Business & Economy

State employees told remote work will continue through end of year

The state office building in Montpelier seen on Saturday, May 9, 2020. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Vermont state employees will continue to work remotely through the end of the year.

Secretary of Administration Susanne Young announced to executive branch employees Thursday that they should plan to work from home until at least Dec. 31, 2020.

Young said the memo intends to give employees a set date so they can prepare to work from home through the fall, especially as parents and families are juggling school reopenings. 

“This is just to tell them that reopening is not going to be immediate,” she said. “This was an effort to help folks do long-term planning, to the effect that we can in a pandemic.”

The Dec. 31 date may be extended, according to the memo. State employees will be updated by Nov. 1 if remote work will continue beyond that point. By that time, Young said, she hopes the administration will have a better idea if remote work will have to continue depending on the severity of the pandemic. 

On March 23, Gov. Phil Scott signed an order requiring employees of all businesses to work remotely, and on March 25, he ordered state employees to telecommute, unless their job required them to show up in person to maintain an essential function of state government.

Young said the memo issued Thursday specifically applies to employees in the executive branch, as those working in the judiciary and legislative branches may need more flexibility to work from their offices. Some executive branch employees have also had to work in their offices during the pandemic, Young noted in her memo, in order to continue bringing services to Vermonters. 

“Many of you stepped up and took on new assignments to assist directly with our response to the pandemic,” Young wrote. “Others never left their worksites, meeting the challenges of keeping those in your charge, and the public that you serve, safe while delivering needed services.” 

She also said the administration has been informally surveying executive branch employees to determine if they’re able to work from home successfully. 

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Young said of the employees surveyed, 55% said they are able to work from home productively 100%. She said there have been concerns raised by employees about accessibility to the internet, but that the majority of employees have said they’re able to work remotely. 

She said the administration would survey employees more formally about remote work in the weeks to come. 

Steve Howard, executive director of the Vermont State Employees’ Association, said he appreciates that the administration has given employees a timeline for how long remote work will continue, especially as experts are predicting a second wave may come in the fall. 

But, Howard said if the administration is recognizing that parents and families will need more flexibility in the fall for school reopening, they should also agree to a deal with the VSEA to extend the state’s Covid-19 leave program. 

Up until about a month ago, Howard said, the state allowed employees to use the federal 12-week Covid-19 medical leave program to cover child care or other family needs at 100% salary replacement. 

That deal between the union and the Scott administration has expired, and the VSEA is hoping to reinstall the program through negotiations with the administration in the coming weeks. 

“I hope they agree to more flexibility or a more realistic view of what is actually needed,” Howard said. 

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Grace Elletson

About Grace

Grace Elletson is VTDigger's government accountability reporter, covering politics, state agencies and the Legislature. She is part of the BOLD Women's Leadership Network and a recent graduate of Ithaca College, where she was editor in chief of the Ithacan. She previously interned for the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Christian Science Monitor and The Cape Cod Times, her hometown newspaper.

Email: [email protected]

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