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Are USPTO Examiners Abusing Telework?

Issued: August 09 2015

study undertaken by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) has found that employees of the US Patent and Trademark Office who choose to work from home under the USPTO’s telework policy are able to slack off with near impunity due to rules in place at the organization. 


The review found that the 9,939 employees who work from home – mostly patent examiners – need more oversight from managers, and that managers need more authority to discipline those employees who take advantage of work-from-home rules.


A key finding of the study is that once an employee meets the eligibility criteria in the telework agreements negotiated with the USPTO unions, “teleworking becomes somewhat of a right and not a privilege that can be revoked. Changing telework agreements would require the USPTO to open negotiations with their unions.”


It also found that current supervisory tools do not provide sufficient information on when employees are working. “An electronic presence indicator shows when employees are available to do work, not whether they are working, and it is not required for all workers,” NAPA concluded. “In addition, they do not have a defined schedule – examiners only have to notify their supervisors of how many hours they plan to work, not the actual hours they will be at work, and they can change their schedules at any time. This work schedule flexibility makes it difficult for supervisors to know when an employee is working.”


Worse, the study concluded that some supervisory patent examiners (SPEs) believe there is a lack of consequences for poor performance and conduct violations, such as time and attendance (T&A) abuse. “What is significant about this finding is that many of those responding to open-ended questions feel this way, even after changes were made since August 2014, to clarify T&A procedures and policies and mandatory training on T&A was required,” the study concluded. “This past spring (2015) all employees, both SPEs and examiners, were provided online and in-person training on T&A. Because this training was recent, and everyone who responded said they took it, the survey results suggest that the USPTO upper management should reach out to SPEs to further evaluate the reason for these results.”


NAPA is a non-partisan organization established by the US Congress to assist government leaders in building more effective, efficient, accountable, and transparent organizations.


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