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As California Reopens, State Workers Urged Toward Telework

State offices have started reopening under coronavirus protocols, but officials are still asking that 75 percent of state employees continue to telecommute, encouraging minimum in-office staffing levels for daily business.

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California's state capitol building in Sacramento.
David Kidd
(TNS) — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration directed state leaders on Wednesday to start reopening state offices under new coronavirus protocols.

Many offices have been empty or nearly empty since mid-March, when the administration directed departments to use telework wherever possible. Separately, the state closed offices completely on Monday and Tuesday as a precaution during protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody.

All workers are teleworking in some departments, Human Resources Department Director Eraina Ortega said in an email to agency secretaries and department directors.

Moving forward, the administration wants three-quarters of workers to telework in offices where it’s possible, either full time or part time, Ortega said in the email.

section of California code generally requires state offices to be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., so departments “should have a minimum level of staffing to direct members of the public and conduct state business,” she said in the email.

Ortega’s guidance comes three weeks after Newsom laid the groundwork for a future in which state government greatly expands telework — an idea that has been around for 30 years but never seriously adopted.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a massive experiment in telework and allowed state managers, led by the Government Operations Agency, to rethink business processes,” Newsom’s May 14 budget proposal says. “This transformation will allow for expanded long-term telework strategies, increased modernization and delivery of government services online, reconfigured office space, reduced leased space, and when possible, flexible work schedules for employees.”

State worker unions have been urging departments to take a methodical, careful approach to reopening.

The Professional Engineers in California Government sent a letter to the administration in early May urging planners to reconsider the open floor plans and shared spaces that have been featured in recent plans to upgrade state government offices.

Under the administration’s new guidance, face coverings will be “strongly recommended” for workers and members of the public who visit the offices, and employers “must take reasonable measures to remind workers that they should use face coverings.”

The guidelines recommend workers follow other common coronavirus measures, including keeping six feet apart, washing hands and avoiding face-touching.

The guidance specifies workers should never confront people who aren’t wearing masks, directing them instead to raise concerns with supervisors. The guidance notes some people have good reasons for not wearing masks.

Workers should participate in any medical screenings at offices, such as temperature and symptom checks, and should avoid offices if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19, shown symptoms or have been exposed to someone suspected or confirmed to have the virus, the guidelines say.

State offices will follow California Department of Public Health guidelines throughout reopening, even when those guidelines conflict with local directives, according to the guidance.

Most state workers remain eligible for up to 12 weeks of federal sick and family leave that is available through the end of the year.

“Department human resources staff should be flexible and work with employees who have been on administrative time off and who may self-identify as members of high-risk categories, or who will continue to face child care obligations while schools and childcare facilities remain closed,” Ortega’s email says.

©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.