California Agencies Ordering Remote Employees Back to the Office for Hybrid Work

California Agencies Ordering Remote Employees Back to the Office for Hybrid Work

People walk past the California Employment Development Department (EDD) in Sacramento, Calif., on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

1/31/2024

Updated: 1/31/2024

Nearly four years after the pandemic altered the employment landscape, several state agencies in California are transitioning remote workers back to the office in 2024.
Memos sent to staff this month by the heads of the state’s Health and Human Services, Employment Development, and Environmental Protection agencies informed remote employees that in-person attendance will be mandatory at least two days per week.
“Our goal is to ensure that our hybrid workplace maintains flexibility while promoting deliberative, in-person collaboration among colleagues,” Yana Garcia, secretary for the state’s environmental protection agency, said in a Jan. 12 email to staff. “This proposed change would allow us to continue the benefits of remote work, while improving our ability to serve Californians and support a thriving workforce by fostering collaboration, strengthening our teams, enhancing communication, and continuing to experience work-life balance.”
The proposed change applies across the six boards, departments, and to the office of the secretary, said Nefretiri Cooley, deputy secretary of communications for the agency, to The Epoch Times in an email Jan. 30.
California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly listens to Governor Gavin Newsom speak in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 10, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly listens to Governor Gavin Newsom speak in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 10, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Start dates for the new policy vary by agency and position, with some already in effect and others beginning this spring, according to emails reviewed by The Epoch Times.
While acknowledging the benefits of working from home including flexibility, one agency said the ability to brainstorm with colleagues and reconnect in the office will improve the work experience.
“Purposeful time spent in an office will provide more opportunities for engagement between colleagues and increase collaboration, especially for our newer employees,” the employment development department advised staff in an email to employees earlier this month. “Understandably, this will be an impactful change for some of you, and this change will affect everyone differently.”
Reactions on social media were mixed, with some workers saying they will experience hardships from the commute, while others said they’re looking forward to more time at the office.
“California state scientists will be critical to [the state’s efforts;] it would be great if the state treated us like we were critical,” Anne Hilborn, ecologist and state scientist, posted Jan. 30 on X, formerly Twitter. “Instead, we get inflation, eroded wages, and arbirtrary return to office mandates that force us to pay money in commuting costs.”
Also of concern for some are proposed cuts to telework stipends that the state has paid since 2021. Full-time remote workers currently receive $50 per month, while those working hybrid schedules are paid $25 monthly.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2024-25 budget proposal eliminates the stipend, potentially saving the state more than $50 million. The plan will be tested by union leaders, according to statements made by the California Association of Professional Scientists and the Service Employees International Union Local 1000—representing nearly 100,000 state employees.
The unions are planning a march Feb. 1 in front of the environmental protection agency building to protest the return to work mandates and the loss of stipends.
SEIU Local 721 joins a picket line at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles on Aug. 8, 2023. (Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo)

SEIU Local 721 joins a picket line at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles on Aug. 8, 2023. (Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo)

While agencies are returning to in-person work, they do so while balancing objectives outlined by the state in telework guidelines issued in 2021.
The Department of General Services’ policy directives order agencies to offer telework options and to “encourage participation of eligible employees” because doing so would “improve employee retention and recruitment” and reduce the amount of square footage needed for state offices.
With office vacancy rates at record highs in San Francisco and other areas across the state, officials are looking to bring people back to downtowns and city centers.
California’s agencies are leading the way in 2024, with the state’s department of technology returning to the office two days a week at the beginning of the year and the health and human services agency headed back soon—with more than 16,000 employees representing half the staff impacted by the change.
Approximately 94,000 state employees were working remote—about 79,000 fully from home—across all agencies and departments, as of November 2023, according to the state telework dashboard’s most recent data.
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Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

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Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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