California Employment Development Department calls workers back to office with few exceptions

Civil servants who work for the Employment Development Department are the latest California state workers to receive return-to-office orders in recent weeks.

In a department-wide email, EDD Director Nancy Farias told staff they would all be expected to work from the office twice a week “effective early spring.”

The EDD announcement echoes similar proclamations from the state’s for environmental protection and health and human services agencies. All three employers touted increased collaboration and office culture as benefits of the return to in-person work. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget also proposes cutting state workers’ telework stipends, which amount to either $25 or $50 per person depending on eligibility.

“Understandably, this will be an impactful change for some of you, and this change will affect everyone differently,” read Farias’s Monday email, obtained via California Public Records Act request. “For that reason, each branch will have the flexibility to assess the reporting requirements based on their operations, office space, and equipment.”

The return-to-office push comes after four years of nearly full remote work across California state government. The state suddenly shifted its operations online in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and since then, employees have enjoyed newfound flexibility that comes from eliminating commutes, such as gasoline savings, more time at home and cheaper housing prices further out from major metropolitan areas.

On the flip side, city officials and chambers of commerce have repeatedly begged the state to bring workers back to their offices.

Last August, the Department of General Services announced it had selected a private developer to convert three state office buildings in downtown Sacramento into affordable housing — including the EDD buildings at 800 Capitol Mall and 751 N St. It’s unclear how the return-to-office order could alter that plan, or where employees who used to work in those buildings will now report.

The email points employees to a “frequently asked questions” document for additional information. Most of the answers include the caveat, “Please contact your supervisor.” Bosses will have outsize influence in granting accommodations and exceptions to the two-day rule.

The FAQ includes very few specific exceptions to the two-day in-person mandate — a potentially ominous sign for workers who had hopes of circumventing the requirement.

For example, one question on many employees’ minds is whether they’ll be reprimanded for working remotely on an in-person day. The short answer is yes.

“If you are scheduled to work in the office and you fail to report to the office without advance supervisor approval, you may be considered absent without leave (AWOL),” reads the FAQ sheet. “You may not telework on days you are scheduled to report to an office if it is not preapproved by your supervisor.”

Workers are expected to report to their assigned headquarters locations, even if they live far away, unless they receive approval from their supervisors. They’ll also likely need to share desks due to “reduced facilities space, increased staffing, and equipment needs.”

Employees who serve as caregivers for family members with medical conditions will not be allowed additional flexibility or an exemption from reporting to the office.

“No, you are not eligible for a reasonable accommodation,” reads the FAQ response. Instead, the question sheet directs employees to protected leave programs such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act.

Read the full text of the FAQ document below:

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