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This California department suggests Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered in-office work for state employees

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Confused about when and whether you’re supposed to come back to the office? You’re not the only one.

Workers at several California state agencies and departments have recently received notices of impending plans to bring them back to the office at least two days per week. They’ll join the handful of departments that already require their employees to report to the office

Unsurprisingly, most state employees are unhappy about the decision. But even more frustrating for employees has been the lack of specific guidance about when they’re expected to have butts in seats back in the office.

Some state employees have even received information from their department that conflicts directly with the original notice put out by their agency secretary last month, as well as statements from the governor’s office.

“This is a statewide policy impacting all agencies/departments under the Newsom Administration,” read a Feb. 12 email from Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health, to all departmental staff.

Newsom’s office has repeatedly denied the existence of any formal “mandate” or “directive” that employees return to their offices two days per week. Instead, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office insists that departments and agencies were instructed to “regularly evaluate” and “update” their telework policies “based on their individual needs.”

“Our office believes there is significant value from in-person work that should be considered along with the benefits of telework,” said Erin Mellon, the governor’s communications director, in a statement. Mellon declined to comment on why the CDPH memo included language that sounded as though the Newsom administration had issued a statewide in-office mandate.

Aragón’s message also included details for when and how the department would shift back to part-time in-person work. The proposed timetable? Twelve months.

In his January memo to staff, Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency (and Aragón’s boss), said the two-day in-person return would start this March. Late Tuesday afternoon, Ghaly resent the memo along with a reminder that, “As noted, our goal is to start significant implementation next month.”

The proposed CDPH return plan would bring supervisors and managers only back to the office from March 4 through May 31. Then, from June 1 to Aug. 31, staff living within 50 miles of a departmental headquarters would need to report to work in-person. Finally, from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, all non-exempt staff would be back in the office two days per week.

“We recognize this is a big change and change is hard,” Aragón’s message to CDPH staff read. “We understand that a one-size-fits-all approach may not fully address the diverse needs and circumstances of our team members. We recognize we won’t get it 100% right on the first try.”

The conflicting messages might even force Newsom’s administration to issue an official mandate, or at least guidelines, to avoid further confusion — a surely controversial move that the governor’s office has yet to publicly announce.

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