JEFFERSON — Following a year of having employees working from home, the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors earlier this month unanimously approved an ordinance outlining a future policy and procedures for telecommuting and remote work.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, county employees were asked to work from home to assist in stopping the spread of the virus to other co-workers and the public. Because the transition happened quickly, temporary rules were established for employees working off-site.
Since the spread of COVID-19 has decreased in the county, County Administrator Ben Wehmeier recommended employees return to work on on-site on a full-time basis. But for those who do not want to return to the office, employees have to fill out a form and proceed through an approval process to be granted the ability to work remotely.
After a year of working remotely, county offices determined that remote work may actually be beneficial to the employee and the county, according to the executive summary attached to the ordinance. It can be beneficial for employees working on a dedicated project which does not require the to be on site, or positions where productivity can be accurately monitored, or instances when the physical space at the county facility is limited.
The new ordinance to amend the county’s personnel ordinance on remote working was recommended by the administrator and the human resources director. “We are updating the process of remote work,” Wehmeier said. “Employees need to understand the commitment and procedures for working remotely.”
The new policies and procedures formalizes the rules from the emergency policies, Wehmeier said. There was little discussion on the county board floor July 13 as the policies had been reviewed in committee for several months with feedback from employees.
“We had discussed a flexible work environment and had done work prior to the pandemic,” Wehmeier said. The pandemic pushed the need for the policy changes. “We looked at how to maintain and monitor those schedules in certain departments, the ability of employees to remote in and how work was going to be monitored.”
Telecommuting will allow employees to work at home, on the road or in a satellite location for all or part of a workweek. Jefferson County has more than 600 employees.
The ability to telecommute or do remote work will be based upon the individual employee as well as the employee’s position and will be determined by the employee’s supervisor.
According to the policy, telecommuting is considered a privilege and not an entitlement.
Either an employee or a supervisor can suggest telecommuting as a possible work arrangement. All arrangements must be approved by the manager/supervisor and department head, and a remote/telecommuting agreement is completed. Long-term agreements need the approval of the human services director.
The approval will be based on employee suitability, job responsibilities, equipment needs (such as workspace design) and scheduling issues, home environment and staffing needs. The arrangements will be made on a case-by-case basis and will need to be renewed annually. The agreement can be revoked at any time by a department head.
Under expectations, employees are to accurately record all hours worked, to work during their normal work schedule, to maintain the same level of productivity and presence when physically on-site, dress appropriately, maintain a safe work environment, sue county issued equipment, provide security for county information and not use telecommuting as a replacement for childcare.
Many of the positions that could be done remotely include those in human services that already provide services outside the office with site visits. “We will look at the functionality of the position and how much interaction the employee has with the public. Our ultimate goal is to serve the public,” Wehmeier said.
“Folks like the highway department are not able to do work in the remote environment,” the county administrator added.
The new ordinance on telecommuting and remote work took effect immediately upon passage.