The Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved a revised telecommuting policy that will permit qualifying Riverside County employees to continue or apply for remote work status.
The revisions to board policy K-3, which the supervisors authorized without comment, are the first significant change to Department of Human Resources guidelines on work classifications since 2014, according to the Executive Office.
Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Karen Spiegel helped provide direction on the changes over the last four months via an ad-hoc committee that was formed specifically to address telecommuting opportunities, which both supervisors felt should be utilized amid the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency, and after it ends.
The updated policy will include a training program designed for each individual department that implements virtual, or work-from-home, programs for staff.
Employees currently telecommuting may be able to remain on remote status without any issues, while others will have to apply for assignment, according to HR officials.
“The (revised policy) establishes that telecommuting is a privilege and not a right, and the employees are expected to maintain satisfactory performance and be just as available as if they are working on-site,” according to a statement posted to the board’s agenda.
An unspecified number of employees have been telecommuting since last March, when the local and state coronavirus public health emergencies were declared.
At the request of labor unions, the revised policy will offer employees whose supervisors deny telecommuting opportunities an “exception request” review process, like an appeal, that would give the applicant another chance to establish why remote assignment is better than in-office hours.
The policy requires that workers in satellite assignments have “clear and defined workspace,” have “equipment sufficient to perform his or her work,” and continue to abide by all county “security policies and procedures.”
“This may be a historic opportunity because of the changes we’re all facing, with the way we do business,” Jeffries said when the proposal was first broached in September. “We don’t need the same number of cubicles or parking spaces. Employees don’t always have to come in.”
When Jeffries and Spiegel proposed the ad-hoc committee, they noted in a joint statement that “some department heads have reported that they have actually seen increased productivity in certain segments of their workforce” because of telecommuting.
The county workforce numbers roughly 22,000, making it the largest area employer in the public and private sectors.
Jeffries emphasized that the intention will not be to create further barriers for residents trying to obtain county services.
“The employee-customer relationship has to be maintained,” he said. “Customers have to be happy.”
The last time telecommuting was implemented on a modest level in county government occurred during the summer of 2008, at the height of escalating energy costs that sent the price of gasoline over $5 per gallon.
Many employees’ work schedules were also modified to curtail driving.
Then-Supervisor Jeff Stone and now-retired HR chief Ron Komers were strong proponents of conversion to a virtual workforce for efficiency and savings.
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