Lashonda Shannon asks about telework


The Question

Hello, President Brown:

I am reaching out on behalf of a number of employees working at the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Some employees are being forced to return to the office solely because managers say so. These employees have been successfully teleworking full-time since March 2020, completing all duties required of their position as listed on their duty statements using their state issued desktop computers at their remote location. Nevertheless, they have been forced to return to the office several days per week without any rationale or valid explanation/reason. 

Do employees in this situation have any recourse while the Statewide Telework Policy is being negotiated? Can employees file a grievance citing Section 21.1 B (Telecommute/Telework Program) which states, “Where operational considerations permit, a department may establish a telework program. If the telework arrangement conforms to telework criteria established in the department’s telework policy and guidelines, no employee’s request for telework shall be unreasonably denied. Such programs shall operate within the policies, procedures, and guidelines established by the 2010 Statewide Telework Model Program”? Would not denying a request to (continue full-time) telework without a valid reason constitute an unreasonable denial? 

Thank you,

Lashonda Shannon
(559) 362-7170

President Brown’s response

Hello Lashonda –

Thank you for your question.

As you referenced, SEIU Local 1000 is currently in talks with CalHR regarding telework with the goal of establishing a statewide telework policy and getting as many of our represented employees the option to telework as possible. Unfortunately, this pandemic was not something we had anticipated when bargaining agreed to the language you referenced in Article 21.1 (B), so the language does not require departments to participate in telework, but instead says they “may” choose to do so. While some departments are currently working on creating pilot programs that are in the process of being refined and would eventually be covered by this language in the contract, the majority of departments currently allowing telework are doing so under the emergency order, which allows employers to call employees back to work as-needed, and which is not currently subject to the grievance process.

Keep in mind there may be other options available for employees to go back on telework or to continue teleworking if they are concerned about being called back to the office. The primary option would be to get a Reasonable Accommodation, along with a note from the employee’s doctor, stating the employee needs to telework due to a medical condition that makes them more susceptible to getting COVID-19, assuming this applies to their situation. While this does not guarantee that the employee will be granted telework, some employees have had success with this option. 

A second option is to meet informally with management to discuss the operational need behind why the employee is being called back in to see if each side can agree where that need can be met while allowing the employee to remain on telework either full- or part-time. This would also be a good time to address any concerns regarding disparity in how these decisions are being made. If an employee feels that their specific denial was due to another reason such as bullying/hostility or discrimination based on membership in a protected class, they may choose to file a complaint with the department so that the department can look into the situation further and potentially remedy it in a way that allows the employee to telework.

For advice concerning how to request a Reasonable Accommodation, file a complaint, or approach a meeting with a supervisor to discuss a telework request denial, please don’t hesitate to encourage your co-workers to call the MRC at (866) 471-7348 to get in contact with their assigned representative.