Approximately twenty-one months after closing its doors to the public and implementing the “Work from Home by Quarantine” policy, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced it will once again open its doors as employees begin the transition of returning to the office. Originally moving to a “temporary” work-from-home situation to protect the vulnerable populations it serves, the agency, which provides over 70 million Americans monthly benefits, will be able to provide services in person to all patrons for the first time in nearly two years.
Starting on December 1st, senior leaders across Social Security will return to the office to begin preparing for the return of the larger workforce. The remainder of employees are expected to return on January 3, 2022. Going forward, telework will remain an option for most employees who worked remotely throughout the pandemic. Representatives who provide direct services to claimants, such as those working in local Social Security field offices and card service centers, will have fewer options to work-from-home than some of their counterparts. Understanding that for some populations, the phone-only service option was not entirely viable, Social Security is looking to implement appointment-only services for their public offices, providing the public with face-to-face assistance to access much needed benefits. It is not clear when additional services, such as hearings, will be available in person, as hearing office employees are among those with the most remote work opportunity.
As employees of the United States Federal Government, Social Security employees are required to be fully vaccinated prior to returning to the office – this applies to both new and current employees. There will be exceptions to the rule for those who qualify for a medical or religious exemption, as well as for new employees whose employment status is expedited. Any employee who is unvaccinated is required to follow guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including the use of masks and social distancing precautions for any times they are in the office, as well as frequent testing to ensure a negative COVID status. Members of the public who are seeking services at Social Security are not required to be vaccinated nor show proof of vaccination to receive services. If the individual is not vaccinated, they are required, however, to wear a mask and practice social distancing whenever they are inside a Social Security office.
It remains to be seen what effect this move back to office will have on Social Security. At Brown & Brown Absence Services Group, we remain hopeful this transition will have a positive impact on the ballooning inventory, particularly at the early levels of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) process. While Social Security will be moving forward with this policy, it is possible that things may change. We will continue to monitor these developments closely and will communicate any changes should they arise.