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  • Should The Patent And Trademark Office End Policy Of Allowing Employees To Work From Home?

    According to an independent report published July 31, a union-backed policy allowing U.S. Patent and Trademark Office employees to work from home has caused huge problems – problems senior officials allegedly tried to cover-up.

    The independent report from the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) found that the troublesome policy started from a need to retain skilled workers. As a result the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) started several initiatives to make working at the agency more desirable. Among them was allowing many of its employees to work from home.

    “The USPTO has established programs to retain experienced patent examiners and trademark examining attorneys,” the report noted. “One of its key retention initiatives is to continue to enhance the teleworking environment.”

    The union-backed policy did play a role in helping to keep skilled employees and morale high. It also, however, resulted in officials feeling as though they had lost control of their workers. Several thousand workers according to the report.

    “Over the years, the USPTO has received substantial praise for its large-scale effort to promote telework,” the report also stated. “But has recently faced a significant level of scrutiny about how it manages its virtual workforce.”

    The problem wasn’t a new revelation either. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) called for an internal investigation in 2012 after receiving anonymous complaints.

    “In response to these complaints, the OIG referred the matter back to the USPTO to look into the allegations,” the report continued. “An internal USPTO investigation team of experienced staff examined the allegations.”

    The internal investigation released its final review in 2013. What was most troubling, though, was not what the review found but what it left out. An investigation by The Washington Post found an earlier draft of the review and the final one submitted were significantly different.

    “When it came time last summer for the patent office to turn over the findings to its outside watchdog, the most damaging revelations had disappeared,” the 2014 article detailed. “The original findings, by contrast, raise ‘fundamental issues’ with the business model of the patent office.”

    The biggest difference is that the earlier draft of the review stated that 8,300 employees, half of which worked from home, lied about their hours worked. The final draft of the review did not include those findings. The article concluded that senior officials at the USPTO were possibly involved in a cover-up.

    Unable to trust USPTO to conduct a truthful review of its own agency, an independent investigation was needed. With that, in 2014 NAPA stepped in. Along with confirming thousands of employees are indeed misrepresenting their hours, unions were cited as being a huge obstacle. The report stated that unions were protecting the troublesome policy.

    “The unions’ influence on working conditions has a significant impact on the management of a virtual workforce,” the report detailed. “The USPTO’s telework agreements with the unions define specific eligibility criteria to telework, which makes telework appear as a right and may present a significant management challenge.”

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