobs.

Section 2 - Rights to Union Membership

Under 5 USC 7102, each employee shall have the right to form and join a Union, to act as a designated Union representative, and to assist the Union without fear of penalty or reprisal.  This right shall extend to participation in all Union activities including service as officers and stewards/representatives.  A bargaining unit employee’s grade level, compensation, title, or duties shall not limit the employee’s right to serve as a Union official, to represent the bargaining unit or to participate in any Union activities.

Section 3 - Rights to Union Representation

The Department recognizes an employee’s right to assistance and representation by the Union, and the right to meet and confer with local union representatives in private during duty time, consistent with Article 48 - Official Time, and local supplemental agreements.  If the employee and the local union representative cannot be released immediately, the employee and the local union representative will normally be released two hours before the end of their tour of duty.  If such release is not made, appropriate relief from time frames will be afforded (e.g., one day extension for each day of delay).  The Department agrees to annually inform all employees of the right to Union representation under 5 USC 7114(a)(2)(B) by postings on official bulletin boards and other appropriate means.  During his/her initial orientation, each employee will be provided with a copy of Weingarten rights and the Master Agreement.  These documents also will be available electronically.

Section 4 - Use of Recording Devices

No electronic recording of any conversation between a bargaining unit employee and a Department official may be made without mutual consent except for Inspector General investigations, other law enforcement investigations, ORM/EEO investigations, or duly authorized Boards of Investigation.  All electronic recordings will be transcribed.  The employee will be given a copy of the recording at the same time they receive the transcript for review.  The employee will have the right to review the transcript for accuracy, and may make corrections.  The employee will receive a copy of the final corrected transcript.  Information obtained in conflict with this Section will not be used as evidence against any employee.

Section 5 - First Amendment Rights

Employees have the right to present their views to Congress, the Executive Branch, or other authorities and to otherwise exercise their First Amendment rights, consistent with applicable laws, without fear of penalty or reprisal. 

Section 6 - Access to Documentation

Consistent with the Privacy Act and related government wide regulations in existence on the effective date of the Master Agreement, employees have a right to be made aware of any information specifically maintained under their name and/or social security number or any other personal identifiers.  This includes any documentation that is not covered by official records referenced in Article 24 - Official Records.  In most cases, employees will be provided with copies of documents maintained in their eOPF or Merged Record Personnel Folder (MRPF).  When no copy of a document in the eOPF, MRPF, or other system of records is automatically provided, the employee will receive a copy upon request.  The Department will annually provide employees with a list of systems of records in which information is maintained and retrieved by employee name, social security number, or other personal identifier.  Such list will include general descriptions of the types of documents included in each system of records.  Information not in compliance with this provision may not be used against the employee.

Section 7 - Personal Rights

  1. Employees shall have the right to direct and fully pursue their private lives, personal welfare, and personal beliefs without interference, coercion, or discrimination by the Department so long as such activities do not conflict with job responsibilities or applicable laws.
  2. The Department will make every reasonable effort to provide for secure storage of personal belongings.
  3. The Department shall instruct employees on how to file a claim for reimbursement under 31 USC 3721 and related regulations and will make forms available in case of loss if some personal item is damaged, irretrievably lost, or destroyed.

Section 8 - Dignity and Self Respect In Working Conditions

Employees, individually and collectively, have the right to expect, and to pursue, conditions of employment which promote and sustain human dignity and self-respect.

Section 9 - Employee Right to Privacy

Searches and seizures by the Department of the private property of its employees are subject to Constitutional constraints.  Employees may store personal papers and effects in their offices, desks, and file cabinets.  However, a search or seizure of such items without a warrant may be justified if the Department has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will produce evidence that the employee is guilty of work-related misconduct, or that the search is necessary for a non‑investigative work-related purpose, such as insuring the internal security of the Department.  Security concerns may necessitate searches of Department space or employees, subject to Constitutional constraints.  It should be understood that employee’s person and personal items owned by the employee, such as pocketbooks, briefcases or other like materials, are not subject to search without reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is involved.  As an exception, if searches are used when individuals enter a facility, then such search methods must be conducted consistently for all individuals.

Section 10 - Whistle-Blower Protection Act

Consistent with the Whistleblower Protection Act, currently codified at 5 USC 2302(B)(8), employees shall be protected against reprisal of any nature for the disclosure of information not prohibited by law or Executive Order which the employee reasonably believes evidences a violation of law, rule or regulation, or evidences gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or substantial and specific danger to public or employee health or safety.  The Department will annually notify employees about their rights under the Whistle Blower Protection Act.  If training on the Whistle Blower Protection Act is required, employees will be provided duty time to complete it.

Section 11 - Unlawful Orders

An employee has the right to refuse orders that would require the employee to violate an applicable law.  The employee will promptly bring his/her specific concerns to the supervisor or appropriate Department official.  The Department official will consider the employee’s concern and promptly notify the employee whether the order is lawful or unlawful.  Refusal to obey an unlawful order will not subject the employee to disciplinary or adverse action or major adverse action.

Section 12 - Improper Orders

An employee has the right to question an improper order that would direct him/her to act outside the scope of practice, privileges, competencies, or qualifications.  The employee will promptly bring his/her concern about the improper order to an appropriate supervisor.  The supervisor will promptly apprise the employee whether the order was proper or improper.  A refusal to obey an improper order will not subject the employee to disciplinary or adverse action or major adverse action.

Section 13 - Conflicting Orders

When an employee receives conflicting orders, he/she will bring the conflict to the attention of the supervisor who gave the last order or another appropriate supervisor.  The employee will be given a clarified order.  The employee will not be subject to disciplinary, major adverse or adverse action for following the clarified order.

Section 14 - Group Meetings

The Department agrees that group meetings of employees serve as a useful means of communication.  Employees may request group meetings to discuss their concerns about workplace issues.  Supervisors will consider and provide a response to such requests.  The right of the local union to be notified of and attend such meetings is set forth in Article 49 - Rights and Responsibilities.

Section 15 - Labor Recognition Week

The parties agree to jointly present the concept of labor recognition week to the VA National Partnership Council.  That concept would involve jointly sponsoring Labor Day Recognition Week during the week preceding Labor Day.

Section 16 - Counseling

Counseling shall be reasonable, fair, and used constructively to encourage an employee’s improvement in areas of conduct and performance.  It should not be viewed as disciplinary action.  At any counseling session where an employee has the right to local union representation, the employee shall be advised of that right at the beginning of the session.

  1. Oral Counseling

When it is determined that oral counseling is necessary, the counseling will be accomplished during a private interview with the concerned employee and local union representative if requested and appropriate.  If after such a meeting, the employee is dissatisfied and wishes to pursue a grievance, the employee may proceed to either Step 1 or to Step 2 of the grievance procedure.  If there is to be more than one Department official involved in a counseling session with an employee, the employee will be so notified in advance and the employee may have a local union representative at the session.

  1. Written Counseling
  1. Written counseling will be accomplished in the same manner as specified above, except that two copies of a written statement will be given to the employee.
  2. A written counseling for misconduct may only be kept or used to support other personnel actions for up to six months unless additional related misconduct occurs, and then it may be retained up to one year.
  3. A written counseling for performance may only be retained and used beyond the appeal period of the annual performance rating to support a timely personnel action related to that rating or any timely action taken during that period.
  4. In the case of probationary employees, a written counseling may be kept up to the time a decision is made whether or not the employee will be continued beyond the probationary period.

ARTICLE 18 - EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY

Section 1 - Policy

 The Department and the Union affirm their commitment to the policy of providing equal employment opportunities to all employees and to prohibit discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment), sexual orientation, national origin, age (40 years of age and over), or disabling condition.

Section 2 - Equal Employment Opportunity Program

The Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Program shall be designed to promote equal employment opportunity in every aspect of the Department’s personnel policy and practice in accordance with applicable law and government-wide rules and regulations.  The program shall include, but not be limited to, the following:

  1. Providing reasonable job accommodation for qualified disabled employees;
  2. Reviewing selection processes and staffing procedures to identify those which are inconsistent with governing Federal EEO rules and regulations and taking corrective actions consistent with such rules and regulations in those instances where adverse EEO impacts are found;
  3. Procedures that allow for the redesigning of jobs, where feasible and desirable, and which do not create an undue hardship to achieve the Department’s mission to utilize to the maximum extent possible the present skills of qualified disabled employees;
  4. Making reasonable accommodations for the religious needs of employees when such accommodations can be made without undue hardship to the conduct of Department programs;
  5. Commitment to the prevention of workplace harassment and sexual harassment; and,
  6. Affirmative Employment Plan(s).

Section 3 - Reasonable Accommodations for Employees with Disabilities

  1. In accordance with Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and other government-wide rules and regulations pertaining to the employment of individuals with disabilities, the Department is committed to affirmative action for the employment, placement, and advancement of qualified individuals with disabilities including disabled veterans.
  2. The Department will offer reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with known physical disabilities or mental impairments, or those who have a record of past impairment regardless of the type of appointment, unless the Department can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the Department’s program (as defined in 29 CFR 1614.203).
  3. Requests should be made in accordance with VA Handbook 5975.1 (Processing Request for Reasonable Accommodation by Employees and Applicants with Disabilities) or in accordance with the local facility’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) approved policy on request for reasonable accommodation.  The Department shall process requests for reasonable accommodation and provide accommodations, when appropriate, in as short a timeframe as is reasonable.  When possible, decisions regarding accommodations should be rendered within 30 calendar days of the date the request was received.
  4. The parties recognize that individual accommodations will be determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the employee’s specific disability, the employee’s suggestions for reasonable accommodations, existing limitations, the work environment, and undue hardship imposed on the operation of the Department’s program as defined above.  Qualified employees with disabilities may request specific accommodations.  However, the Department is not required to provide the employee’s accommodation of choice, as long as the Department provides a reasonable accommodation.
  5. Should a non-probationary employee become unable to perform the essential functions of their position even with reasonable accommodation due to a disability, the Department shall offer to reassign the employee when there is a funded vacant position available for which the employee is qualified, subject to all conditions in 29 CFR 1614.203(g) being met.
  6. For employees with disabilities, job restructuring is one of the principal means by which some qualified workers with disabilities can be accommodated.  The principal steps in restructuring jobs are:
  1. Identify which factor, if any, makes a job incompatible with the worker’s disability;
  2. If a barrier is identified in a nonessential job function, the barrier is eliminated so that the capabilities of the person may be used to the best advantage; and,
  3. Job restructuring does not alter the essential functions of the job
    (any changes made are those which enable the person with a disability to perform those essential functions).
  1. The parties agree that in many cases, changes in the work environment and other accommodations enable persons with disabilities to more effectively perform their job duties.  Alterations and accommodations may be, but are not limited to, the following:
  1. Rearranging files or shelves;
  2. Widening access areas;
  3. Maintaining hazard-free pathways;
  4. Raising or lowering equipment;
  5. Moving equipment controls from one side to the other, or modifying them for hand or foot operations;
  6. Installing special holding devices on desks, benches, chairs or machines; and,
  7. Providing qualified interpreters for the hearing impaired.
  1. With respect to the modernized systems environment, examples of accommodations are:
  1. The surface that holds the terminal will be adjusted to a level suitable to the employee’s needs;
  2. The keyboard will have “light touch,” guards, and other adaptive devices that will be considered;
  3. Visually impaired employees will be permitted to label “home” keys;
  4. Operational and training materials will be available in Braille;
  5. Lap trays will be considered;
  6. Computer based voice-output systems or VDT screen enlargers or other appropriate devices will be provided for visually impaired employees;
  7. Hardware and software will be configured to accommodate color blindness (e.g., blinking cursor, highlighting); and,
  8. Printer switches will be available in “light touch” and located in an easily accessible location.
  1. An employee may be provided assistive devices if the Department determines that the use of the equipment is necessary to perform official duties.  Such equipment does not cover personal items which the employee would be expected to provide, such as hearing aids or eye glasses.
  2. The Department’s facilities shall be accessible to employees with disabilities.
  3. The Department will be liberal in granting leave to accommodate the disabling conditions of employees.  For example:
  1. Leave without pay may be granted for illness or disability; and,
  2. Sick leave can be appropriately used by a person with a disability who uses prosthetic devices, wheel chairs, crutches, guide dog, or other similar type devices for equipment repair, guide dog training, or medical treatment.
  1. The Department will provide training to employees with disabilities on the same basis as other employees, consistent with this Agreement.  Once an employee is selected for training, the Department will provide reasonable accommodations to the employee to attend and complete the training.
  2. For the purpose of continuing to provide reasonable accommodations for hearing-impaired employees, the Department agrees to provide interpreter services for those employees who seek local union assistance and/or representation for their individual concerns, unless the employee wants to retain confidentiality.  To the extent possible, interpreter services should be arranged in advance, and the entire process treated with confidentiality.
  3. For the purpose of performing official business travel, the Department agrees to reimburse travel expenses that are necessary to reasonably accommodate the employee’s disability, consistent with Federal Travel Regulations.
  4. Employees with disabilities may, where appropriate as a reasonable accommodation, request telework arrangements.

Section 4 - Affirmative Employment Plans

  1. The Department’s Affirmative Employment Plan shall be designed to promote positive opportunities for all employees to contribute to the Department’s mission to the maximum extent possible, consistent with EEO principles.  The Department shall ensure that where there are situations of underrepresentation, targeted recruitment and development plans will be implemented.  The parties are encouraged to jointly develop Affirmative Employment Plans.
  2. Affirmative Employment Plans should include, where appropriate, provisions for reviewing individual services to ensure that affirmative employment policy is apparent within the service and to make more use of bridge positions and cross-training.
  3. The Department will fulfill any labor-management obligations, as appropriate, with the Union at the national level prior to submitting the National Affirmative Employment Plan to EEOC for approval.  The parties recognize that the National Affirmative Employment Plan must be submitted to EEOC.
  4. The Department at the local level will fulfill any labor-management obligations, as appropriate, with the local union prior to submitting local Affirmative Employment Plans to the next organizational level where required (for example, to the Department or EEOC).  The parties recognize that the local plans must be submitted to headquarters in sufficient time for the Department to meet the EEOC requirement in C above.
  5. The Department will comply with all equal employment opportunity requirements throughout the Department, as outlined in 29 CFR 1614.102, the Disabled Veterans Affirmative Action Promotion Plan (38 USC 4214), 5 CFR Part 720, and the statutory or regulatory requirements in EEOC Management Directive 715 (MD-715).

Section 5 - Information, Data, and Reports

  1. The Department agrees to provide employees access to written information describing the discrimination complaint procedures and their local Affirmative Employment Plan(s).
  2. The Department agrees to the timely posting of names, pictures, and office telephone numbers of EEO Counselors on designated local bulletin boards.  The Department will also provide the local union with a current list of local EEO Counselors and will update the list when changes are made.
  3. The Department agrees to provide the Union with copies of the National Affirmative Employment Plan and any other reports submitted to EEOC, including statistical data, concurrently with submission to the EEOC.
  4. Each facility preparing an Affirmative Employment Plan and any other reports will provide a final copy of the same, including statistical data, to the appropriate local union when they are prepared.

Section 6 - EEO Counselors

  1. The Department agrees to post the contact information for the appropriate Office of Resolution Management (ORM) office on local bulletin boards.
  2. The Department will assure that EEO counselors are available and accessible to employees who may have a discrimination complaint.
  3. The responsibilities of the Department include counseling employees, former employees and applicants who believe they have been discriminated against in the workplace and informing the aggrieved person(s) about the EEO process.  The EEO Counselor should work with the parties to provide a channel through which informal resolution(s) can be attempted.
  4. The parties agree that proper training will be provided to designated EEO counselors consistent with appropriate EEOC regulations.

Section 7 - VA Diversity Council/EEO Committees

  1. The Union can appoint two representatives to serve on the Department of Veterans Affairs Diversity Council (VADC).  The Department will provide official time, travel, and per diem for the employees appointed by the Union to serve on the VADC.  Official time to attend such meetings shall be in addition to any official time presently allowed by this Agreement.
  2. Local EEO committee meetings will be conducted during normal duty hours.  Bargaining unit employees participating in local EEO committees and special emphasis programs, but not serving in a representational capacity, shall be on duty time.
  3. The membership and operation of local committee(s), such as the EEO Advisory Committee, the Diversity Committee, etc., are appropriate subjects for local bargaining.  The Department will provide official time for any local union representative serving on such local committees.  Official time to attend such meetings shall be in addition to any official time presently allowed by this Agreement.  The local union will determine who the representative will be at such meetings.
  4. The membership and operation of local committee(s), such as the EEO Advisory Committee, the Diversity Committee, etc., are appropriate subjects for local bargaining.  Bargaining unit members will be selected by the local union.

Section 8 - Special Emphasis Program Managers (SEPM)

  1. Purpose

The Special Emphasis Programs support and strengthen the EEO/Affirmative Action programs by addressing the unique concerns of particular constituent groups and helping to ensure that members of these groups are employed, advanced, and retained with the Department on a nondiscriminatory basis.  Government-wide special emphasis programs include the Federal Women’s Programs, the Hispanic Employment Program, the Selective Program for Handicapped Individuals, the Upward Mobility Program, the Veterans Employment Program, the Asian-American Program, Asian Pacific-American Program, Native-American Program, African‑American Program, and other similar special emphasis programs.  Other programs may be established at the discretion of a local committee, such as the EEO Committee, the Diversity Committee, etc.

  1. Responsibilities and Requirements

The duties and responsibilities of SEPMs may include such activities as:

  1. Analyzing employment policies and practices to identify barriers to the hiring, development, advancement, and retention of a particular constituency;
  2. Recommending to the Department changes in personnel policies, practices, and procedures;
  3. Initiating affirmative employment efforts; and,
  4. Participating in planning the implementation, monitoring, and evaluating of the Federal Employment Opportunity Retention Plan.

Upon appointment to the collateral duty assignment of SEPM, the employee will receive, in writing, the duties and responsibilities of the SEPM, including time allocation for program activities.  The employee may document this collateral duty by submitting an SF-172 or memorandum for inclusion into their eOPF.

  1. Selection of SEPMs

The Department will request nominations from the local union when the Department is considering individuals to serve as SEPM on a collateral duty basis.

  1. Management Support

The Special Emphasis Programs are an essential part of the total EEO program and merit the full cooperation of employees, supervisors, local union(s), and managers.  Appropriate publicity and recognition should be given to the programs and training provided to SEPMs, as needed, and to supervisors and managers at all levels regarding the program’s activities and goals as they relate to the mission of the agency.  Similar information should be presented during the orientation of new employees.  All SEPMs need management support in terms of facilities, time, and cooperation.

Section 9 - Complaints

The complaint process afforded to employees must follow the procedures set forth by government-wide EEOC regulations, which can be found in 29 CFR Part 1614 and its subparts.

ARTICLE 19 - FITNESS FOR DUTY

Section 1 - Scope

This article applies to Title 5 and Hybrid employees.  For Title 38 employees see Article 57 - Physical Standards Boards.  The Department may direct a Title 5 or Hybrid employee to undergo a fitness for duty examination only under those conditions authorized by this article and in accordance with 5 CFR 339.  The Department will have the right to require medical examinations only if they are job related and consistent with business necessity.

Section 2 - Prerequisite Conditions

When there are reasonable grounds to believe that a health problem is causing performance or conduct problems of an employee, the employee shall be given an opportunity to provide medical evidence documenting the health problem affecting his/her performance or conduct and/or an opportunity to voluntarily initiate an application for disability retirement on his/her own behalf.

Section 3 - Medical Determination

  1. The Department may require an employee receiving worker’s compensation benefits or assigned to limited duties as a result of an on-the-job injury to report for medical evaluation when the Department has identified an assignment or position (including the employee’s regular position) which it reasonably believes the employee can perform consistent with the medical limitations of his/her condition.
  2. The Department may offer a medical examination when an individual has made a request for medical reasons for a change in duty status, assignment, working conditions, or any other benefit or special treatment (including reemployment on the basis of full or partial recovery from a medical condition) and the Department, after it has received and reviewed medical documentation, determines that it cannot grant, support, or act further on the request without verification of the clinical findings and current clinical status.
  1. When the Department orders or offers a medical examination under the provisions of the prevailing regulations, it shall inform the employee in writing of its reasons for ordering or offering the examination and the consequences of failure to cooperate.  The Department shall designate the examining physician but shall offer the employee the opportunity to submit medical documentation from his/her personal physician which the Department shall review and make part of the file.
  2. The Department shall provide the examining physician with a copy of any approved medical evaluation protocol, applicable standards and requirements of the position, and/or a detailed position description of the duties of the position including critical elements, physical demands, and environmental factors.
  3. The Department shall order or offer a psychiatric evaluation to an employee only when the employee first provides results of a general medical or psychiatric examination or the Department has first conducted a nonpsychiatric medical examination and, after review of the documentation or examination report, the Department’s physician concurs that a psychiatric evaluation is warranted for medical reasons.
  1. All medical examinations ordered or offered pursuant to Paragraphs 3A and 3B in this section shall be at no cost to the employee and performed on duty time at no charge to leave.

Section 4 - Procedures

In seeking a fitness for duty examination which may or may not lead to a disability application, the following rules and procedures shall apply:

  1. In all discussions with any Department official, the employee shall be entitled to local union representation.  Prior to any discussion, the employee shall be notified of this right, given an opportunity to contact and discuss the matter with his/her local union representative, and permitted the right of representation in such discussion.
  2. During these procedures, the employee will be apprised of his/her rights and, where supported by appropriate medical evidence, given the opportunity for suitable interim adjustments in his/her work assignments.
  3. The Department will ordinarily offer the employee a reassignment to a position when the results of a medical examination reveal that the employee:
  1. Cannot satisfactorily perform useful and efficient service in his/her regularly assigned job;
  2. Retains the capacity to do other work at the same grade or pay level within the work location or the commuting area; and,
  3. Otherwise meets the minimum qualifications for an available position that the Department seeks to fill.
  1. When the Department determines that the medical evidence reveals the employee is totally disabled for service in their current position, and reasonable accommodation for another position cannot be made, the Department will so advise the employee and provide appropriate counseling.

Section 5 - Counseling

When a disabled employee meets existing disability retirement requirements, the Department will counsel him/her concerning disability retirement and explain the procedure for voluntarily applying for disability retirement.  In the event that such an employee is unable to file on his/her own behalf, the Department may initiate, with notice to the employee, an application for the employee in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.

  1. The Department shall provide the employee proper notice, in accordance with 5 CFR Section 831.1205(b), and shall permit the employee 30 days in which to respond in writing.
  2. If the medical evidence and performance records establish that the employee retains the capacity to perform satisfactorily in a vacant lower graded position which the Department seeks to fill within the employee’s commuting area, the employee will be informed of his/her option to request such a demotion.

Section 6 - Confidentiality of Records

All records pertaining to the employee’s examination and any subsequent personal information included with an application for disability retirement are confidential and may be disclosed only to those with an administrative need to know or specifically authorized by the employee.  There will be a written statement to the employee of the disclosure.

ARTICLE 20 - TELEWORK

Section 1 - General

  1. The Department and the Union jointly recognize the mutual benefits of a flexible workplace program to the Department and its employees.  Balancing work and family responsibilities, assistance to the elderly or disabled employees, and meeting environmental, financial, and commuting concerns are among its advantages.  In recognizing these benefits, both parties also acknowledge the needs of the Department to accomplish its mission.  The primary intent of the telework program is to support the mission of the Department in an alternative work setting.  Telework must not be used as an alternative to or in lieu of dependent care.  Employees who telework will be permitted to take care of personal matters in the same way as employees who do not telecommute.  The Department Telework Program will be governed by applicable law, government-wide rules and regulations, VA Directives and Handbooks, and this article.
  2. Any Telework Program established under this article will be a voluntary program which permits employees to work at home or at other approved sites away from the office for all or a part of the workweek.
  3. The parties agree that employees participating in telework are performing the same duties as their counterparts working at VA facilities.  In the interest of fairness and equity, employees shall not be disadvantaged on their performance expectations because of their participation in telework.  The Department shall use the same measurements of work for employees who are on telework as are used for those employees who perform those same tasks at their Official Duty Station (ODS).

Section 2 - Definitions

  1. Telework

The terms “telework” and “telecommuting” are synonymous and include working at home or in satellite office sites or other approved telework work sites.

  1. Alternate Duty Station (ADS)

A worksite other than the employee’s official duty station, such as employee’s residence (defined as a specific room or area within an employee’s primary residence), a telecommuting center, a facility established by state, local, or county governments, private sector organizations for use by teleworkers, or an established satellite location including other VA facilities.  The alternative worksite must be mutually agreeable to the employee and their supervisor.

  1. Official Duty Station (ODS)

A telecommuting employee’s official duty station continues to be the permanent duty station.  Generally, the official worksite for an employee covered by a telework agreement is the location of the regular worksite for the employee’s position (that is, the place where the employee would normally work absent a telework agreement), as long as the employee is scheduled to report physically at least twice a pay period on a regular and recurring basis to that regular worksite.  Employees should refer to 5 CFR 531.605 for application of special situations.

  1. Telework Center

The Department satellite facility that the General Services Administration (GSA) establishes to provide federal employees an opportunity to work at an alternative location that is geographically convenient to the employee’s residence.  The space at the telework center is owned or leased by one or more federal agencies.

  1. Regular and Recurring Telework

Regular and recurring telework means the employee works at an ADS on a regularly scheduled basis (for example, one or more days per week, the second Wednesday of each pay period, Tuesday afternoon, two hours per day, etc.), at a home, a telework center, or other offsite location.

  1. Short-Term or Temporary Telework

Short-term or temporary telework is when an employee is prevented from reporting to the regular worksite due to an injury, recuperation from surgery, etc., for short periods of time (usually no more than three to six months).  Employees participating in this type of telework may work full‑time or may combine part-time work with leave use depending on the circumstances of the individual and the portability/availability of work at the alternative site.

  1. Periodic or Intermittent Telework

Periodic or intermittent telework is ad-hoc in nature and can be used when a project or assignment requires intense concentration or weather conditions are unfavorable.

Section 3 - Criteria

If employees meet the criteria for telework, the Department may approve their participation in telework arrangements in accordance with applicable law and this article.  Department officials are responsible for determining which positions are appropriate for telework arrangements, consistent with labor relations obligations.  The guidelines for approving telework arrangements are based on, but not limited to, the following:

  1. Work activities to be performed at an ADS must be portable (may be performed away from the traditional worksite, either in whole or in part, and can be evaluated by the supervisor);
  2. The position’s contact with other employees, the supervisor or manager, and serviced clientele is predictable and normally scheduled and can otherwise be accomplished via telephone or videoconferencing;
  3. The technology needed to perform work offsite must be available;
  4. Employees may be linked electronically to the traditional office location by computer or may simply take work to the ADS, requiring no computer;
  5. Privacy Act materials, evidence, or sensitive documents (hard copy or electronic) may be accessed remotely, provided the employee agrees to protect government/VA records from unauthorized disclosure or damage and will comply with the requirements of the Privacy Act and all other applicable federal laws and government-wide regulations and other applicable VA Policies and Directives;
  6. The employee volunteered (or concurred with the supervisor’s recommendation) to perform work at the ADS;
  7. An employee has a “fully successful” (or equivalent) performance appraisal.  If the employee has worked more than 12 months and does not have an appraisal, they shall be assumed to be “Fully Successful” for purposes of