The California Legislature will allow staffers to temporarily work remotely and remain on payroll to limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to a memo obtained by CapRadio and background interviews with multiple sources.
Confirmed: CA Assembly Rules Committee has sent a memo to lawmakers and chiefs of staff allowing ALL staffers to work remotely and remain on payroll.— Scott Rodd (@SRodd_CPR) March 17, 2020
This comes after a number of staffers expressed frustration behind the scenes.
Confirmed Senate issued similar memo.
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The decision, issued by the Rules Committees in both houses Monday, comes as the Legislature approved a resolution to suspend session until as late as mid-April in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, working remotely is not a guarantee: staffers have to receive approval from their lawmaker first.
Lawmakers will need to approve a Temporary Telecommuting Agreement that outlines detailed responsibilities and expectations while staffers work remotely. The arrangement is intended to be temporary; however, the memo and agreement do not specify a hard end date for remote working opportunities.
The move is the latest in a series by lawmakers to address concerns about the rapid spread of coronavirus, which has killed more than half a dozen people in California.
Committee hearings, which are typically held in smaller rooms that make social distancing difficult, have been canceled or postponed. Lawmakers 65 and older have been given permission to stay at home, in accordance with guidance from Gov. Gavin Newsom for seniors to self-isolate.
But behind the scenes — and increasingly in public view — Capitol staffers have questioned the decision-making from leadership. Some have expressed frustration that the Capitol has remained open to the public and that lawmaker offices don’t allow for adequate social distancing, which health officials recommend to be at least six feet. Others say leaders have been unclear about whether staffers would have to use paid time off if they wanted to work remotely.
“I think it’s totally irresponsible,” said one staffer for a Bay Area lawmaker, who spoke on background for fear of retribution. “We have staffers with compromised immune systems. And they were repeatedly told they would have to use sick time” if they worked from home.
Some staffers in the Legislature took to social media to criticize the handling of coronavirus prevention efforts and raise potential risks to them and their families.
“My 82 year old mom has 20% use of her lungs, COPD, lung disease & diabetes,” wrote Minnie Santillan, chief of staff to Democratic Assembly member Blanca Rubio. “Exposing me is exposing her. #caretaker #coronavirus #caleg #COVID19.”
Others appeared to raise questions about the inability of staffers to work remotely.
“Did you know that some state agencies and boards have been preparing for telework next week?” wrote Matthew Montgomery, chief of staff to Assemblymember Luz Rivas. “They have been establishing processes and procedures to ensure state employees, not to be confused with ‘Capitol staff,’ have the ability and resources to work from home.”
Did you know that some state agencies and boards have been preparing for telework next week? They have been establishing processes and procedures to ensure state employees, not to be confused with “Capitol staff,” have the ability and resources to work from home.— Matthew Montgomery (@politicninja) March 16, 2020
Santillan and Montgomery did not respond to requests for comment.
On Monday, some staffers for Bay Area lawmakers were given the green light to work from home — but the circumstances remained unclear.
Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco allowed staffers in his district offices to work remotely following a shelter in place order issued by six Bay Area counties. The order requires people to stay in their homes for three weeks.
“I’m sending my district staff home early today so they can prepare for the three-week stay-at-home order,” said Wiener. “They need to attend to the needs of their families and their own personal needs so that they are ready.”
Early Monday, Wiener said he expected those staffers would continue to be paid and would not need to use leave time while working remotely — but says he had not received confirmation from Senate leadership at that time.
“My strong belief is that our district staff should be able to work from home without using any paid leave time,” said Wiener. “My expectation is that they will stay at home, they will work from home, [and] they will be paid as if they are working in the office.”
The memo sent late Monday confirmed that staffers are permitted to work remotely and will remain on payroll.
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