governor yanked telework for state employees and my office is in chaos

A reader writes:

I work for the state government in Virginia, and I oversee a division of 15+ people. We’ve all been teleworking for over two years with great success. The governor took over the state’s telework policy enforcement and required employees to come back by July 5 unless there’s an approved telework request for each employee. It’s a huge mess.

The deadlines must be met. If a telework policy doesn’t exist by a June deadline, employees who don’t have one will be expected to work a five-day week in person.

I’m facing some serious, possibly legal, challenges of my own:

• The bulk of my staff never had office space. Empty office space was rare pre-pandemic, but we expanded our workforce during COVID-19. Now, there’s no space left. Leadership continues to insist that we need to consider bringing office-less people back anyway “even if it’s for part of the week.” My question as to where they’re supposed to work remains unanswered.

• There is a category for ADA and other medical conditions. Leadership asked my staff and me to produce explicit details from doctors as to what medical conditions would put us at risk for in-person work. Although I produced it, my agency head unliterally decided my husband’s potential death wasn’t enough of a justification. I am now uncomfortable this man knows so much information about me as I never would have volunteered it otherwise. Is he bound by confidentiality?

• I feel extremely uncomfortable asking my direct reports for doctor’s notes that will explicitly reveal medical information about them or family members.

• The flowchart that explains the policy and telework categories would make an MBA cry. I spend most of my day trying to interpret and explain it, but the caveats change by the day. I’m sure I’ve misinterpreted some of the information, which will put my employees’ requests at risk.

• Multiple emails have gone out with “additional guidance” that is confusing and causing hundreds of employees to redo their forms. (I’ve redone my form seven times.)

• Field/remote workers are supposedly exempt from the new policy, but it’s not being enforced consistently. There is growing resentment because my field staff will get permanent telework but others won’t, according to their supervisors’ interpretation.

• Leadership is having a hard time “agreeing” with many of the legitimate reasons on these telework forms, such as health conditions and lack of office space, so they’re rejecting the requests. (Rejecting the forms will allow for the deadline to pass, forcing those employees to come back full-time on July 5.)

• We don’t get any notice as to whether our forms have been approved or denied, and we won’t be told the reason for a rejection. We’re beholden to our supervisors to tell us our application status. If we’re denied, we’re supposed to keep reapplying, citing new reasons.

Here’s my question: what do I do if my staff are required to come back even though no office space exists, no parking is available, and/or leadership ignores severe health issues? How much risk am I carrying now that my employees have turned over private medical information against their will? I literally cannot enforce this policy even if I wanted to.

Yeah, this is a clusterfudge created by someone who’s making a political point without any apparent interest in how it will play out in real life.

Bringing people back without any plan for where to put them is absurd. Denying medical exemptions without any interactive dialogue to find workable accommodations is more than absurd; it’s illegal under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

As for what to do … government employment can be very much its own world. It’s not one I have expertise in and so you might get more targeted advice by talking to someone with government experience. But off the top of my head, my thoughts are:

* Write up the exact office space needs for your employees, being specific about numbers, desks, computers, phones, and other equipment, and ask by what date those things will be in place. Consider including a line saying, “Obviously we will not be able to comply with the July 5 return date without space and equipment in place; please let me know what date we can plan around instead. I assume I should put my team’s return plans on hold until we have an approved date for space and equipment.”

* Realistically, what will happen if you all return on July 5 with no work spaces? Are you going to have people milling around the lobby, unable to work? And if so, might it be worth just letting that happen to see if the point is made and it spurs some sort of action? (This doesn’t address the issue of people with medical reasons for why they can’t safely return. It may be your only option anyway.)

* Take some of this to local and state media. (I already forwarded it to a few reporters with your permission.) “Governor yanks telework and demands state employees return with no office space” is an interesting and provocative story that someone will be interested in covering.

* Consider educating your employees about the ADA’s requirement for an interactive dialogue with employees who request medical accommodations, since it sounds like the state is currently violating that part of the law. (Speaking of which, the ADA also requires that employers that gather medical information keep it confidential, so in response to your question about confidentiality — by law they must keep protected medical information separately from regular personnel records and treat it as confidential. They can share info with managers who need info about restrictions on someone’s work duties or info about reasonable accommodations, but those managers are subject to the same confidentiality restrictions. But it sure doesn’t inspire confidence that they haven’t told you, a manager receiving that info, about that requirement.)

* Point out to someone above you that the current lack of interactive dialogue on medical accommodations is violating the law, and ask what to say to employees who point that out themselves.

* If your employees have a union: this is their moment.

But yes, this is ridiculous.

{ 547 comments… read them below }

  1. My heart is a fish*

    That last point!

    If your employees have a union: this is their moment.

    This is the kind of bull that unions were made for.

    1. AnonymooseToday*

      Unless you’re a North Carolina state employee, which means it’s illegal to unionize.

          1. M*

            Here in Wisconsin too!

            Well, we’re allowed to unionize, they’re just not allowed to negotiate, or take dues deductions, or do literally anything.

        1. ChemistryChick*

          Virginian here. Unions are not illegal here, though making them part of a contract as a condition of continued employment is.

          1. ChemistryChick*

            There’s a Volvo plant in my area and their union has initiated several strikes over the last few years. They’ve had some success with them as well, which in my area of VA is a really hopeful sign.

            1. Red 5*

              I just want to say hi to somebody who apparently lives in my old stomping grounds :)

              That area of the state is a place where I think if unions could just get the messaging right, they could make some really strong in roads because it’s a place where people are predisposed to believe that workers are more important to a company’s success than management. The cultural mindset is not unlike what it was in West VA when the coal miners unions were literally fighting for their rights, back when the term “redneck” meant a union activist. But if I started in on the issues with the way activists and politicians speak to the citizens in different parts of the state, we’d be here all night and we’d seriously derail the conversation.

              1. ChemistryChick*

                *waves* Hello! It’s hot as Hades this week but the mountains are still beautiful. :)

                And yes, I don’t want to derail so I’ll just say you are 100% correct.

                1. Red 5*

                  Ah yes, now I live in the part of the state where it’s still hot as Hades but without the mountain views. But once you get to autumn, there’s nothing like it.

                  Also love your username! I do not have a predisposition for science but my sister is a chem teacher. (Assuming you are not secretly my sister, in which case, no wonder we agree on things *lol*)

              2. Hokey Hokie*

                Hey, I am here as well. Unless there are other Volvo plants in VA? Fortunately (?), my employer required us to have telework agreements before this latest came from the governor’s office. Did anyone mention that the VA state government spent its supposedly valuable time during the pandemic to require state workers to have their phone number on their email sig file? Apparently, they did not have anything better to do…

                1. Red 5*

                  Fairly sure there’s only one, but also from your username I’m guessing it’s the same spot ;)

                  I see the government efficiency remains the same since I worked for the state.

                2. ChemistryChick*

                  I should add “hokie” in front of my username. I’m loving that so many people in this area are here!

            2. pancakes*

              There are also Target and Hershey employees trying to unionize in Virginia at the moment. I hope people will take some time to read up on this stuff rather than taking comments like that on their word.

              https://www.wric.com/news/politics/capitol-connection/labor-unions-lawmakers-advocate-for-expanding-collective-bargaining-rights-in-virginia/

              https://www.virginiabusiness.com/article/hershey-plant-unionization-effort-continues/

              https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/may/18/target-workers-virginia-seek-to-unionize

              Also: https://www.wric.com/news/politics/capitol-connection/labor-unions-lawmakers-advocate-for-expanding-collective-bargaining-rights-in-virginia/

          2. Nancy*

            “… making them part of a contract as a condition of continued employment is.”

            So am I correct in interpreting that as someone cannot be forced to join a union in order to have a contract?

            1. ChemistryChick*

              It means that an employer cannot force you to join a union in order to remain employed.

              Unions are legal here in VA. I’m not sure why people think they aren’t. As commonsensesometimesmakesense has pointed out below, there are issues when it comes to state employees, though, so maybe that’s what people are getting confused about.

              The word “contract” is a little weird to me because we don’t really have employment contracts in the US (sorry if you know that, I know there are lots of international readers here). But I’m also not a lawyer, so maybe there’s a legal reason or that specific word.

              1. Clemgo3165*

                Because they’ve been told by their employers repeatedly that they are illegal. That includes the State of Virginia.

                From a former State employee in Virginia and former Union member.

                1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

                  I work with a woman who graduated high school before 1970. She still says that talking about salary is not permitted/you can be fired.
                  She knows it is true because it wast true her job at a now defunct international corporation in 1975.
                  Once people believe things, they almost manifest them.

              2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                FWIW, I’m a state employee in VA (public university) and have an employment contract. They’re standard for salaried employees at my institution as far as I understand.

          3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            They are still not an option for those covered by the policy, employees of state executive branch agencies. See Virginia Code § 40.1-57.2. Counties, cities, and towns now have some ability to collectively bargain, but the state still is prohibited from recognizing collective bargaining entities or engaging in collective bargaining, which makes a union pretty much just an advocacy group with no real power.

            1. ChemistryChick*

              Yes, that’s correct. (though you know that, so I don’t know why I’m saying it)

              I’m referring to the broad statement that unions are illegal in VA; they aren’t.

              Thank you for all your input! It’s super helpful to have others inside this mess detailing how awful it is. I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with it.

          4. Prof_elsie*

            It’s more that we government employees aren’t allowed to unionize. And I think I’m also in the hot part of the state with mountain views as you all are.

            1. BatManDan*

              My confrontational self thinks that there may be two approaches that could work, possibly alone or possibly in consecutive order.
              One is for everyone to show up (as Alison suggested). Bring camp chairs, novels to read, devices and device chargers, stay there until they send you home. The other is for NO one to show up, and just keep doing their jobs from home.

              1. DW*

                They’ll be fired and unavailable for rehire. That’s how Virginia handles strikes by government workers. Even if they have to fire everyone, they’ll do it. They’ve done it to teachers before.

                1. JSPA*

                  If they keep working, it’s at most insubordination, not a strike, though?
                  (caveat, IANALL)

          5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            Not illegal, just pretty useless here. The law prohibits the state government from recognizing unions or any group as an agent for collective bargaining, and it prohibits them from collectively bargaining with any such entity. Some local counties and towns can unionize, but this policy applies only to employees of state executive agencies, and we do not fall into any exemptions. So any union would essentially be nothing more than an advocacy group with no real power.

            Virginia Code § 40.1-57.2

          6. Bill*

            I think they mean for state employees. It is very different. State employees are not subject to the right to work the same way.

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            They are not unions. State employees of executive branch agencies cannot have real unions, in that they are legally prohibited by law from collective bargaining. Some local government employees or employees outside of the executive branch can unionize, but none of the employees covered by this policy.

            1. Observer*

              Collective bargaining is not the only power unions have, though. If the Union calls a strike, and commits to helping people survive it, then the State may not “bargain” with the union, but in a case like this, they don’t need to. They just need to make a “unilateral” announcement that they have decided to make some policy changes to be in compliance with the law and common sense.

              1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

                This administration wants to privatize many government functions, so it would probably not work out well for anyone.

                1. Observer*

                  That’s a problem regardless of what you do. But it’s possible that if people see what the Governor is doing right now, it might just ding his credibility a bit.

                2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                  @Observer, VA governors are term limited to one term at a time. He can’t be re-elected, so the voters who this will affect don’t matter as much.

              2. DW*

                “They just need to make a “unilateral” announcement that they have decided to make some policy changes to be in compliance with the law and common sense.”

                That’s not what will happen. The state will fire every worker in violation of the current policy, blacklist them from future government jobs, and hire new workers. Even if it costs an ungodly amount of money, they’ll do it. This is how Virginia works.

          2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            Check out Virginia Code § 40.1-57.2

            The state government is prohibited from recognizing any collective bargaining entity or from collectively bargaining with such entity.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Damn, I’ve just checked and this is correct. Local government employees in Virginia (like at the county level) can collectively bargain; state employees cannot.

          3. L.H. Puttgrass*

            Government employee unions can be…weird. I only know about the fed version firsthand, but they’re often in a weird position in terms of what they can and can’t do. Tops among the list of things a federal employees union can’t do: call a strike. They also can’t negotiate wages. Agencies are supposed to consult with unions and reach negotiated agreements, but how much power does a union have in those negotiations if salary can’t be part of it and there’s no risk of a strike?

            A government union’s power is often in the micro level of advocating on behalf of specific employees. In my experience, they have much more mixed success when it comes to broad, agency-wide policies.

            1. Anon Supervisor*

              My aunt was a nurse in IA and worked for a County Hospital there. She was represented by a union, but they were not allowed to strike because it was a rural area. If I remember correctly, because of that, she could become a non-dues paying member, which meant that she couldn’t vote on the contract.

            2. Peonies*

              I was a union steward for a federal government shop. True, we could not strike and we could not bargain for pay rate. We did, however, successfully bargain for comp time when we worked over 40 hours in a week, increased flextime and flexiplace options, written promotion criteria, and some work safety precautions.

          4. Fellow Virginian*

            They aren’t actual unions. They advocate on behalf of employees, but have no real bargaining authority.

        2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          Not illegal, just pretty useless here. The law prohibits the state government from recognizing unions or any group as an agent for collective bargaining, and it prohibits them from collectively bargaining with any such entity. Some local counties and towns can unionize, but this policy applies only to employees of state executive agencies, and we do not fall into any exemptions. So any union would essentially be nothing more than an advocacy group with no real power.

          Virginia Code § 40.1-57.2

      1. Brett*

        It’s not illegal for public workers to unionize in Virginia, but it is illegal for them to collectively bargain, which takes all the teeth out of unionization. Without collective bargaining, there is not much the union can do about situations like this.

    2. in the old dominion*

      Although public sector unions are no longer blanket illegal in Virginia, they haven’t exactly widely spun up yet either.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        They are still not an option for those covered by the policy, employees of state executive branch agencies. See Virginia Code § 40.1-57.2. Counties, cities, and towns now have some ability to collectively bargain, but the state still is prohibited from recognizing collective bargaining entities or engaging in collective bargaining, which makes a union pretty much just an advocacy group with no real power.

    3. old curmudgeon*

      It sure is, which is why the union-busting former governor of Wisconsin pushed through legislation to prevent state employees here from participating in a union.

    4. Loulou*

      Eh, I’m a proud union member and agree that union employees should contact the union, but i’d be pretty surprised if a union prevented a return to office at this point. There was a fair amount of news coverage of this when it happened in NY– the union did not take a strong stand and it just didn’t seem like the will was there. My apologies to Virginia if I am underestimating their union!

      1. Observer*

        Yeah, but the situation in NY was extremely different. For one thing, in case of the agencies going back to work, they generally DID have the space they needed, unlike what the OP is describing. Also, agencies (and the organizations covered) were allowed, and even encouraged in many cases, to work with staff on hybrid work plans as sensible and to be ACTUALLY compliant with ADA and relevant laws.

        Was it perfect? No. Was it a plan that was mostly workable? Yes.

        This is a whole different kettle of fish.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          What part of the state are you in where sensible hybrid work plans were a thing? Because things have made absolutely no sense whatsoever here in the Bronx.

          1. Observer*

            I’m in Brooklyn, and we have lots of government funding. While we’ve been required to open for in person services, all of our funders have been quite reasonable about hybrid work plans.

            It definitely helps that we have a robust infrastructure for this, and that for many people you can’t even tell whether or not we’re in the office or not.

            1. Loulou*

              Lol okay thanks for being as clear as you possibly can! Sometimes people actually just disagree with you and it’s not because they don’t understand you. “Being made a laughing stock” is actually a very dramatic gloss on “being put under a microscope,” which most people would interpret as something like “being subject to [unwelcome] scrutiny.”

              1. Loulou*

                Sorry, not sure how this ended up here. What I was trying to say to you was that having government funding isn’t the same as actually being a government employee and literally being ordered by the mayor or governor to return to the office.

      2. DW*

        You are wildly overestimating what state government employees can do in Virginia. Collective bargaining and strikes were only recently allowed for local government employees and are still outlawed for state-level employees. Anyone striking, even informally, will be immediately fired and blacklisted. Yes, they will fire everyone if they want to and pay hand over fist to replace you. They’ve done it before. The current governor WANTS people to strike so he can fire them. That’s why he’s causing this much chaos, he wants to create “bogeymen” for conservatives that he can “defeat”.

        1. Loulou*

          I think you left this reply in the wrong place (and I know how easy it is to do that, since I just did the same myself!)

    5. ELC*

      My union rep (I work for the government in a different state) explicitly has told workers who want to stay remote to “suck it up” because only 30% of our union staff has jobs that can be done remotely, and “it’s about time the rest of [us] stopped being coddled”.

      Not always a silver bullet, unfortunately.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Wow, what a glass bowl! Refusing to risk the death of you or a member of your family is “being coddled” now?

        If I were the same type of jerk I would wish Long Covid on that person. Since I’m nicer than that, I can just hope they have an eye-opening epiphany and changes their tune to one more in line with reality.

        The ****ing pandemic is NOT over! People are still dying or ending up with Long Covid. Sheesh!

    6. MsJayTee*

      Honestly, I think I would’ve been back in the office months ago without my union.

    7. JustAClarifier*

      This is happening to my husband, a federal worker, and he’s in a union. The government officials do not care. They claimed the same thing as above – that you need ADA to comply even if your job can be done remotely and your productivity is sky-high. My husband and others I know provided medical documentation to meet the ADA requirements and were refused. Unions have filed grievances and nothing is being done.

    8. Buffy will save us*

      I work in state government and our union was VERY involved in the return to work.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        What is that supposed to mean?

        This has nothing to do with political party, and everything to do with workplace health and safety.

      1. Cordelia in RVA*

        For Virginia media a little further from the blue-Virgina epicenter, if you would like a contact at the Virginia Mercury, the Richmond Times Dispatch, or Richmond BizSense, let me know and I can email you.

      2. JustAClarifier*

        If they want to expand this to more than just one agency, and they want a federal level viewpoint, I know several people in our local area in this same boat that have been denied ADA requests with medical documentation to support telework because the officials have said, and I quote, “We need butts in seats.”

          1. JustAClarifier*

            Not at all. They canceled all of their building expansions and parking lot expansions during the pandemic because they said they would all be working from home. …..Sheesh.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          So they have now admitted that they are ineffective managers, needing to see “butts in seats” to believe their employees are actually working. Pathetic.

          IIRC, “Presence based management” is extremely inefficient compared to “Results based management”, but what do I know…

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      They’ve already done some reporting on this issue—not the LW’s agency specifically, but on the governor’s order and democratic pushback. I’ll put a link to one of the articles in a reply to this post.

      But, honestly, I don’t know that more reporting will help. Youngkin is playing to his base, and more coverage (in the “liberal” Washington Post, of all places) of how awful it is for government workers probably isn’t going to change his position, unfortunately.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Yeah. Local news sources talking to angry members of the public who are now trying to get their birth/death certificates standing in a hallway without privacy, doing health care/nursing home license reviews/inspection reports in the lobby where every bit of confidential info can be heard, etc. would be way more effective

      2. Regular VA Commenter*

        Yeah. I’m a Virginian and have been appalled by Youngkin since he took office (and even though I didn’t vote for him I was optimistic that he could be ok). I have a neighbor with school aged kids who works for the state — their kids are old enough to entertain themselves for the most part while their parent works from home, but not old enough to stay home all day without an adult. Summer camps are booked. What the hell does Youngkin expect people to do?

        1. Stitch*

          Yes people have to understand that Youngkin has no shame. No media pressure will work on him.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          He doesn’t care. The goal is to make state (technically commonwealth) employees so miserable they quite, remain understaffed, and then use that to both slash budgets and point out how government “doesn’t work” and needs to be reduced and privatized. This has nothing to do with the employees and everything to do with scoring political points.

          He can’t run for re-election, this is just a springboard to a presidential run.

      3. I Don’t Know It All*

        I think it is why the angle of the lack of workspace needs to be the focus. If there is no place for employees to work then refusing to allow those employees to telework is a massive waste of taxpayer dollars.

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          This is true. “Government employees standing around doing nothing because of no office space” is going to outrage the base he’s playing to a lot more.

          1. lizzay*

            His base will probably use it as more fodder: “Look at all these guvmint employees wasting MY tax dollars standing around, doing nuthin!”

            1. Regular VA Commenter*

              “Ugh, millennials these days want an actual place to sit when they’re forced to come into the office. How entitled!”

          2. Annony-mouse*

            They’ll probably spin it as either “government employees standing around and not doing any work after being required to return to office” (conveniently leaving out the lack of work space part) or “government employees refuse to return to office” if they decide to stay home in order to actually work.

    1. OyHiOh*

      I don’t know how universal this is, but in my state, yes, absolutely, and there’s been recent clarifying law giving “units of local government” specific directives regarding physical and digital accessibility.

    2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      It does cover government employees, at least state employees and I assume local government too. The policy here applies only to employees of executive branch agencies and does not apply to local government employees or the judiciary.

    3. CCC*

      Sure, but as I understand it, ADA doesn’t cover the spouses of employees, it covers employees, so it doesn’t help LW’s specific situation with their husband.

      1. Scooter34*

        I was coming here to make this point. I have a friend who was been fighting her state government shitty boss, as return has been left up to managers. She works for a boss who wants everyone back full time, while comparable team members get to stay home. The ADA route was denied (as it should; contagious illness was not contemplated by the drafters) so she is stuck.

    4. Meow*

      Does the ADA even care about Covid? Since the big “back to office” push, I’ve never heard of anyone getting work from home accommodations for Covid-related health concerns except out of kindness. Our (government) office was clear that if we were concerned for our health, our options were to get vaccinated and wear a mask. No regard for the immunocompromised and certainly no regard for those with immunocompromised spouses and unvaccinated children.

      1. Fikly*

        The ADA cares about anything someone with a disability needs to work, as can be covered under a reasonable accommodation. So if someone, in order to work, needs to be protected from catching covid themselves, due to a disability, that counts under the ADA (and I’m using the term disability broadly). However, if the someone who needs to be protected from catching covid due to a disability is not the actual person working, that wouldn’t count under the ADA.

        Additionally, any accommodations due to a person having covid and long term consequences would count under the ADA.

        Your government office can say what they like, but if you are not exempt from the ADA, then yes, if someone is at an increased risk of catching covid, or could not be vaccinated, and working from home falls under reasonable accommodation (ie, it does not prevent them from doing the key part of their job) then saying they cannot do that is illegal. But it can be a long protracted battle, and often people don’t want to do that because they realize that fighting that battle, even if they win, will get them so much hate from their employer that the consequences are very bad. Especially in at will states. They’ll just get fired for no reason, or lose out on any hope of raises/promotion, best case.

        1. Nikki*

          Yeah, as a disabled person I’m glad that the ADA exists and that my rights are technically protected in law… but that doesn’t always translate to reality.

      2. Minimal Pear*

        I managed to get WFH accommodations at one job, even after they initially refused–but I was able to push them on it through a full-on ADA accommodation process. Then I got laid off in suspicious circumstances.

      3. Peonies*

        I have managed to get covid related accommodations in a 504 plan (these are under the ADA for education) for a kid who is high risk due to a disability. Maybe I just got lucky with the school agreeing, but they haven’t questioned that Covid related accommodations are appropriate. I remember reading about some cases being brought against schools under 504, not sure what the status of those cases is.

    5. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      Employees, yes. Not their family members. You can use FMLA to take care of a sick family member. You can’t use ADA to decline in-person work for a family member’s (not your own) medical conditions.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        True, but the way the existing policy was described: if you’re rejected, too bad, and they won’t tell you why, you just keep trying again and getting rejected again, is already violating the ADA in that there is no iterative process happening for ANYONE. The person with the at-risk husband would likely still be denied, but the overall approach to how they’re handling exemptions is an ADA violation. Putting a stop to the existing process and forcing there to be a new one might at least slow things down.
        Or maybe not having read some of the other comments from people in Virginia…as it seems the governor may want to just fire everyone.

    6. nelliebelle1197*

      The ADA is federal protection for every worker in the United States. A state cannot opt out of the ADA.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Just to note – ADA only applies to employers with more than 15 employees, so there are lots of workers who aren’t covered by it. Not large state government departments, however.

    7. Brett*

      Yes, but under Title II and instead of Title I. I don’t know what the implications are of being under different titles (maybe a relevant lawyer here does?)

  2. Susie*

    Wow. I agree with the union and take it to the media. I don’t understand how people are suppose to work with no space for them. Stand in the hallways? I don’t understand.

    1. SweetestCin*

      Sounds like a great chance for malicious compliance in action to me :)

      Mill around in the building lobbies, hallways, etc. “We’re supposed to be in person but there’s not enough desks/offices/cubicles for every employee…”

        1. Ilima*

          And be sure any journalists you’re talking to know to come down on that date and get some photos/video of government workers milling around the halls

          1. The Dude Abides*

            You do NOT want journos to come and take pictures of such a situation. Such photos will be used as disinformation to exacerbate the stereotype of the lazy government employee.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              The better picture would be state government employees desperately trying to do their jobs sitting in a hallway with inadequate equipment and resources. Double bonus points for an interview with someone attempting to protect the public’s personal information when they have nowhere to secure to work or store files.

              1. Green great dragon*

                Yep, sitting on floors, sitting outside, sharing desks. It will work particularly well for customer services, as everyone tries to block out the noise and there aren’t enough desk phones/bandwidth for mobiles.

                1. MusicWithRocksIn*

                  Yes – squish everyone into one hallway (the saddest looking one) and prop your computers on cardboard boxes and have everyone hunch over their work while someone else trips down the hallway – that is the shot you want.

              2. Eeyore's Missing Tale*

                This. It’d be better to show the employees taking up the waiting area (if there is one), in the hallways, or people double/tripled up in side chairs in single offices. And like someone said elsewhere, alert the fire marshal. I’m sure they’d love to see this.

              3. The Dude Abides*

                Hi, you’re describing my job. I work directly with SSA, and deal with individual IDs (which can be used to discern where someone lives), uncensored SSNs, etc. Because of the sensitive nature of the data we work with (and a lot of it still being analog), as much as I would like to be fully remote, it’s not happening any time soon for me or my unit.

                If someone in my agency tried this, they’d be rightfully fired and hopefully blackballed from working for the state, in spite of having a strong union. HQ at my agency has a security guard stationed in the lobby, and *all* of our buildings are locked by electronic keypads – the safety of people in the field and in the office is taken incredibly seriously by the agency (if only the legislators and police actually felt similarly).

                1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                  So if the governor decided to make it so that doing your job without proper equipment and security it seems like it would be a newsworthy story. These employees would only be doing this because they had no desk, no office, no file cabinets, but were still expected to handle that information and do their jobs 5 days a week.

                2. Observer*

                  If someone in my agency tried this, they’d be rightfully fired and hopefully blackballed from working for the state, in spite of having a strong union.

                  You mean that if your agency told you that you have to come in to work, but you are NOT going to be in the secured part of the building, because there are no more desks there, and the you would have to bee seeing people and taking their sensitive information in a public space, it would still be a problem to “invite” the press?

                  Keep in mind that what people are talking about is an administration that is NOT taking security “incredibly seriously”. In fact, they are not thinking about security AT ALL.

                3. Green great dragon*

                  Sure, but you’re working with particularly sensitive secure info. There are layers. We’d get fired for deliberately looking up someone’s data but no consequence for accidentally overhearing details of the claim being handled but the person squeezing onto our desk. We’d have to stop talking quickly if a journalist walked in though

                4. The Dude Abides*

                  Re: Observer – It’s not just about info security. The *physical safety* of agency field and office staff is a major factor into our policies/procedures surrounding outside visitors.

                  Also, my agency has been making headlines for over a decade for the wrong reasons, and I can say for a fact that my agency does take information and physical safety incredibly seriously. The legislature as a whole, they do not care.

                5. Observer*

                  @The Dude Abides you say that “,i>It’s not just about info security. The *physical safety* of agency field and office staff is a major factor into our policies/procedures surrounding outside visitors.” And I totally believe you. But that’s just the point. In YOUR case, anyone who pulled something like that SHOULD be fired.

                  But what the OP is describing is a totally different situation. The leadership (if you can give them that title) of this agency care for neither the safety of the staff nor the security of the data. They are setting up a situation that is certain to contravene legal requirements and create genuine safety issues (even if we pretend that Covid doesn’t exist, which….)

            2. Mangled metaphor*

              Goodness me, THIS!
              Context is everything and can be destroyed in moments. Plus, depending on the political angle required, you have “milling about in contravention of social distancing”, “of course there’s not an employee shortage – we have loads of them”, etc., etc., etc. And that’s before the satirical memes start (and get picked up by less reputable news media as “facts”)

              If the journalist has to resort to stock images, so be it – sometimes photos do more harm than good.

          2. Observer*

            get some photos/video of government workers milling around the halls

            Better yet, video of staff TALKING TO PEOPLE ABOUT THE SERVICES THEY NEED IN PUBLIC, WITH NO WAY TO ACTUALLY *DO* ANYTHING. Even better if it’s someone trying to pay a fee or trying to get their business running

            eg Joe Shmoe wants to pay his water bill, but the person he’s talking to can’t pull up his record because he has no computer. And Jane Smith wants a permit to open a whatever store, but the person she is talking to can’t start the application process because he doesn’t have a computer. etc.

        2. Mockingjay*

          “Hi, Governor! Since we’re all One Team here in Virginia, I know you won’t mind if I borrow your desk until my space is outfitted. Say, this is a VERY comfy chair! Can you tell me the model so I can order one too? Orders have to be in by Friday! Oh, and what’s the wifi password?”

          I’d love to see someone do this, but shades of January 6th…probably wouldn’t go well.

          As to advice for the OP: Alison’s already done it. Can’t wait to read what the Post publishes.

          1. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

            Don’t sit at the desk, but 10+ workers in business casual sitting on the floor of the governor’s office, busily typing on their laptops, taking phone calls, etc? I think that would be a great photo.

        3. MisterForkbeard*

          The problem is that in this case, the ‘higher up’ responsible for the change is probably their awful new governor.

          1. TiredMama*

            True. But if you could get to the people directly under, give them the push to band together to tell him, no, your currently plan won’t work. Our employees have given us x, y, z information that we need to work through before we can implement your plan. Here is an alternative that gives us time (and money) to make this change in a productive, orderly, and fair way.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              Honestly best way to have this matter is to get pushback from the public or, especially, special interest groups/lobbyists who are impacted by the chaos and the sheer impossibility of trying to work in a setting where there are not enough desks, chairs, and outlets for staff.

        4. Lch*

          Utilizing higher up offices was going to be my suggestion too. Use their computer, pens, whatever.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I’m visualizing what to do about the computers. Either you have laptops, which will eventually run out of battery and need to be plugged in to recharge, or you have desktops, which need at least two power outlets to work at all (computer and monitor), plus space to put them and the keyboard and the mouse.

        And that’s not even getting into network connectivity issues. Are you on wifi? Can it handle this many users simultaneously? Is it properly secured? Or do you have to have a wired connection? If so, are there enough available jacks and cables?

        (And this is what I can come up with when I don’t think too hard about it…)

        1. Clorinda*

          I would expect that people who’ve been working remotely have laptops, but maybe a lot of them took their whole desktop arrangement home in March 2020?

        2. pancakes*

          I’m thinking it’s going to look a bit like NYC did after Hurricane Sandy. People were lining up to charge their phones in ATM vestibules and in the plugs at the base of street lamps. We have more solar-powered outdoor chargers now, as a result of that.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        The concern is that if we all resign or if we become less productive, he will use it as an excise to defund the government and shut down the agencies and leave it to the private sector (which is his preference). This will lead to services not being provided at all (because necessary services may not be profitable to the private sector) or to services costing people more money overall (less in taxes, but the private sector will cost more because they will need to pay their staff competitively and turn a profit, which will inevitably cost more and leave low income people without resources).

        Another nasty part of this is that it is more restrictive than pre-pandemic, but the gas prices are higher than ever. He is hoping it will increase gas use and gas tax revenue and revitalize downtown and other areas because we will spend money there for restaurants, etc. (we won’t, because we don’t get paid competitively and will be out of money after gas and increased housing rental prices).

        1. Regular VA Commenter*

          Yup, because everyone will have a lot of money for eating out after paying for gas to get to the office.

    2. MisterForkbeard*

      I’ve seen some of this in other places. Move most of the employees to ‘flex’ so they only take a seat 30% of the time (on paper), reduce office space, and then require everyone to come into the office on specific days… where there’s not enough seating to handle surges in attendance.

    3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      This policy applies to employees of executive branch agencies only, and we are legally prohibited from collective bargaining. So any “unions” we have do not have actual union powers and are pretty toothless. VGEA, which is not a union, is trying to advocate for us, but they have no meaningful power.

    4. Prospect Gone Bad*

      One hitch I’m seeing is that the OP seems to value privacy maybe more so than other people. They don’t want to divulge medical information but want their office to make an exemption for them based on the information they don’t want to divulge.

      I am not going to take a stance on that. But I will say, they should expect everything to be under a microscope if they choose the media route. Like it or not, there are some people who simply don’t want to go back to the office and are finding reasons not to go. A journalist may put the OP under a microscope to ensure they are not like that and have legitimate reasons not to go back. If the OP doesn’t want to tell their boss their husband has cancer, or whatever the situation is, do they really want to divulge that and perhaps much more personal information to someone who could then repeat it in a newspaper?

      And if it does run, the state may just rebut “plans are in the works and it’s a month out, so not every detail was planned yet” and the story flops.

      1. WindmillArms*

        OP did share private medical information already, even though they didn’t want to have to do it. It wasn’t “enough.”

      2. pancakes*

        I really don’t like the idea of trying to frighten people off media attention this way. “Keep quiet or all your private business will be exposed to the public in print” is pretty harsh, and it’s also pretty inconsistent with the way publications I read actually cover topics like this. Publications that are fond of trying to humiliate workers for political reasons are pretty easy to avoid, in my experience.

        1. Loulou*

          I’m not so sure about your last sentence — I’ve seen some publications that were not necessarily malicious or trying to humiliate workers, but who still covered somewhat similar issues in ways the workers weren’t happy with.

          Should people never go to the media because of that? Absolutely not, but I think it’s important to be realistic that the coverage won’t always look the way you are hoping for.

          1. pancakes*

            Of course; that’s why I didn’t say “invariably easy to avoid” or something of that nature.

            “You’ll be made into a laughingstock” isn’t what being realistic looks like.

            1. Loulou*

              Maybe I’m missing something with nesting, but I haven’t seen anyone say OP will be made into a laughingstock by the press. Nevertheless, there are a wide range of outcomes besides that one that OP should be prepared for…like an ostensibly sympathetic article that ends up lending ammunition to management’s return to office agenda.

              1. pancakes*

                I’ll try to be as clear as I can: I wasn’t directly quoting Prospect Gone Bad. To me, what I said is a fair characterization of their comments about the letter writer being “put under a microscope,” etc. (That is a direct quote). We’re going to have to agree to disagree on the wisdom of that advice.

                1. Loulou*

                  Lol okay thanks for being as clear as you possibly can! Sometimes people actually just disagree with you and it’s not because they don’t understand you. “Being made a laughing stock” is actually a very dramatic gloss on “being put under a microscope,” which most people would interpret as something like “being subject to [unwelcome] scrutiny.”

        2. Prospect Gone Bad*

          I don’t think it’s harsh or not harsh, I don’t look at it through that prism.

          I and many others would look at it through the lens of trying to figure out which side is more correct. In order to do that, you need to analyze both sides’ points. You can’t just not have anything you say scrutinized yet expect a 3rd party to be on your side and get angry on your behalf. That’s not how life works.

          1. pancakes*

            I didn’t intent to suggest that people who go to the press should expect to be free of public scrutiny, and I don’t believe I did. Implying that I’m not familiar with how life works because I challenged what you said is snide and misses the mark as well. You also seem to be suggesting that scrutinizing the personal life of everyone whose name appears in the papers is “analyzing their points” in a substantive way, and I can’t agree with that either. That’s not how media literacy works.

            1. Prospect Gone Bad*

              You’re commenting on everything I wrote as if I said something egregious. I think my comments are at a level 2 out of 10 and you’re acting like they are at a level 10 intensity.

              Maybe an example will help. For example, whereas on AAM we trust the OPs accounts of things, a journalist may want to know what specific ailment the husband has that prevents her from going to work.

              It’s just a sort of normal thing that will come up in conversation

              1. pancakes*

                If I thought what you said was egregiously wrong I’d have said so. I don’t know what to make of the rest of this miscommunication. We seem to have different thresholds for disagreement. You seem to think people should only disagree on things they feel very strongly about, and I disagree with that as well.

                I read widely, and am quite familiar with a wide variety of media outlets. We aren’t disagreeing because I lack examples, but because we have very different views on media.

      3. Becca*

        I may have misunderstood, but my reading is that they did divulge the relevant medical information and were wondering if the people they divulged it to have to keep it confidential or not.

        1. Becca*

          Ah whoops, started my reply before others had already made my point. Apologies for piling on

        2. pancakes*

          You didn’t misunderstand. The letter is clear on that. “I am now uncomfortable this man knows so much information about me . . .”

      4. Nikki*

        So the ADA only requires you to disclose your disability or medical information at a very basic level. You can request accommodations and your employer can accept that or they can start a dialogue with you about alternative options. For example, you can ask to WFH because you are immunocompromised, and your boss can ask if wearing a N95 and working from a private office would be an acceptable alternative. Or they can say that being present, unmasked is an essential duty of your job. But they can’t ask a bunch of prying questions about why you’re immunocompromised and about your private medical history.

    5. FedToo*

      I don’t want to throw cold water on this, BUT in my federal career it has happened several times where we’ve been in situations where there aren’t desks for all. Typically a few folding conference tables and chairs are found, set up in a meeting room or other unused space that would typically hold 5 people but now 30 people crowds their laptop around the table and they call it good. Sometimes valid because you’re on a short task force or emergency situation, sometimes because we’ve grown and 5 people retire next month so hold on.

      What would never fly in private sector for employee space is totally doable in government. If you could get a second chair in a cubicle, table in a wide hallway, people sitting in your break room or copy room, they’re going to say you have space.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        +1 I’ve seen an office where “hold you laptop in your lap and sit in a folding chair” was standard operating procedure. Not only did we work for the government, we were *contractors* for the government, so we couldn’t spend money on anything.

      2. Stormy Monday*

        Yeah, lets just jam everybody together while Covid is surging again.Management is so intelligent. I would be looking hard for another job under these circumstances.

        OP, maybe you should jump ship too. If the people of the state who elected your fool of a governor are happy with his shenanigans, there is not much you can do. People vote against their own self-interest all the time. It’s obvious that teleworking will not be approved so stop trying. Employees will just use more sick and annual leave. Sorry you are dealing with such an untenable situation. If Governor Asshole wants to reduce government, he could go about it a lot more intelligently than this. What a mean-spirited idiot, but that’s the way of it lately. Let the chips fall where they may, sorry you’re facing this ridiculous situation OP.

        1. Green great dragon*

          I suspect this is also the UK government’s plan. A foolish way to go about it… unless of course you don’t expect to be in government much longer…

      3. Ariel B.*

        Ah, office space for federal contractors! Fondly do I recall once seeing my manager sitting in the hallway of a gov’t office building with his laptop on an upturned cubicle trash can. (NARRATOR VOICE: She did not recall this fondly at all.)

      4. AnonThisTime*

        I believe it. We did have one government auditor say something like “bathrooms are not required by the federal government” while trying to make a point that space consumed by bathrooms in our office should not count towards occupancy for accounting purposes. (Also, while the state has specific requirements, I believe OSHA does too and that is the federal government so…)

  3. Jean*

    Jeez. And I thought my company fumbled their “return to the office” saga. This is definitely worth going to the media over, especially since you have such serious concerns about your personal level of exposure – not just to illness but to liability for when the shit inevitably hits the fan on deadline day. OP, we are sending you AAM vibes of peace and hope. Please update.

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Seconding. My job is heaven* compared with this.
      * Note: I don’t dobut my employer would love to downsize, they’re must comply with the law and keep their office open even if no one uses them.

  4. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

    Speaking as a former journalist, go with option 2, but alert the media, so they can come and get footage of government workers, who are paid by the taxpayers, sitting around not working because they can’t work. Bonus points if your agency is one that handles sometime people need daily — licensing, for example.

    1. Jean*

      This is brilliant. Honestly I kind of can’t believe that no one in charge seems to have considered this very possibility. I bet the governor doesn’t want his name associated with this sort of optics on the local network affiliate at 6 PM, much less on MSNBC and Twitter.

      1. Red 5*

        Not to get overly political, but considering the governor in question, you’d probably lose that bet.

        My money would be on him absolutely loving it and using it as a rallying point to prove that they should cut funding and fire more state workers to decrease the size of the something something I’ve already lost my will to think about it. He’s just…a very particular type of politician.

        1. The Crowening*

          ding ding ding

          Our gov is also one of these. Ruin the functions of government, then use the resulting chaos and failures as justification to privatize those functions.

          1. D*

            It amazes me how many politicians manage to get hired on the premise of “I’m terrible at my job.”

            Would not work in any other industry. “This job is terrible and we should have fewer of them, and I’m going to prove it.”

            Excuse me?

        2. CrankyLady*

          Yup.

          Check out the Disability Law Center of Virginia as well. They may have some good advice and ideas around the ADA issues.

    2. Legal Rugby*

      Make sure some folks have talking points – (preferably NOT organized on your government computer/email). Make sure they are calling the governor or agency heads out by name. If you have some folks who have requested specific accommodations and been denied (sob stories) or folks who told the agency heads that there was not enough space (so they buck dont land on you!) make sure they know have some bullet points to help frame your narrative.

    3. The Dude Abides*

      As a government employee, the last thing I’d want is such footage being turned around against “lazy government employees.” My building has been targeted by journos stalking employees taking smoke breaks, and using it to claim that they are lazy.

      1. The Dude Abides*

        Forgot to add – these “lazy employees” are also the managers working 6-7 days a week plus holidays due to chronic understaffing and an ever-expanding workload.

      2. Red 5*

        Yeah, and considering the current political climate and the people in charge in this specific situation, that’s probably exactly what would happen in the end, I hate to say it.

        I definitely heard earfuls growing up about lazy government employees, including the Virginia state government. Being related to quite a few state employees, I knew it was hogwash, but it still is the prevailing narrative already and probably one that the governor is using to prop up this poorly thought out and badly done back to work plan.

      3. Prospect Gone Bad*

        I didn’t think this was actually a thing! What I did picture was a journalist running with a story that was like “look at all of these adults who can’t even agree how to split offices, your tax dollars at work!”

        Again, I am not making a judgment call, just laying out a possible scenario

        1. old curmudgeon*

          It is absolutely a thing. “Lazy state employees” is an epithet that is thrown at state workers all the time. I even get it from family members.

        2. Sylvan*

          I can’t imagine newspaper reporters having the free time to stalk around a building.

          Anyway, my advice is to take your own pictures. If you want to share them with reporters, you can do that.

          1. pancakes*

            You expect them to stay away if there’s something newsworthy happening inside, such as government employees being forced to work in a hallway? Covering that wouldn’t be stalking.

            1. Sylvan*

              No. Please consider the comment I replied to, in which reporters were sneaking around to catch people taking smoke breaks.

      4. FedToo*

        Plus, I’m not crazy about my picture being all over the news because I’m a government employee. I’ve been photographed coming in and out of meetings and buildings and it’s not great feeling that I’m just doing my job but am suddenly a media spot (and I’m not someone making big decisions just adjacent to those).

      5. Brett*

        This was immediately where I jumped to. If the media shows footage of government employees standing around doing nothing, even if it is the governor’s fault, that immediately becomes justification for freezing hiring and pay (leading to cuts by attrition).

    4. Ally McBeal*

      This. I work in PR and my very first thought was “get on-the-scene footage of a completely full office and the employees miserably playing musical chairs.”

    5. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Or if you work with sensitive data so you really cant be working on the computer in the lobby where others can see or take calls where others can overhear!)

  5. Trek*

    I would really like the idea of employees showing up with no desk or place to work and hanging out in the lobby or outside. I would have the media present to film live so that the citizens can see the waste of tax dollars. Public outcry could be your friend.

    1. Embarrassed Virginian*

      the fire marshal will love it, too depending where people have to land.

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        I was thinking this too. Are there going to be so many people that it exceeds fire limits?

        1. FedToo*

          Who funds the state fire marshal’s office? I don’t mean to be callous but I don’t think most people get how government workers get yanked around and played with as political pawns.

    2. Clorinda*

      Not hanging around though: as several people have pointed out, you don’t want to become a lazy-govt-employee meme. “Desperately trying to get work done” is the image you want. So, not milling, but clustering around electrical outlets with the laptops open.

        1. Observer*

          Yeah, well no matter what they do, if they are showing up to work under these conditions, it’s a superspreader event.

      1. Absurda*

        This is what I was thinking, too. Sitting on the floor, in hallways/walkways working on laptops and fighting over electrical outlets. Also, piled into conference rooms or break areas/printer areas.

    3. Emma*

      It’s happened! Here in the UK, several government departments have done the “everyone back to the office immediately” thing without any forethought. The department for education in particular has been in the news for having half as many desks as employees at the time that they made this “change”, but they’re not the only ones – I have a relative who works for another department which sold or transferred the leases for a lot of its buildings during the pandemic. When their employees asked where they were supposed to work, they were told to just arrive for work at the same place and time that they would have pre-covid.

      My relative is the only qualified person in the department to do his job and is currently doing the work of a team of 10 between himself and two other people with no relevant qualifications or experience, so he is continuing to work from home in defiance of the order. But his colleagues have shown up at buildings which now belong to private companies or other departments; been turned away by building managers because the office is full, etc. It’s bananas.

      1. dogtanian*

        I have lots of friends in the civil service and what makes this even wilder to me is that the work from home, not enough desks working culture in Whitehall long predates the pandemic. Working from home or other sites has been normal and encouraged in a lot of departments for so long to save space yet some in government are acting like it’s a huge shock there isn’t enough space to accommodate their political whim.

    1. PayRaven*

      They’re all counting on either 1. someone else to figure it out or 2. for it to magically work out because “we’ll make it work.”

      If there are enough people for whom it’s safe to come in to cause serious inconvenience by milling around at work, that sounds brilliant.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Having worked for state government before, this seems like malicious compliance all the way down. Governor decides to do some showy political stunt. Head of every department gets the notification, rolls their eyes/pushes back and fails because the Governor has a “point to make” but everyone knows it won’t work. Governor’s dumb idea happens. It doesn’t work and chaos ensues for at least a few weeks until the media gets in on it. Governor can’t reverse themselves because they need to save face, so it stays an official policy that is quietly ignored unless someone wants to fire someone and they get written up for violating the existing but inactive policy.

        1. TiredMama*

          Agreed. It’s likely to be an inactive policy. Wasn’t it here where someone wrote in saying that their boss thinks they are going to work a few days each week but they aren’t really? It will be like that.

    2. MisterForkbeard*

      In some corporate offices, I’ve seen large amounts of people camped out in the break room and conference rooms with laptops.

      It does not go well, no.

      1. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

        Except that there is no office space and no break room (and there are no agency-issued laptops).

        1. Annie*

          Hmmm this must be different agency to agency, mine has eradicated all desktops except for front desk, across all offices. even upon ‘return to office’ we have been told we must lug our laptop to and from work every day ( in case a power outage or smth closes the office, we are required to WFH that day)

          Also most offices have break rooms and conference rooms

    3. oranges*

      Interesting that Allison recommended MORE attention to the problem; my advice would have been ZERO attention to it.

      In my experience with government jobs, so long as everyone gets their work done and no one makes a ruckus of things, The Powers That Be are likely to ignore it. Especially if they too recognize the impossibility of the original ask and are far busier with other things. (Like a media circus in the lobby.)

      I’d have said: Spell out the exact space needs, send “Obviously we will not be able to comply with the July 5 return date without space and equipment in place. Please contact me when these accommodations have been confirmed.”, then EVERYONE PUT THEIR HEADS DOWN AT HOME AND STAY QUIET.

      You’ve put the ball in their (very full) court, and unless they come with floorplans and shipping confirmations, y’all just keep kicking the can down the road from the comfort of your home offices.

      1. Aggresuko*

        That’s not a bad idea. I don’t know if it can be done or not, but I like it.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Yeah, I think this is a good plan. Act as though of course nobody expects you all to come in without workspaces. Nobody with any sense could possibly think that was reasonable, so obviously your team will be exempt for the time being. Send that e-mail, and definitely say that nobody is coming in until you have confirmation of what the plan is. Then yeah, do absolutely nothing until they come back to you with the answers you need. Based on the plan (and I’m using that term very loosely), things are going to be absolute chaos.

    4. Marthooh*

      My guess is that the governor doesn’t want it to work, so he can go on the news and say “Bureaucracy is bad!”

      1. TiredMama*

        The day that I realized that politicians do this was one of the most devastating days.

  6. Typing All The Time*

    Allison has awesome advice here. As a journalist, I definitely agree with reaching out to your state/local media.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Can confirm: got several family members working in civil service posts and…well let’s just say the ‘people standing around in reception because there are no desks’ thing *has* happened.

        (Flashback to a former boss of mine who’d probably tell them to either a) sit on the floor and get IT to wire up kit in the hallways or b) sit on coworkers laps. He was a nightmare)

      2. Quoi*

        I was about to share the same thing! The amount of magical thinking in certain organisations is impressive in scale, if not in anything else.

  7. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est**

    What a nightmare. I didn’t get past “summoning people to an office that has no space for them” before my first facepalm… All I can offer is my condolences, though; if I had a solution for #include <stupid.h>, I’d be living the Alpha and Beta testing.

  8. ChemistryChick*

    Ugh. OP, from a fellow Virginian, I’m sorry you have to deal with the fallout from our…”leadership”. Hopefully Alison’s advice can work for you.

    1. Nonprofit Junkie*

      OP, fellow commonwealth employee here. Thanks to how I’m classified, I’m exempt from this idiocy personally. Professionally though, it’s so hard watching my colleagues struggle with how to implement this. As a Virginian, I’m also really worried about what this will do for the state. It’s going to make it so hard for us to recruit talent to work for the government. That hurts everyone!

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        I assume this is the point – kneecap the “bureaucracy” by chasing away staff.

    2. I don’t post often*

      Yup. I’m hearing from my politico friends he is only listening to the former company/ private sector individuals and not the politicos. Of course, RPV isn’t… {I can’t think of a nice word. Let’s just say there is a reason I left the political field in Virginia and won’t ever go back}.
      As we’ve seen with many bungled policies in the past six months, media coverage might just make him double down.

      1. Red 5*

        “As we’ve seen with many bungled policies in the past six months, media coverage might just make him double down.”

        That’s the real danger with this guy. Like, anybody who isn’t in Virginia, if you don’t know who our current leadership is, definitely look him up before thinking that he would behave in a way that you would consider rational or normal. But I would say that media contacts in Richmond might be more familiar with how to handle this particular type of politician. Washington Post…*shrug emoji* they’d write a great story and get a lot of Northern Virgnia residents riled up about it but the actual governor? He would probably enjoy the chance to say that it proves that he’s doing things right.

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          This *fucker*. Best we can hope for from the media I think is to get a few apathetic voters riled up. Which isn’t nothing.

        2. I don’t post often*

          Totally agree with this. I’m in Southside. What do I care what NOVA does of thinks? This in tongue in check clearly. :)
          I was baffled by some of things that happened in January and February so I started making calls to see what was going on behind the scenes.

          1. Archie Goodwin*

            Well, you’re being tongue-in-cheek, but the reality is that many people in Southside, or in large chunks of southwestern Virginia, would say that and mean it

            I mean, the Post or WTOP will do good coverage of this (especially WTOP, I would think), but it’s not going to make a damn bit of difference. Youngkin won’t change because his base doesn’t want him to change. Even if they don’t care about the specifics of the policy, they’ll be happy to see those fatcat government workers in Richmond be brought to heel.

    3. Regular VA Commenter*

      I think all of us AAM Virginians should be calling the governor and our state representatives…

      My name is (name) and I’m a Virginia resident from zip code (___). I do not need a response. I am concerned about the Governor’s directive that all state employees must return to in-person work on July 5th, and reports that state employees do not have spaces to return to and are being asked to provide personal medical information in order to receive an exemption. I am asking the Governor to extend the deadline and provide his full and unequivocal support to state agencies taking the time to make this change in an orderly fashion instead of rushing to meet an artificial deadline. Thank you.

      1. Susie Q*

        I’ve called the office multiple times about roe v wade and gun control. Might as well do it for AAM.

  9. Everdene*

    This sounds very much like the UK Government. Workers who were remote or hybrid pre-pandemic were forced back to offices that could not accommodate them. Absolute chaos ensued and workers were then sent back home to work as they could not do anything in the office. Having the media present to see this unfold would be priceless.

      1. thatmoody*

        Yeah, but you see what BoJo’s response is now…gut the civil service. He’s a toad, and so is Rishi.

        1. Everdene*

          Toad is very polite! I have many, many thoughts on this but I think Alison likes to keep apolitical.

    1. Stitch*

      My office literally has 3 times as many employees as offices. Telework is a survival mechanism.

  10. A Beth*

    I moved to a state agency in VA in the fall, after my previous employer bungled return-to-office, so this was a real bummer for me to hear — luckily the way certain employees (including my role) are classified at New Job meant it didn’t really have much effect on us and our current hybrid schedule.

    It must be pretty frustrating for the many state workers who have been teleworking for years pre-pandemic; it’s hard to see this as anything but a power play, not a “return to normal.” A cynical, but perhaps not inaccurate, take I read right after this was announced was that this is a deliberate push to a) make people quit, and b) make government look inept. That way the governor can privatize some of these offices/services and point out how bad “big government” is.

    1. Gatomon*

      Yep, “vacancy savings.” There will be a number of people who quit or retire early and most of those positions won’t be filled in the name of “starving the beast.” Meanwhile, government gets less effective, people wonder what the #@!% they’re paying taxes for and demand more cuts because they’re not getting what they’re paying for.

    2. nora*

      This is exactly why he did it. Make the government look bad, take away funding, push services toward for-profit models that will benefit him and his buddies. It’s blatantly obvious but every time I point it out people look at me like I’m a paranoid conspiracy theory nut.

  11. it's just the frame of mind*

    Well, if everyone’s milling around, it may not be easy to tell who showed up and who didn’t, so that may help the people who don’t show up because of risk factors…

  12. TiredAmoeba*

    This cox excrement is absolutely a result of political decisions with no consideration of the real world ramifications of their decisions. I work for government and we see this happen when new administrations come in and make sweeping changes with little or no review of the actual impact.
    A lot of people stick around and deal because of the benefits but overall, we continue to struggle to attract and retain good workers and the workforce is rapidly aging and is held up by employees with 30+ years of service who can choose to retire at any time.

      1. MisterForkbeard*

        Honestly, this is more colorfully descriptive anyway. I don’t really want to think about the actual meaning much, which is perfect for a stupid, needless screwup like this in-office requirement.

      2. Minimal Pear*

        lol I did think it was something to do with a cox, as in the rowing position, until I read your correction

  13. Mitford*

    It reminds me of one of the early episodes of Homicide: Life on the Streets where the character of Tim Bayliss joined the squad, had no desk, and put his nameplate and other items on top of the water cooler. Is that what these employees are supposed to do?

    I live in Virginia and, believe me, many people here are not happy with the current administration right now.

    1. automaticdoor*

      As a fellow Virginian, I sincerely hope those people who are unhappy do/will actually vote. Turnout was so low last year and I do think that was a big part of Gov. Jerkface’s win. I think anyone with sense could see that these moves would be coming if he won. It’s really too bad that McAuliffe was such an inept campaigner because he really wasn’t a bad governor.

      1. Archie Goodwin*

        I’m really glad to hear someone else say this, because I thought McAuliffe’s campaign was one of the most inept I had ever seen from an experienced politician – I thought he knew better than to do most of what he was doing.

        I don’t like Youngkin, and didn’t vote for him, but his campaign was extremely disciplined, and that worked in his favor quite a bit.

        1. Mitford*

          I did vote but, yes, I agree with you that McAuliffe didn’t run an effective campaign. Also Youngkin thoroughly exploited the issues in the Loudoun County schools in a way that made me want to throw things at the television every time one of his ads came on.

          1. Archie Goodwin*

            Oh, I voted…but not for Youngkin.

            The thing about Youngkin: he knew that exploiting those issues would work. I’ve read plenty of accounts of parents who maybe weren’t full-on upset about curriculum problems, but were concerned about the way Loudoun County’s school board handled some things, and those people were susceptible to the stuff he was selling. McAuliffe, it seemed to me, was playing pretty solidly to the base…and they were going to turn out regardless.

            (I’ll promise to stop with this tangent. But again…I’m glad I’m not the only one who picked up on this. I felt like as usual a lot of the pundits missed the point.)

            1. CommanderBanana*

              But don’t worry, Youngkin’s precious children went to extremely expensive private schools. No trashy public schools for this guy!

      2. Susie Q*

        Gov. Jerkface won because a bunch of uneducated white moms think they should determine public school curriculum.

  14. missb*

    I am happy to live and work in a state where my employer believes that remote work is effective.

    What a dinosaur of a gov. So sorry. Don’t suppose he’s up for re-election this year?

      1. PayRaven*

        for reference, he’s also gone full “masks are an assault on our civil liberties”, so….that type of guy

        1. pancakes*

          He’s gone there or has always been there, intellectually? The problem is not generally that politicians with views like these conceal them from people while campaigning. The problem is more that these views are popular with a sizable chunk of the populace.

          1. PayRaven*

            oh he’s always been there, this is just an added explainer for folks unfamiliar with him

    1. EPLawyer*

      Elected to do exactly this. He made a lot of EO’s on his first day in office that are just political talking points.

      Personally I would show up at the governor’s mansion and mill around since he wants you in person but there is no space. But the security would probably get irked over that so probably not really a good idea.

      Not sure how much media will help either. They’ve been covering all his clusterfudges. He keeps trudging on.

      1. ChemistryChick*

        I would love to see someone use the mansion front lawn as their office. I would help pay their legal fees.

        Media coverage definitely doesn’t phase him. He’s Tr*mp in a red vest.

    2. Becky*

      Unfortunately, no. He was elected November 2021 so can’t be voted out until November 2025.

      When the state’s constitution was rewritten post-Civil War the intent was to have the gubernatorial elections align with the presidential election cycle; however ratification took longer than anticipated and the election ended up landing the year after the presidential election every cycle. Though, politicians in the state have fought to keep it that way (off year elections are notorious for low turnout).

      (I don’t currently live in Virginia but I still consider myself a Virginian. I watch from afar in frustration.)

      1. Red 5*

        YUP, the low turnout in the year after a presidential election has become a feature, not a bug, and they intend to keep it that way as long as possible. They use it to their advantage for a lot of messed up stuff, like ballot initiatives that they know wouldn’t pass if more people showed up.

        But also, there’s a tendency in the state for us to elect a governor who is the opposite party as the president. It’s not always, just enough that it’s a trend that a lot more people should have seen coming last year and I’m still angry that they didn’t.

    3. Red 5*

      As a side note, Virginia governors can’t be re-elected for consecutive terms. So if we can make it through three more years of this insanity, at least we get four years off from him specifically.

    4. Cat Lover*

      No, he was just voted in in November by a bunch of angry parents. Every EO he has signed has been for attention.

  15. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Also include with the list of space and equipment needs, the number of electrical outlets you will need (1 per person/work station). I know from experience having been moved into new spaces several times, the Powers That Be are so myopic they often just look at how they can fit desks/people into a space without counting or allocating any outlets…and no, often you can just add a new outlet if the electrical system doesn’t support it, nor run extension cords throughout. And does your building have the connectivity for that many computers to suddenly be using it? Are there hard data ports, or is everyone running on WIFI. Will the whole system crash?

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Not just power outlets, but some sort of UPS/battery backup in case power fails so you can properly shut the computer down until power is restored.

      If there’s wifi, not just capacity, but also proper security.

      Speaking of security, are there privacy/security requirements around the data people work with (PII/PCI/HIPAA)? Can these be properly enforced in the available space?

    2. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

      Management has already rejected “there is no office space” as a valid reason for not returning to the office, so providing office specs definitely won’t work.

      [Leadership is having a hard time “agreeing” with many of the legitimate reasons on these telework forms, such as health conditions and lack of office space, so they’re rejecting the requests.]

  16. Canadian gov worker*

    They did something not entirely dissimilar here but it was made to work by a tremendous number of individual telework requests/policies being put in place and signed very quickly, with a lot of work from the in-between layers of management.

  17. Cat Mouse*

    Doubtful they have union in Virginia. As a Virginian I’m curious what department it is, but maybe I’ll wait for potential media attention.

      1. Becky*

        Ah nevermind, they may be restricted in odd ways so ineffectual in this type of thing.

      2. Annie*

        Those aren’t actually unions – they are advocacy groups.
        Virginia state workers are barred, legally, from unionizing or striking.

        Used to be all gov workers, but last year they finally changed it to allow county/city gov to unionize. But still not state workers.

    1. Regular VA Commenter*

      It’s every state agency, so if you’re wondering about a specific department the answer is “yes.”

  18. A Poster Has No Name*

    Crikey. From the article Alison linked in the post:

    “Youngkin’s policy allows state agency heads to approve no more than one telework day a week, effective July 5. An employee would need approval by the applicable Cabinet secretary to telework two days a week and the governor’s chief of staff, Jeff Goettman, for more than two days a week.”

    That’s completely bananacrackers. I hope literally every state employee applies to telework more than two days a week so Jeffy gets absolutely flooded with requests to the point he can’t do anything else except clear out his email day after day.

      1. pancakes*

        That’s a game US politicians have been playing for at least the past forty years, if not longer. What’s remarkable is that people still fall for it.

          1. pancakes*

            In pockets, yeah, it’s always gone over well with some people. They haven’t won over the people I went to grad school with, though, or the people I work with, or my friends.

    1. EPLawyer*

      All premised on “Covid wasn’t real” and “No one wants to work anymore.” He’s “owning the libs.”

    2. J*

      Having previously worked in government, I think my response to such a wild demand would be to 1) encourage everyone I know to request as many days as possible so it gets caught up in the bureaucracy and 2) contact reporters (as is in the process) but to let them know about the pathway for the state’s version of FOIA requests. Having a history of light whistleblowing, passing along exact search terms and contacts has been more likely to result in the right questions being asked and uncomfortable procedures getting called out.

    3. WellRed*

      Does nobody in the state have any actual governing to do? They are just gonna deal with telework paperwork?

      1. hamburke*

        Legislative session is actually over… It’s only 60 days in even years (30 in odd years)

  19. Alldogsarepuppies*

    My employment law for the government lawyer friend has suggested the following

    1. The National Labor Relations Act requires employers to bargain with unions over workplace changes with a “substantial impact” on working conditions. Go to the union steward and chapter leadership and let them know this is happening. They should know what the Collective Bargaining Agreement says about management having to bargain over this kind of change.
    2. The EEOC has guidance on the ADA’s confidentiality requirements.Employers can require employees to provide enough medical information to support each employees’ request for reasonable accommodations (such as, idk, teleworking in a pandemic), but they have to keep that information confidential. Failing to do so could be the basis for an ADA violation, even if only by accident. You should keep any medical information you receive from employees very confidential (locked cabinet, password protected folder). If you can’t figure out how, hold off on asking for medical information until you can.
    3. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities who need accommodations to perform essential functions of their jobs. A delay or ongoing failure to do so could be a violation of the ADA because it constitutes a functional denial of accommodations. You should speak to an employment lawyer first and really encourage your staff to do so as well. For now, the first step is simply for you and everyone else who needs it to email on the record something like, “I have a medical condition which places me at high risk for COVID, and I’m requesting a reasonable accommodation in the form of telework to allow me to perform the essential functions of my job. Could you please let me know the process for getting a reasonable accommodation?”

    1. Alldogsarepuppies*

      4. The VA state government receives federal funding. Discrimination on the basis of disability in federally funded programs is prohibited under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which is separately investigated on the federal level and addressed by the U.S. Department of Labor. Here’s info about filing a complaint https://www.vec.virginia.gov/equal-employment-opportunity

    2. Brett*

      For 1. Virginia state law prohibits collective bargaining on behalf of state employees. State employees are exempt from NLRA, so those protections don’t apply.

  20. Critical Rolls*

    I don’t get what’s going on with the rejected requests. Okay, the idiot governor has done an idiot thing; it’s part of the job for the career government employees to limit the damage, and approving all those requests as fast as possible for any reason is an obvious way to do that. “The paint color in the office makes me sad.” APPROVED!

    1. Bexy Bexerson*

      My guess is that the folks whose job it is to approve/deny requests are being strongly pressured (if not outright ordered) from above to not approve them.

      1. Annie*

        Correct – more than two days requires approval and signature from the Governors own Chief of Staff. Everyone is interpreting it as ‘nobody is getting more than 2 days’

        1 day goes to your agency director, 2 goes to the secretary who oversees your agency. So it’s not like, managers or supervisors. They are putting it to people who, to be frank, probably have no idea which jobs or people should be teleworking.

    2. Another Virginia State Employee*

      The people who must approve more than one day per week teleworking are political appointees of the governor who made the new rule, and are likely to reject close to 100% of them (or to let them sit in their inboxes forever).

    3. VAHR*

      It’s not internal approval. It’s at the governor’s office’s discretion. Due to the timeline, I’m assuming they’re rejecting all of them out of hand.

    4. Critical Rolls*

      Ah, the additional information clears that up. Funneling all of those requests to a handful of people would probably be enough to grind the gears to a stop; having them be political appointees really adds a special touch.

  21. old curmudgeon*

    I am a state government worker in Wisconsin. Currently, the state in general and my agency in particular permits 100% telecommuting for employees whose work can be done without being in person (so an IT developer can work remotely while a DMV employee who takes photos for drivers’ licenses cannot).

    My agency experimented with a mandatory hybrid approach last summer, requiring everyone to work in person a minimum of two days per week. The attrition rate skyrocketed, and every single departing employee said they were leaving due to the butts-in-seats policy. The agency walked the policy back in November, which staunched some of the outflow, but there are still dozens and dozens of vacant positions, many in critically needed areas, resulting from that five-month experiment.

    Wisconsin has a gubernatorial election coming up this November. Depending on how that goes, I could absolutely see the same kind of thing here as is happening in Virginia. If it does, I can pretty much guarantee that there will be a mass exodus of employees from state service, either taking private-sector jobs or retiring, because no way on earth are many of us ever going back to in-person work. And the people who ultimately are going to suffer are the state’s citizens, who are not going to be able to access the services they need and that they pay for with their taxes.

    To my cohorts in Virginia, I send you my solidarity and support, and just keep in mind that the Great Resignation gives you options that you might not otherwise have.

    1. Cj*

      I live in Minnesota, and it’s good to hear that as of now Wisconsin is handling this appropriately. Sometimes feel Minnesota is a relative island of sanity surrounded by my sanity. Witness North Dakota.

      I hope people get out and vote this fall in a manner that will prevent something happening like it is in Virginia.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      The WI governor has supported WFH for state employees in the press. My agency is hybrid, but we are the 2nd most hated by the legislature, & our leadership walks a fine line.

    3. Cold and Tired*

      I wish you luck for the next governor! I was a Wisconsin voter (and a resident of that one lonely politically blue island surrounded by a sea of red in the state haha) for the last gubernatorial election in 2018, and was terrified by the candidate Wisconsin luckily avoided. Knowing the gerrymandering in the state and how the 2016 elections went down I’m WI, Im worried for you this year. I expect the opponent will be as crazy as a certain scary senator, which is terrifying.

    4. Brett*

      Attrition is probably a feature, not a bug. Accelerated attrition is an easy way for state governments to do budget cutting layoffs without doing layoffs. My old county government employer froze pay for 14 years to get enough attrition (not to mention pay cuts by inflation) to keep the budget low enough to avoid tax increases.

      1. old curmudgeon*

        Sadly, this is absolutely correct. There is definitely a mindset among some legislators/politicians that the more employees they can convince to leave, the better. The cost of all that institutional knowledge walking out the door is never acknowledged, but it is real nonetheless.

  22. WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot*

    I used to work for a federal agency and left the government about 2 months ago. Our chairman (under the previous presidential administration) was incredibly pro-employee. (In a way that may be unexpected consider the politics of that administration.) He took one look around and said, “No paid FMLA?” It was something that our union had been trying to implement for years and it was done within months of that chairman taking over. (And genuinely, he was one of the best leaders I ever worked for, both in the government and the private sector.)

    When the new administration came in (the current one), the new chairman took one look around and reversed almost all the COVID accommodations that were implemented by the old administration, including insisting on an early return to work (that feel through because they weren’t logistically ready for it yet… that.. and Omicron). Again, unexpected considering the politics of the current president. The Union president has been talking to the media about it too, but I’m not sure it’s done in a way that paints the government workers in a very good way. I cringed a bit when I read some of his media comments. (It’s also worth noting that he previously lead a different agency. That agency did not have a union until he took over as chairman. They did by the time he left.)

    The takeaway – both your governor and the new federal agency chair are playing politics in a way that doesn’t rely on any particular principal. I don’t think it has so much to do with whether you have an R or a D next to your name. Either way, it really sucks if you’re one of the employees caught in the crossfire.

    1. Susie Q*

      I agree. New administrations can come in and reek havoc. I mean Biden even said in his State of the Union that he wants to get people back in offices.

      Political pandering has consequences on unexpected people.

  23. Anon at the moment*

    Some media is reporting that VA state employees will have more flexibility if they need telework accommodations for childcare reasons. One article said the possibility of up to five days a week. Is there any truth to that? It might help OP if they have employees with young children and are trying to navigate this.

    1. Another Virginia State Employee*

      Yes, but only through Labor Day, when schools in Virginia start up again. And it’s not clear how you prove you have school-aged children that you need to stay home with …

      1. Anon at the moment*

        I’m glad to hear this is the case, even for a limited time. Goodness knows parents have had a hard time during the pandemic.

    2. Ali + Nino*

      After two years of this nonsense they’re going to make an exemption for this situation (working while caring for young kids) which has proven time and again to be fundamentally impossible? Makes sense.

    3. Anon at the Moment Too*

      This probably isn’t a popular opinion, but childcare should not be a valid reason for working from home. Pre-Covid, my employer required all remote employees to have childcare coverage. Back then, we all acknowledged that working from home full-time was not compatible with also taking care of kids full-time.

      1. Anon at the moment*

        This is probably true. But at least OP can tell on-site folks that their exposure will be reduced if parents stay at home. Over the last two years our office had folks that had to come in while many others worked from home. We tried to remind the on-site people that it was to their benefit that some in the office could telework. Their exposure was decreased by every person who stayed home.

      2. Vintage Lydia*

        Back then, childcare was more available than now. Childcare centers have closed and not reopened for full capacity and summer care programs are severely limiting their admission rates because they don’t have enough workers. Plus that whole covid thing.

        1. Anon at the Moment Too*

          No, nearly every parent in my office who has requested to work from home for childcare purposes has openly stated that they’re doing it to save money. Childcare is available. Summer care programs have openings.

          Unfortunately, those of us who have chosen other childcare options or do not have children in the home are growing impatient of picking up the slack for those who have been requesting flexibility for over two years. For several months after Covid started ramping up in 2020, there were no options other than to keep your children at home. Of course, we all jumped in to help cover parents’ extra work so that they could tend to their children–absolutely no resentment whatsoever on my part. But I shouldn’t have to CONTINUE working 50+ hours a week so that my coworker can save money by watching his/her kid at home during work hours when other options are available.

          My point is only tangentially related to the main topic, so I’ll drop it now. :)

  24. FedVet*

    As someone who lives in Newport News, VA – hearing that the guy who stole the state election on a campaign of fear is forcing everyone to go to the office and put themselves at high risk is unsurprising.

    Unfortunately I am a fed, not state, so I can’t speak for the state unions. However. General advice with government – get so specific you can’t be argued with. Numbers, dollars, space requirements, proportions (people covered by ADA, current full remote workers, etc.), efficiency levels – anything you can get your hands on for data. The more that’s compiled, the more that can be revealed in a FOIA request when inevitably the press is going to go looking.

    1. NoviceManagerGuy*

      Let’s not call an election stolen when it wasn’t. That only helps the enemies of democracy.

      1. FedVet*

        I mean we can argue up and down all day long that the gerrymandering of the state is or is not considered “stealing” the election, but fine, if you want a different set of terminology:

        “…the guy who used gerrymandered maps and intimidation tactics against the vulnerable voting blocks who otherwise would have voted against him but were disenfranchised by corrupt courts and the on-the-ground bully squads to ‘win’ the state election…”

        Better?

      2. Clorinda*

        Agree. Hijacked is better than stolen in this context. Stolen has a specific meaning which we should reserve for when we mean it.

      3. Red 5*

        Yeah, as much as I don’t like the results, he won the election fair and square based on the rules of the game. I can Monday morning quarterback all the ways that happened, and there are a lot of them, but he ran for governor during the time frame in which Virginia elects a governor and he legitimately got more votes than the other guy.

        The fact that the system is broken in this state specifically is a whole other thing. But if he stole this election, so did every other governor we’ve ever had.

        1. automaticdoor*

          Exactly. And gerrymandering is not the (main) issue here — it was a statewide election. Every voter in the state was able to vote in this election. I have a lot of things to say about WHY people might not vote and gerrymandering is part of that, but it’s not the sole (or even main!) reason McAuliffe lost his election. The election was not stolen.

          1. FedVet*

            See the other part of my complaint: The on the ground intimidation. The people who came to folks’ doors (at least they came to mine and some of my friends, I assume that was statewide) and tried to intimidate us into not voting by anything from standard fearmongering (“the gays will turn your kids gay!” BS) to telling my hispanic friend that voting would get him deported and so he shouldn’t vote if he wanted to stay in the US. Mind you, he’s a citizen, but still.

            This election was bad in *extra* bad ways, as opposed to the normally bad that VA elections usually are.

            1. Archie Goodwin*

              Where do you live, exactly? I’m in the area just south of DC, and I never heard of anything like this happening around here.

              Got a lot of mailers, but that was about it.

              1. automaticdoor*

                Yeah, I’m in the DC burbs and haven’t heard of anything like that happening in our area either – I’m pretty tuned into local politics and news, so I think that would have reached me. I’m guessing Roanoke voters might be targeted by crap like that because they’re perceived as potentially swayable, whereas deep blue DC suburban voters weren’t going to go for Youngkin en masse, so it’s not worth their time/energy to try that crap up here.

                1. FedVet*

                  That’s entirely likely. My lawyer friend in Richmond also stated at the time that she didn’t see any of those tactics there, likely because Richmond is also blue enough that intimidation tactics wouldn’t have gotten anywhere and may even have backfired.

    2. Susie Q*

      It was not a stolen election. Do not use inflammatory rhetoric. Youngkin won because McAuliffe ran a terrible campaign. Youngkin also won because uneducated white moms feel the need to determine public school cirriculum.

  25. Veryanon*

    Ugh. We are asking, not requiring, our remote employees to return on 6/13. We’ve been preparing for months by having each manager survey their team to see who will be coming back, who won’t, and how much space they will need, so we can make sure we have enough space for everyone (space needs have obviously changed over the past 2 years). We’ve also told managers to be very flexible with people who can’t come back right on 6/13 for various reasons. The governor of Virginia is obviously posturing for political gain, as noted.

    1. Baby Yoda*

      My company also did this, most of us chose to stay remote so they took the opportunity to downsize into a much smaller, and much nicer corporate office. Win-win.

  26. JustForThis*

    Thank you to the LW. I’m in VA state government as well and I’ve wanted to write in about this issue but haven’t due to privacy concerns. It’s causing massive amounts of stress for everyone in our department in our state agency. BTW, the policy covers all state agencies, including universities and communities colleges. My department and the agency head are sympathetic but pretty powerless.

    1. nora*

      Executive orders do not cover independent agencies such as the one I work for. That asshole can’t touch me. I’ve never been so glad to get rejected by the same exec branch agency three times as I am now.

  27. CheerfullyCool*

    Big OOF. I feel terrible for you and your team. Not sure why so many employers (your governor included) are so dead set on getting people back into the office. I am petty and pretty antiwork (not anti working, anti work the way that the system has currently run for the last 4 decades) so I would foment insubordination and put on an all or nothing front with my employees: We don’t return to the office because we have proven that WFH is productive and status quo has worked. I think also outlining the sheer cost of bringing in office space and equipment for workers might change their minds…either way the notion that telework is not as productive or viable is such a bad take.

    1. HigherEdAdminista*

      I honestly think there is very little reason for many of these mandatory butts-in-seats policies aside from putting people in “their place.”

  28. Another Virginian*

    First, I’m so sorry, OP. This is ridiculous and part of the so-called governor’s “owning the libs,” as has been said.

    Second, if someone else hasn’t suggested it already, you may want to contact Louise Lucas, the Democratic president pro tempore of the VA Senate. She’s very active on Twitter and her staff email address is district18@senate.virginia.gov .

  29. blackcat lady*

    Sorry, but Virginia got what they voted for. My HUGE concern is that private medical info will be floating around with no safeguards on confidentiality. There are HIPAA laws for a reason and this requirement to give medical info to nonprofessional medical people tramples all over that. I hope the WaPo pursues this.

    1. Peridot*

      Come on, you know that there are likely hundreds of thousands of people who didn’t vote for this governor. This is exactly like blaming poor Southern states for the jerks who are in power.

      1. automaticdoor*

        In fact, Youngkin won by just over 63,000 votes. Out of about 3.2 million ballots cast. Literally 1.6 million people did not vote for this guy and yet are stuck with him.

          1. automaticdoor*

            If I could edit, I would also add, plus the numerous people (you know, like children!!) who are ineligible to vote but also impacted by Youngkin’s policies.

        1. Pescadero*

          “Literally 1.6 million people did not vote for this guy and yet are stuck with him.”

          …and literally 3 million registered voters – just didn’t vote.

          Apathy has a cost.

          1. Parakeet*

            Ah yes, it could only be apathy, and not, for instance, various tactics of voter suppression (excessive lines that people can’t take time off from work to wait in, making it difficult for students going to college out of state to vote, misinformation, etc).

            Either way, the idea that people are getting what they deserve is gross. I could turn this argument back on every mainstream Dem who thinks voting is the be-all-end-all and doesn’t do actual activism, for everything terrible thing that state government does in whatever state they live in. After all, by my standards, voting and not doing anything else (which is true for so many people) is apathy too. But that would be extremely jerkish of me, so I don’t.

      2. Howard Bannister*

        As a matter of fact, not hundreds of thousands of people:

        Over one and a half million people.

        Final vote tally – 1,663,158 to 1,599,470

        1. Howard Bannister*

          Should have refreshed before posting, forgot that comments might be appearing that already picked up those numbers. Sorry for the duplication.

    2. Until Recently Virginian*

      “They got what they voted for” is no more helpful a response to this situation than saying that the entire U.S. got what it voted for in 2016 was to any of the events following that election. Many people in Virginia – and in every other purple or even red-leaning, often gerrymandered, state – did NOT vote for these kinds of antics but are stuck with the consequences anyways.

        1. blackcat lady*

          I’ll amend it to read you got what a lot of people voted for, whether it was on the strength of a Trump endorsement or because they always vote Red. I will say GY ran slick campaign ads billing himself as a care for the little people guy. But I wish people educated themselves more than 30 second soundbites. Then again, I grew up in an all-red area. If Joseph Stalin had run for office on the Republican ticket he would have won.

            1. pancakes*

              Exactly. And for the number of people in situations like those who can’t vote. Children, for example. I see that some people have already pointed this out but apparently it needs repeating.

          1. Sylvan*

            Then you can understand the effects of gerrymandering and voter suppression, and that this was *still* a close race despite those factors.

          1. Megster*

            +1,000,000
            (I did the math today and realized McConnell’s been a senator since I was 12. I’m 50 now.)

          2. Hapax Legomenon*

            We get what the money voted for. I’m not convinced humans still vote for McConnell.

    3. Nobby Nobbs*

      Google “gerrymandering,” since you apparently skipped that day in elementary school. And middle school. And high school. Also “voter intimidation.”

      1. Generic Name*

        Something tells me that public schools in Virginia do not teach about gerrymandering and voter intimidation.

            1. NoviceManagerGuy*

              I know what gerrymandering is. I’m politically involved in Pennsylvania. Gerrymandering doesn’t affect a governor’s race.

              1. pancakes*

                That’s simply repeating your conclusion. It isn’t self-evident what your reasoning is or how you’ve arrived at that conclusion. I’ve just noticed that Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute for Politics put out a report on precisely this topic in 2021 called “Redistricting: The Road to Reform.” I’ll link to it separately. A quick summary of their conclusions:

                “Governors and Redistricting Power”: “More than average amount of power”: “Alaska, Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Utah, Vermont, Virginia.”

            2. linger*

              Gerrymandering matters if the result depends on how many districts have been won, but not if the result depends directly on how many votes have been won. If the only meaningful result for the gubernatorial election is the statewide total, it simply does not matter how internal voting district boundaries have been drawn, and so gerrymandering is irrelevant.

        1. Susie Q*

          I learned about both in my middle school civics class. They teach civics in 8th grade in Virginia.

    4. doreen*

      HIPAA only applies to medical entities disclosing information – it doesn’t prevent an employer from requiring employees to submit medical documentation in conjunction with an ADA or FMLA request. The ADA and FMLA require employers to keep the information confidential.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        This is true, though given that the supervisor unilaterally rejected OPs paperwork, they’re providing spouse information, and the category is described as “ADA and other”, I would guess this isn’t a formal or well-handled ADA request process.

    5. Ana Gram*

      Well, that’s not a helpful comment. Many of us Virginians didn’t vote for him but we’re stuck with his policies.

    6. Kesnit*

      I’m a Virginia state employee. I live in another state. I COULD NOT vote in the governor’s election because I am not a Virginia resident. How am I responsible for what Youngkin is doing?

  30. Sotired*

    At a federal level, the IRS and Social Security are so backed up it is afront to the rest of us. I can understand how taxpayers are fed up. Some jobs cannot be done remote. And allowing remote for childcare opens up a can of worms, some will abuse and not have some care for their kids and other workers have long tired of taking up the slack. These are not easy issues. I am not certain what the answer is. I would have to know what OP’s department function is, and why the head count increase over the pandemic

    1. FedVet*

      “Social Security [is] so backed up it’s an affront to the rest of us” – Citation needed?

      I changed my name this year (2022). It took Social Security less than three days for a turnaround on updating the paperwork and reissuing a card.

      How’s that “backed up” again?

      1. Sotired*

        Maybe you did that online. Appointments even for a phone call take forever. I am glad your experience was good, but there have been many complaints

        1. FedVet*

          Went into an office, used the drop box for paper mail. Can’t do a name change online because you have to submit paper documents – originals.

          There may be complaints but I have to question the legitimacy of them. Remember that a lot of people will straight up lie to paint others as “lazy” or “inefficient”. And while there may be a few legitimate complaints – bureaucracy is far from perfect – I highly doubt that the SSA or IRS are nearly as backed up or inefficient as some move-everyone-to-the-office people are claiming.

          1. Sotired*

            The IRS ADMITS to destroying 30 Million paper documents because they could not process them. My mom had to sign up for Medicare, and because she had been on employer insurance, she needed additional forms. She is not lazy. It was a nightmare. The people wanting disability are even more in trouble.
            https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2022/04/07/2418673/0/en/SSA-Offices-Open-After-Two-Years-Faced-with-Growing-Backlog-of-Social-Security-Disability-Claims.html

            1. pancakes*

              That’s a press release, on a site that aggregates press releases. It’s meant to influence people to share the views of the company releasing it. You shouldn’t regard these as an unbiased source of news.

              1. FedVet*

                The only stuff I could find from independent research was that yes, there were documents destroyed, but they were W-2s and 1099s (which the individual filer is supposed to have copies of anyway) and could not be used to have adverse effects on any individual filer.

                1. pancakes*

                  I don’t know what you mean by “independent research.” Are you talking about reading newspaper articles? That isn’t doing research. Regardless, there has been no shortage of news coverage of this. It’s been widely covered in mainstream papers, and in industry press for tax professionals. CPA organizations, etc., comment on things like this as a matter of routine. I’ll link to something in a separate reply as an example.

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Mr. Gumption helped his friend with Social Security after her dad died, which included in-person appointments so they could confirm her mom did exist and was alive. It only took something like 4 days to get sorted. I’m guessing YMMV depending on the complexity and type of case you have?

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      And having departments that have more staff than desks or space crowd into an office will improve things how? Milling chaos and inadequate equipment isn’t known for making government (or any organization) work faster or better

  31. WorkingMom*

    It seems to me that there is a lot to improve on both sides of this equation.

    The implementation of the governor’s mandate is clearly done poorly. Why are employees being asked to submit detailed medical information? Should it not be similar to FMLA where your doctor (or spouse’s doctor) indicates the accommodations the employee needs (i.e. employee cannot work in office) without providing medical details?

    It is obviously ridiculous to ask someone to come back to the office if there is no space for them… but is that limited to certain types of positions? There appears to be workforce shortages in just about every sector (where I am, this applies to both private and local government sectors). So one would think that there is office space somewhere….

    At the same time, it seems to me that a lot of people just don’t want to go back to commuting to work. I am not saying this is LW’s case, but I find it unlikely that every single VA government employee has medical issues that prevent them from working in office – and this letter makes it sound that everyone has a problem with the mandate.

    I have been on both sides of the equation (working remotely for a while and returning to office full time). Yeah, I liked the flexibility of working from home but it is not anything to go into a meltdown over. With job market the way it is today, I am sure one could easily find a WFH job if they feel strongly about that.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Part of the problem is that some of these departments have more people than space now due to hiring during COVID, so it is less of a question of folks wanting to commute or not and more a practical “Where do we put people?” situation. Everyone I know who works in a health department of any department that works with long-term care/disability services is in this boat. They all have 3-7 employees for each desk and the fastest possible time for the government to bid out new office rental is 3-5 years so there is no quick fix

      1. J*

        The nonprofit I just left was the same. We had to double our services which meant doubling the staff and thankfully we won a great number of grants from county, state and federal agencies to fund the new roles. But that didn’t change that when sent home for the pandemic they already had an obsolete building and it’ll be 3+ years before they have a new one. I left 10 days before the mandatory return to office date and they still didn’t have a plan for seating, parking, safety, etc. It’s extra insulting to know you are being put at risk and to have workplaces not have any plans for normal business functions, let alone plans for when the workplace inevitably puts workers in danger.

    2. Fellow Virginian*

      Part of the problem is that the Governor is voiding all pre-pandemic telework agreements. So you may have an employee who had an agreement in place for 10 years that allowed telework 3 days a week – and now that’s void and he has to grovel to get one day a week.

      1. WorkingMom*

        Yes, that is a whole another story and not cool.

        My response was more of a reaction to how commonly this comes up because many employers are making people come back to the office.

    3. Starbuck*

      “At the same time, it seems to me that a lot of people just don’t want to go back to commuting to work. ”

      From what I hear about traffic in the DC/VA area, yeah I bet, and rightfully so! Commuting is not a good thing, anything that can reasonably be done to reduce it should be done. The less people clogging up the roads and releasing pollution, the better.

      1. HigherEdAdminista*

        I was going to say, there’s actually nothing wrong with wanting a better working condition. People act like it is some terrible thing not to want to return to the office 5 days a week, and that the real thing to do is sigh that the party is over and go back to sacrificing huge portions of our time and energy needlessly because it makes the bosses happy.

        I say this as someone who would always need their position to be hybrid, too. The idea of going in 5 days a week… it’s simply a waste of my life and my quality of life matters just as much as other factors. I have always been there when they needed me. I’ve come in early, stayed late, and answered emails on vacation when they needed me. I’ve gone above and beyond. It isn’t wrong that I don’t want to go back to routinely giving up 10 hours of my week so that I can sit in an office doing the exact same thing I did from home from the past two years.

        The pandemic is still going on, so we should talk about safety. Disabilities are a thing and always will be, so we should talk about that. But I agree with Starbuck that there are good reasons for working from home for quality of life and community and I don’t think we need to be ashamed of wanting that or just expect it shouldn’t happen.

        1. missb*

          This was very well put!

          I stated upthread that I’m really glad I live in a state and work for an employer where remote work is supported.

          I’m more efficient because I work from home. I have far fewer distractions.

          I have more disposable income because I’m working from home. I no longer pay $115/mo for parking, or gas for my car, or lunches out or random shopping.

          My mental health is better because I’m not driving too and fro work in stop-and-go traffic.

          All of this important to me, and would be something I’d fight for and employers should know this.

      2. Flower necklace*

        I live in the area. I can confirm that the traffic here is terrible. My job has to be done in person. Anyone who can work from home should be allowed to do so. I’d really rather not return to pre-pandemic traffic.

    4. Former Young Lady*

      “With job market the way it is today, I am sure one could easily find a WFH job if they feel strongly about that.”

      Which is a feature, not a bug, of the governor’s endgame:

      -Chase state employees away by laying them off because there’s no place to put them, or by making it so impossible to do their jobs that they flee to the private sector
      -Turn the entire state labor force into contract labor; engage the services of slapdash private consulting firms run by your buddies (and unlike the state employees they’re replacing, let them “work” from anywhere)
      -Oversight goes down, productivity goes down, services go in the toilet, costs go up, and the low-information voters who supported you will be thrilled that you’re “starving the beast” by “privatizing” state government (as various other comments in this thread have noted)

    5. J.B.*

      My state government employer has done this much better. We have a whole classification process – based on your job you may not be allowed remote but hybrid is an option for many of those positions. It’s a big employer and did process everything, including sticking with what the employee specifically proposed unless specifically changed by the supervisor with reasons supplied.

  32. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    OP, I am an executive branch employee of one of your sister agencies, and we are also going through the same issues. What is worse, the current policy is far more restrictive than the pre-pandemic policy. We also have departments with staff who have no office space. To add insult to injury, we had just returned to the office under a new policy effective April 4 that allowed us to work from home up to 3 days a week with manager approval, and we had two year agreements in place, only to have this policy topple everything one months later.

    Even worse, to get one day telework a week, the head of the agency needs to approve, to get two, the cabinet secretary needs to approve, three or more requires approval of the chief of staff. Other than possibly my agency head, none of these people manage me or know the intricacies of my job. I am not customer service facing, and my work is extremely solo, though I also could never get by just not doing it, as other departments rely on me getting my work done in a timely fashion. So it is not a case of my productivity being negatively affected by working from home or of my needing to be onsite for customer service.

    And for those suggesting it, pursuant to Virginia Code § 40.1-57.2, state employees of Virginia executive branch agencies (the ones affected by this policy) cannot collectively bargain. The state government is prohibited from recognizing unions or other collective bargaining associations or from collectively bargaining with them. So we have VGEA, but without collective bargaining power, unionizing in any meaningful way is not an option.

  33. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    State Govt worker here: telecommuting reduced to 1 day a week, but with no guarantees for how long, and in an office currently offering less than 5% of our services in person.

    My biggest fear here, knowing how state govts work, is that staff will be bullied into returning to the office without adequate seating. Spots will be set up willy-nilly for “the meantime” — which means probably squashing people and laptops into airless conference rooms and other unseparated spaces. And then because staff manage to “make it work” for said “meantime”, there will be no urgency on the part of the Powers That Be to resolve the chaos.

    Anything you can do — probably with the union’s help — to clarify suitable workspace and support, as well as to keep the over-intrusive medical questioning in check, will be crucial.

    Media attention will be satisfying, but like every stinking conversation about government workers, will draw complaints from anyone who feels like complaining.

  34. Governmint Condition*

    I work in a state where the governor has us working hybrid. This governor has publicly expressed interest in getting all workers, including the private sector, back to all in-person employment, mostly to help local business that rely on office workers going to lunch, etc. The difference here is that everybody has a desk and computer, etc. assigned to them. (We actually log into our office desktops remotely.) So if they suddenly decided everybody had to come in, there a place to work. I can’t say the same about parking, but we have always been a transit-oriented office. Most of us would prefer to stay hybrid, but we’re not sure if we can as the program expires soon.

    Our new union contract requires that the state and union create a policy for telecommuting. However, after we voted on it, several lawyers realized that a prohibition is a form of a policy. Worse, our union believes all its members should get the same benefits, regardless of job duties. Since some of our members do jobs that can’t be done remotely, the union has little interest in fighting for the rest of us on this.

    P.S.: This governor is a member of the blue party in a very blue state, so this attitude about returning to the office seems to transcend political affiliation.

    1. doreen*

      I’m pretty sure that I know both the state and the union you refer to – and I have to say , the thing that surprises me most about the Virginia situation is that they apparently did enough hiring during COVID to run out of office space. My former agency ( I retired) didn’t even hire enough people to make up for those who retired since 2020.

      1. Governmint Condition*

        Yeah. One difference between our state and Virginia: we’re not allowed to hire any employees unless we have a desk to assign them to. If an agency needs to expand, it must first find office space before any hiring takes place. That rule did not change during full work-from-home months, except for temporary workers. (Actually, I’m not sure if that’s a state rule or agency rule, but it makes sense.)

        Now I’m wondering: did Virginia get rid of office space based on a certain number of employees working from home? Did they assume they’d never return to 100% in-office?

        1. A Beth*

          I think several agencies in VA did assume they’d never return to 100% in-office, partially because there was a generous(?) telecommuting policy in place pre-pandemic. The governor’s mandate is more restrictive the previous policy.

        2. Annie*

          My agency implemented a new telework policy on May 1 (5 days before the governor’s announcement) that we would have to be in office only 1 day a week (2 for managers). It was presented as a long-term policy. Also, entire teams were remote pre-covid, so they already didn’t need as many desks.

          Before COVID these decisions were up to each agency. I don’t think anyone expected the governor to make a unilateral scheduling decision because it hasn’t ever worked that way before. My own agency had people working remote 3-4 days a week for at least 10 YEARS before covid!

  35. soontoberetired*

    I have a relative also held hostage to political posturing that the pandemic doesn’t exist. It is not as bad as this, but geesh.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      This is also tied to the belief that government workers Don’t Deserve Nice Things. (And “nice” often means things that private workers often take for granted.)

      1. Goverment Employee Anon for this*

        Yup. We are not allowed to buy tissues with our funds because you know, we might blow our noses willy nilly on the taxpayers dime!

  36. nnn*

    What would happen if everyone kept working from home as usual? Not necessarily saying this is the right approach, but literally what would happen?

    Think about the number of people on your team who actively want to work in person, who dislike working at home, and whose work absolutely must be done in the office and cannot be done from home. How does that number align with the number of actual available office spaces? How close are you to having an office full of people who need or want to be there and a bunch of other people quietly, invisibly working from home?

    1. McConnell and Paul, seriously?*

      You would want to be very, very careful about filing taxes appropriately because you pay occupational tax where you work, not necessarily where you live. If there is a difference in the two locations then you have to file amendments, etc.

  37. Interviewer*

    This is the process my company went through last year when everyone came back to work, and I was the one dealing with the ADA & FMLA requests.

    ADA is for employers to accommodate your own personal medical condition. ADA does not require an employer to accommodate your spouse or child’s medical conditions, even though I understand you getting a communicable disease that could put your family in danger is a huge problem for you. The employer accommodates the employee, not the rest of the family, because the rest of the family doesn’t work for the state of Virginia. So that’s probably why your ADA request keeps getting unilaterally denied, because you’re asking them to accommodate your spouse’s condition, and that’s not what ADA was designed to do. Interactively, however, they should be telling you that, or letting you know what’s going on with the denials. It’s ridiculous how they’re handling the requests.

    If you need time off work to care for a family member with a medical condition, FMLA is what applies. Under FMLA, some employers allow telework, but it sounds like your governor may not be doing that right now (or any longer).

    I think the appeal to media with the lack of office space is the best card to play. Right now they have a headcount, so they can use it to do space planning. But they’re not. Handling sensitive situations like medical conditions with this much callous treatment shows the administration’s priority is not their employees. I think you’ll have to really embarrass that governor to get the results you want. Good luck.

  38. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I’m not in the US but there’s been very similar situations here in the UK where senior management/politicians have absolutely no idea what they’re doing and have just expected to give the order of ‘pandemic over – everyone return to the offices’ to be obeyed 100%.

    Not my firm (I love my current employer – although we’re taxpayer funded we’re not government) but the one my sister works at did tell people that they had to submit full details of any medical reasons why they can’t come back to the office – and literally the only reason they’d accept, at first, was ‘on immunosuppressants or cancer treatment’. Everything else was rejected.

    The proverbial matter hit the recycling fan. People wrote to the local press, I think several contacted the BBC (don’t think they ever did an article) there was a LOT on social media.

    Long and the short of it is they backed down, issued an apology (they’d told one woman with a disabled son that ‘your child isn’t on staff therefore isn’t our concern’) and my sister is happily continuing to work from home :)

    1. Sleepy cat*

      This actually isn’t true, despite what you may have read in the papers. Ask anyone inside the civil service – apart from DfE who are now suddenly doing 4 days a week, most people in government are approaching this far more sensibly than it might seem from what you read in the paper.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Ah sorry, wasn’t clear in my comment: my sister doesn’t work for government. It was a Ltd company doing this. Several others in my geographic region were also running afoul of assuming that covid was no longer around-therefore everyone can return-even if we hired more people than desks-and what do you mean medical reasons?

        It’s been interesting the local paper I can tell ya.

    2. pancakes*

      BBC has done lots of articles on this. They have a whole section called Worklife that has all sorts of articles on return to office policies, etc.

  39. Sleepy cat*

    OK so I’m a civil servant in the UK and over here it’s just NOT done to leak things to the media ( civil service code – any leaks you do see are from politicians not government workers).

    So I’m a little surprised to see ‘go to the media’ as advice for people who likely have a similar inability to do so.

    1. Sleepy cat*

      Basically this is one of those times when being field specific really, really matters

    2. old curmudgeon*

      In my state (and likely others), there are statutes preventing state employees from discussing issues with the media without authorization, but that doesn’t stop a non-state-employee like Alison from reaching out to a journalist about an issue like this.

      1. doreen*

        In my government jobs, I was prohibited from speaking to the media regarding certain issues. I couldn’t speak about specific cases or agency policies regarding the actual work of the agency without authorization – but I absolutely could have spoken to the media about other issues such as a lack of office space or being required to work multiple consecutive shifts. I might have asked for anonymity anyway , but it wasn’t against the rules.

        1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          This. Not being allowed to talk to the media about an issue like this would probably not be allowed under the First Amendment.

    3. pancakes*

      This wouldn’t quite be a “leak,” though – it’s not as if the policy is secret. Talking to the press about the effects of it isn’t the same as, say, surreptitiously taking photos of someone at a party and giving those to a reporter.

      1. LabTechNoMore*

        Also under FOIA, a great deal of this information is technically already a matter of public record.

    4. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Umm, nothing is being leaked. Not having adequate space is not leaking state secrets.

    5. Brett*

      Public employees get first amendment free speech protections against actions by their government employers.
      It’s not quite that simple, because government employers can still have policies governing media interactions, and violating those policies can get you fired.
      For the most part though, if you speech representing yourself as an employee and not representing the government you work for (and this is exactly that kind of case) you have stronger protections. Courts are especially going to frown on a state government punishing an employee for speaking out on working conditions.
      (And all those protections go away if you are an appointed employee rather than a merit-selection employee.)

  40. CatCat*

    I’m team “let it be a total disaster on July 5” and hope for excoriating new coverage of the governor’s policy in action.

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, OP. As a fellow government employee (not in VA), I know it’s so frustrating when government workers become political pawns.

    1. Sylvan*

      The governor might want a disaster and want negative media coverage. That would justify a decision on his part to downsize. “This department is too big and expensive! They have so many people and they don’t get enough done! The mainstream media/the left/whatever is bullying me for doing what’s right!”

  41. Jedi can not help what they are*

    New Jersey: Some government agencies now allow 2 day a week work from home with clearance. But all are back to office. Some us in municipal government have been back full time since June 2020.

    I have seen a lot fall through the cracks with working from home in state agencies. I support some work from home as a manager, but have seen people malinger their disabilities to demand work from home when we are in person business; other just had a long commute and don’t want to do it again.

    Unemployment, DMV, and so many agencies just fell down in the state by not providing the in person or digital services that people truly need.

    I see a lot of support here for 100% work from home by AAM, but there is a big divide and only few white collar jobs can have the privilege to do it.

    1. toolittletoolate*

      Jedi, this probably won’t be a popular post but you are right. I work in a public sector adjacent kind of role, and have first hand experience that some members of the public had a very hard time accessing needed services because the employees would not respond to emails or phone calls. When asked, it was “yes I got your message, I just haven’t “had time” to return the call/email” this coming sometimes after a couple of weeks of trying to get a response from somebody.

      I realize this is a performance issue for specific employees, and everyone shouldn’t be penalized for it, but unfortunately taxpayers can get extremely vocal with their elected representatives about stuff like this and elected officials can get very tired of hearing about it. The governor just wants the problem to go away and this is the quickest way to make that happen.

      1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        This governor is not doing this because he’s concerned about customer service.

      2. Parakeet*

        That’s not a problem with telework though. Telework doesn’t stop anyone from returning a call or email. If anything, it sounds like a problem with staffing levels during a time when public need for many social services has increased. And it’s not as though everyone thought the customer service of government agencies was awesome across the board pre-pandemic.

        (I work – still remotely for now – at a nonprofit that does a particular type of social services for which public need has DEFINITELY increased, and have to interface with government agencies sometimes as part of my work, so I’m not saying this from a “I don’t have to deal with this myself so I’ll make up an explanation that fits with my priors” perspective.)

    2. VAHR*

      A blanket rejection of telework is senseless. If it’s not a customer facing position, what’s the point? Not all positions in a service agency serve face to face

      1. doreen*

        That’s true – but there are other things to consider, like optics. And I don’t mean how it looks to the public but rather how it looks to the other employees. I worked for an agency that provided face-to face services. There were two types of employee that could not work remotely – the people who provided the services and the support staff in the lowest pay grades, those who answered the phone, did the filing and sent out mail etc. It would have been a terrible look if all the managers had been allowed to work remotely and the support staff were forced to work in person five days a week even though that’s what basing policy on the ability to telework would have called for.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Back when WFH was way less common, it was only managers in my world who were allowed to do it.

        1. Oxford Comma*

          I spent like 10 minutes trying to find a way to respond to the “malinger their disabilities” comment without resorting to profanity. I am appalled by it.

        2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

          OMG I totaly read over that because there was so much other stuff in Jedi’s comment!

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      None of this is relevant to the LW, though, because her group has been working from home for two years with great success.

    4. DarthVelma*

      Have you considered that things may have fallen through the cracks for reasons completely unrelated to working from home? A lot of the government agencies I work with are dealing with being severely understaffed. People left. People died. Positions didn’t get filled but the workload and expectations didn’t change.

      I’ve been the only person on what is supposed to be a team of 3 for almost a year now. I’m exhausted, overworked, underpaid, not really supported by the higher ups in my agency, and sick and fucking tired of people telling me to go back into the office where people aren’t masking or social distancing. And the next person who makes a crack about lazy state employees in my presence is going to get an earful. The only reason I haven’t left is because I fucking care about my fellow citizens, many of whom have shown over the course of this pandemic that they don’t actually give a shit about me.

      Ok. End of rant.

      1. Goverment Employee Anon for this*

        Ding Ding Ding!

        Where I work, when people leave they aren’t replaced. There is a no promotions policy, so people are tired of taking on more work for literally nothing and starting to put up boundaries. Everyone is dealing with trauma and loss, and the solution is somehow always to get back to the office. The office with poor quality air, poor maintenance and pest control, and people who never wear masks.

        Believe me, people aren’t suddenly going to be getting phone calls answered, timely emails, and abundant appointments just because you make employees go in 5 days a week. What you will see is what is starting to happen: employees who feel they have options will go elsewhere, and employees who have no options will stay. The good ones will continue to get more burned out and the bad ones don’t care about any bad job they might do.

        We need to be treated with more respect. We need better working conditions, in the office and working from home. We need management to actually manage and not make every problem the problem of their most dedicated employees while they allow the others to coast.

      2. also anon for this*

        My workload increased during the pandemic. I took on another employee’s job along with mine, for yes, the same exact pay I was making before. I still am only authorized to work 40 hour weeks. It is an impossible situation. Hiring the new person just meant that I still have double duty as I have to train the new person on the job. I spend hours organizing off the clock, not logged in, so that I can work my next 8 hour day efficiently. No ones needs to know if I actually take a break or a lunch – they can’t see that like they could when I was in the office.

        It’s sometimes shocking how much hatred there is for public employees.

        As a government employee, I get a pension. I was talking to a fellow mom in my neighborhood after a weekend birthday party that both of our kids attended. We were both picking up our kids. She’s a doctor. Her husband is a doctor. Their house is huge, on the water with all the expected toys. Good for her. Success is great, and I’m sure she worked hard to get where she is.

        But she was absolutely hateful (like spitting in my face) to the idea that I get a pension. Heck, next time, sign up for the lower paying job and work for 30 years and you too can have a pension. Sheesh.

    5. Oxford Comma*

      There are jobs that demand butts in seats. There are jobs that do not. Determining that everyone regardless of position has to be back in an office, especially in OP’s situation when there is literally not enough room for them is not a great move. Youngkin is unconcerned with Virginians getting the services they need. He’s doing this for optics.

    6. Critical Rolls*

      You don’t get to decide who’s “malingering their disabilities,” a spectacularly offensive phrase.

      I wonder if those agencies that “fell down” gave staff what they needed to be productive? I wonder if they were properly staffed? I wonder if there was coherent guidance for managing work remotely?

      I have seen no lack of understanding that not every job can be done from home. But this is about blanket anti-WFH policies, and it’s also true that plenty of jobs *can* be done from home, or on a hybrid schedule. It’s the opposite end of the same false binary. And nobody who comes into the office and doesn’t have a place to sit or any equipment is going to be more productive than someone teleworking, because they won’t be able to do ANY work!

    7. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Yes, there are many jobs that cannot be WFH. I am in one of those jobs. But this is not that. Their legit wont be enough space for everyone to work! It sounds like many of these positions had been WFH pre-pandemic and there is no logical reason to change them to in the office. This is because people are still (rightfully) concerned about their health or other’s health and have to go through hoops just to get a fair accommodation (which sounds like it will be denied anyways).
      Yes, was there some problems in the beginning. Of course there was. But how much of that was because people didn’t have the right tools they needed (bad internet, computer, etc) or how much of it was not just because they were WFH but because we were in the beginning of a pandemic and we there were major stressors that we had no clue on how to handle and we are all human beings not bots.

    8. jen*

      Curious – what safety precautions are in place to keep high risk people safe from covid? Are high risk people really expected to come to work, in person, with few people masking? At current levels of the virus in the NE one way masking is only effective for about 2 hours if you are near an infected, unmasked person. I think it’s completely unreasonable to expect people to come to work in person with NO steps being taken to mitigate the risk of transmission, especially for high risk people. I had to pull my high risk daughter out of her special needs preschool because they stopped requiring masks and refused remote, even with a doctor’s note. High risk people shouldn’t have to choose between earning a living and their health. People shouldn’t have to choose between making a living and risking getting infected and infecting their high risk family member and risking that family member getting seriously ill or dying. Accommodations need to be made.

  42. JelloStapler*

    Government wanting to make a political point without thinking of logistics? SHOCKING.

    Joking aside, I wish you the best, OP!

  43. Observer*

    Realistically, what will happen if you all return on July 5 with no work spaces? Are you going to have people milling around the lobby, unable to work? And if so, might it be worth just letting that happen to see if the point is made and it spurs some sort of action? (This doesn’t address the issue of people with medical reasons for why they can’t safely return. It may be your only option anyway.)

    Not only “let it happen”. Make sure that someone tapes this. Better yet, if the press is there. But if not, a few clips of this going on, posted on line in a couple of places and sent to a few outlets are likely to get a fair amount of airtime.

  44. AnonToday*

    Based on my 16 years working for a state government, half of that under an extremely conservative republican governor… good luck. They put these policies out after considering about 1% of the possible circumstances and it’s up to everyone else to figure it out in whatever small about of time they have. It’s insulting to treat both managers and employees with such little courtesy as to their actual needs.
    OP, you can help by pushing back on the illegal stuff. Showing up and sitting in hallways will not make a point to anyone who cares, so please do not require people to come on July 5th if they will not be able to work.

  45. RagingADHD*

    Obviously, the only place for employees to go if they don’t have desks is to sit at (or on) the governor’s desk.

    That’ll make a nice photo for the press.

  46. PayRaven*

    From the linked article: “Youngkin announced the policy earlier this month as a bid to make Virginia more innovative and customer-friendly.”

    gag.

    1. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

      Would “camping out on a sidewalk doing nothing” count as innovative?

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        After many years of buzzwords, I have a strong, negative, visceral reaction to the word “innovative.” Generally, it doesn’t mean what the person using it thinks it means.

  47. Not Today Josephine*

    As far as I know, my union, AFSCME, does exist in Virginia.

    (Humming the ILGWU song as I type)

  48. AnonToday*

    Based on my 16 years working for a state government, half of that under an extremely conservative republican governor… good luck. Sorry, it’s unlikely to change. They put policies out after considering about 1% of the possible circumstances and it’s up to everyone else to figure it out in whatever small about of time they have. It’s insulting to treat both managers and employees with such little courtesy as to their actual needs.
    OP, you can help by pushing back on the illegal stuff and not having your team show up on July 5th if there is no where for them to sit. Unfortunately I doubt that media coverage will have any effect. Governors make terrible policies that effect real humans all the time.

  49. Purple Cat*

    Tell me your governor is a Republican without telling me they’re a Republican.
    This is awful. It seems like the *easiest* point to push back on is the lack of seating. Leadership needs to specifically lay out *exactly* where each employee is sitting. For my company, this was the deal-breaker for insisting on full-time in the office because there’s literally not enough seats for everyone. So we remain hybrid for now.

    1. Megster*

      I’ll note here that my (very large 3-letter) federal workplace has abruptly changed course from expansive telework for the long-term, based on job characteristics, to a rigid hybrid model for everyone immediately after the current president said it’s safe for America to get back to the office. Except it’s not safe for everyone – over 25% of federal employees have some kind chronic health condition – and case rates and “mysterious summer viruses” (that are also likely covid) are seriously impacting operations, operations we executed at 35% above normal for over two years of mass telework.

  50. Cj*

    I’m a little confused regarding the fact that the OP says their agency head denied their request to work from home, and the linked article and other comments here say that cabinet members must approve all requests to work from home more than one day a week. I’m sure they had wouldn”t have any better luck with a Cabinet member, I’m just wondering about the discrepancy.

    1. VAHR*

      Initial applications are internal and have to be approved by the highest position in the agency. Then they go to youngkin’s office for rejecting. I mean review.

    2. AnonVAEmployee*

      The policy requires approval of supervisor, then agency head, then the Chief of Staff. Many agency heads are denying requests before it gets to the Chief of Staff’s desk.

  51. AnonVAEmployee*

    This was brought up earlier, but for everyone suggesting unions: Virginia has a law on its books that collective bargaining arrangements can’t be recognized by government agencies. Trust me, I’d love to unionize my workplace…. but the major benefit of unions are prohibited by law.

  52. 1qtkat*

    As a former VA state government employee, I am so glad I took the gamble and jumped ship to the federal government back in April despite being 6 months pregnant and not having any guarantees on leave or telework when I signed the firm offer. I had heard of this change through a colleague who I had recruited last year but now is returning to their old job because of this new telework policy.

    This demand for return to office/limited to no telework and low pay is a big reason why I know my office has a hard time retaining good employees like myself.

  53. nora*

    Hi, I’m a Virginia state employee. I’m not affected by this policy (long story). State government employees are forbidden by law to unionize in Virginia. I believe this applies to local gov as well. If we had a union I’d be first in the picket line out of solidarity for people like LW.

  54. Ex-State Gov*

    LW – I have no additional advice than what Alison said, but I also worked for VA state government for three years (I started looking when Youngkin got elected because I was afraid he’d yank telework, and got out about a month ago) so if you just want someone to talk to or another pair of eyes on that flowchart or something I can see if Alison can connect us!

  55. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    If there’s no dedicated office space, maybe just report to the State Capitol Building and set up camp outside.

  56. Bookworm*

    Yikes. I don’t have any advice for you, OP but did want to send you good wishes. This sounds horrible and I do hope it works out okay for all of you (except for your governor).

  57. Gigi*

    Ah, welcome to Virginia. We’re so pleased with how everything is going since the election. (eyeroll)
    I propose deliberate, malicious compliance. Everyone come in and sit on the floor. Take the most embarrassing photos of the clusterfudge possible and post them widely. These people have no shame, but they can be embarrassed.

  58. anonymous73*

    Wow. My husband started working for a government agency prior to us meeting and I’m constantly dumbfounded by some of their rules and regulations, but this letter makes his work seem like Disneyland. I myself started working on a government contract and prior to my starting they moved into a smaller building that would not accommodate all of the contactors that work for them, but thankfully my agency lead had the good sense to tell us we could remain working remotely. My first thought was to let everyone come in without offices so upper management can see the chaos they’re causing but they’d probably find a way to hold it against the employees. Good luck OP. This sounds like a nightmare.

  59. TootsNYC*

    Re: the ADA requirements
    Are state governments bound by this? Often the government itself is exempt from worker-protection laws that bind private employers.
    But maybe not if it’s a different government?

  60. I'm Done*

    I think malicious compliance is the way to go. Everyone show up for work regardless of actually being able to work. Lots of photo opportunities of employees three to a desk, sitting in hallways on the floor with their laptops, etc. I would also suggest not to get creative about work around. Let the chips fall where they may. Let the public feel the pain of this ridiculous decision. Many of them voted for this guy so let them reap the consequences. For those who didn’t vote for him, they need to take one on the chin for their state employees. But complain loudly to the administration about the return to in office policy impacting the services being receive due to employees not having desks to work on. And definitely document everything, especially the cost to the government to bring everyone into the office.
    As an aside, I retired from federal service last fall and similar shenanigans in my agency led me to retire early. I’m also a former Virginia resident and I was appalled that Younkin was elected.

  61. Grand+Admiral+Thrawn+Is+Blue+Forevermore*

    “Yeah, this is a clusterfudge created by someone who’s making a political point without any apparent interest in how it will play out in real life.” – SEE: Florida. signed, Tallahassee native

  62. Let me be dark and twisty*

    Also a fellow Virginian here. OP, you have my support and commiseration.

    Please don’t forget about the Virginia Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG). There probably isn’t much they can do to act quickly but these complaints are exactly what the office is meant for. The OSIG is meant to protect the taxpayer’s money, but they also protect you the state worker too. Especially when it comes to integrity, ethical conduct, and stewardship of resources by the government. Maybe it’s just me, but bringing office-less workers back to the office, who don’t have a place to work, and denying reasonable accommodations to force reentry doesn’t seem like good use of VA taxpayer money. (I know I’d be pissed if my tax dollars were going towards building your team new offices when they are perfectly productive working at home!)

    The OSIG website has details on how to file complaints. You can also call the whistleblower hotline and report these issues anonymously as well. Also encourage anyone on your staff to contact the OSIG too. (The more complaints, the more likely you’ll catch someone’s attention – I work for a federal OIG and this is true about our hotline.)

    (Also, a quick note about the OSIG – they are supposed to be politically neutral. The current VA OSIG is someone who was appointed by the previous governor so there could be some balance there you might not get elsewhere in your agency/state government. I don’t know how long the OSIG serves but I know at the federal level, our IG is a political appointee but is also excluded from the usual turnover that happens between administrations because we are politically neutral. I would imagine something similar for the VA OSIG.)

  63. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    A couple more suggestions from a Virginian with passing familiarity with the system–as many people as possible should reach out to their state representatives. I’d try local government also to see if there’s anything they can do. I’d also suggest talking to some organizations that are well-informed about Virginia state politics (I’m familiar with VOICE and there’s another interfaith organization also, though I’m forgetting their names). Those folks are often well-informed about the machinery. (e.g., department heads are deciding ADA cases? What the what? Maybe that’s normal but it doesn’t sound normal). Good luck.

  64. Boy howdy*

    My brother loved telework. He’s also a diehard Republican. I doubt this on its own will make him regret his vote, but actions have consequences.

  65. Fed-o*

    As a Fed who has been in-person five days a week for two years, I offer a dose of unfortunate reality: the media coverage of our agency and initial posture in first few months was only negative toward us, because the focus was entirely on the difficulty obtaining our service (fair enough–it’s an in-person service) and not at all on the difficulty of having kids learning online while being at work full-time. Not at all on the risk of being all in the office all at the same time.

    We managed, of course, because that’s what you do and that’s what so many workers in our economy have had to do. The sky didn’t fall when we returned though it was very hard at first, and two years in there is a general social expectation that we’ve each learned to navigate life in this new normal, not because the pandemic is over but because that’s the direction we are heading. We have lost staff to positions and employers who can accommodate working from home, but that’s the cost of those choices and outside of my ability to counter, even as a senior manager.

    This is not to say this is anything other than blatant political posturing. Not having space is a logistical reality and silly to overlook. But most workers aren’t staying home at this point based on a family member’s condition. Most people have arranged summer childcare. I am not offering this as a judgment, but I am offering this as a warning that, from one public servant to another, the public almost never sees this through the lens of what’s right and sensible for public services and public employees. They are not your average AAM reader, unfortunately.

    In your shoes, I’d document concerns. Make good faith efforts to make it work. I’d also temper expectations for public outrage. The outrage may never come.

    1. Fed-o*

      Oooh, I do second the suggestion for Inspector General. They can investigate and document waste and inefficiency. That has more power than a lot of alternatives.

      1. The Dude Abides*

        They can, but whether something happens is another story.

        My agency has been under a consent decree regarding workloads for almost a decade, and not once has the agency been compliant due to staffing levels.

    2. Virginian*

      Going theory I heard was that Y is trying to get people to quit so he can hire his cronies’ businesses as contractors…

      1. ChemistryChick*

        Ugh, that would totally fit his M.O. What he did to that children’s dental clinic is just sickening.

      2. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

        …which would prove the First Rule of Politics: Abuse of power is the purpose of power.

  66. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    Actually the ADA does not require accommodations for a family member of an employee. Denying WFH because of a high risk household member of an employee is not illegal.

  67. kiki*

    I feel like I’ve encountered variations of this situation a lot in the last few years. Somebody in leadership wants something unreasonable, then that leader either refuses to listen to folks who detail why it’s unreasonable or underlings are too afraid to be explicit about how unreasonable this request is. Does anyone have any advice for combatting this sort of toxic “make it work” energy from leadership?

  68. Virginian*

    I’ve been following this and very much expect there to be at least one lawsuit/charge brought of ADA violation. Especially since any request for more than 2 days of telework has to be approved “personally” by the Governor.

  69. F*** Glenn Youngkin*

    Youngkin is a corrupt sh*tbag whose hunger for power is literally getting people killed, and if he fell over dead during his next public ego-stroking session–I mean, speech–even my bleeding-heart self would burst out laughing and throw a party. That’s not constructive, I know. It’s a Pavlovian response–if I’m made aware of his existence, I get hostile. And I live in VA, so I spend a lot of time showing my fangs.

    These people are trying to bleed us out not just for political clout, but so so we’re too tired to stand up and fight back. I’m so, so sorry you’re in this situation, OP. I’m also sorry that this is just the start of what the jerks in state power are trying to take away from you/us. I wish I had some good advice, but as it is, I just hope this comes back to bite the people behind it sooner rather than later.

    –Chesapeake Resident

  70. Fellow Virginian*

    Yeah, I am in VA and was just talking to a friend about this who is a supervisor in VA. It’s going to be a shit show and any of us who need state services are going to find it hard to do so very soon as a lot of people quit their jobs. I can’t think of anything stupider than requiring this on short notice in the middle of summer when people may have made childcare plans around remote working.

    1. Chris too*

      I’d get a bunch of pop-up tents, the kind you see at farmers markets, and put them outside the building, wherever is most visible. Bring out folding tables, if you have them, or whatever tables are in the lunchroom. If you don’t have enough chairs, people can probably bring folding chairs from home. You can even make signs for the individual tents. “Death certificates here,” or whatever services you’re providing. Actually, where I live in Canada they did something like this for property tax payments and it actually worked. Supply people with computers if you can, but if you don’t have enough available, so be it.

      Make sure the media sees this. The benefit will be that for the people who don’t want to work in person because of health concerns, at least they’ll be outside and much safer until this gets settled. Milling about in hallways will wind up putting vulnerable people in danger. Once this actual setup is visible on the news, you’d think it would be clear how ridiculous it is and people will be able to work from home.

      I actually do work for a government, in a job where you have to be physically present, and I *think* if there is really a space issue you might get away without nasty repercussions as long as you looked all wide-eyed and innocent. It would probably depend on how many tents you spent money on.

  71. Education2008*

    This may have been posted already on one of the comment streams, but as a VA resident, though nonstate employee, I’ve been watching how this disaster of a process would play out. It has been so bad, that the governor had to announce that daycare was a legitimate reason to work from home. Came out last Friday. Otherwise, we were looking at VA govt shutting down. That doesn’t help with the letter above, but maybe some other state employees. https://vgea.org/youngkin-offers-telework-consideration-for-workers-with-children/

  72. Lamita*

    So maybe this is crazy but…. What if all the people who didn’t have office space just showed up at the state capital and tried to work there? Maybe you can work in the governor’s office space since he’s so adamant people come in to the office.

  73. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    I don’t have anything to add but that this is so messed up. I personally like the idea of everyone coming back on July 5th and having the lobby full of people because they have nowhere to work. Have people sitting on the floor in the hallway with their laptops. People in the lobby with boxes of stuff for their “new office” with no place to put it. Conversations in the workroom “I’d love to be able to get started on X project but I just can’t find a place to plug in my laptop, and it’s dead.” People circling the building looking to park.

    And someone needs to invite a bigwig in to show that everyone is “back to work now”

      1. SixTigers*

        Absolutely! “AND television cameras!”

        Hey, it’s news! It needs to be known.

  74. nnn*

    Also, if you do end up going with the “everyone just show up and have nowhere to work” approach, give serious consideration as to whether the people who don’t have a workstation available should work, or should just be milling around waiting for an available workstation. It might be a strategic error to have the work actually get done, creating a situation where those in power can say “see, everything’s fine!”

    Another possible approach might be to have everyone put on a big production of trying to work (sitting on hallways floors with laptops, etc.) but the actual amount of work that gets done is commensurate with the number of workstations available. Or slightly less than the number of workstations available.

    Actually, if you haven’t done so already, it might be an idea to ramp up June productivity so a noticeable decline in productivity can be detected with the July chaos.

  75. voyager1*

    LW:
    Be a squeaky wheel about getting workspace for your team.

    Pretty much everything is out of your control, so I would focus on that since you might be able to get something done.

  76. LifeBeforeCorona*

    The optics of dozens of people milling around a parking lot because there is no office space for them is not good. Hopefully, someone with common sense will take over the transition. It’s one thing to make a political point and it’s another for taxpayers to see workers stranded without an office, especially if they have been successfully working from home for the past 2 years.

  77. Repton*

    Talk to commercial real estate broker to find out what it would cost to get enough office space for your org in the area (if it’s possible to get at all). Talk to commercial property developer to get estimate of cost to build a new building. Talk to fit out company to get cost of fitting out the new space for everyone.

    Then talk to your internal investment board about standing up a new project to reestablish working in the office. Give them your cost estimates & ask for some full time staff to work on it (PM, BAs, etc).

    Then go to higher ups with plan for returning to office. Plan starts with “funding approved” (which you & they know would take several months in the best of cases), includes time to build new premises as a risk, and finishes with everyone working in the office.

  78. Contracts Killer*

    Former state employee from Indiana here. I quit my job last summer after our state gave us THREE WEEKS’ notice that we were going back into the office full time and it was done in July when (1) no one’s kids were back in school yet and (2) children under 12 couldn’t yet be vaccinated. The state hemorrhaged employees and agency leadership begged for flexibility. It took until March 2022 for the governor to finally relent and even now employees are only allowed two days per week of remote work. I’m just one person, but I was with the state for nearly two decades and focused on a niche area of law that affected a lot of people and businesses. They lost all of my institutional knowledge along with all the other people who left. Such a waste.

    1. SixTigers*

      Absolutely.

      And what better way to cut headcount than to make their lives so miserable they quit?

      1. Contracts Killer*

        Pretty much. This is the same state where, if you sign the no smoking affidavit for your healthcare discount, you are immediately terminated if you fail the random testing. No appeal, no lesser penalty like repaying the discount. I’m not at all excusing people who violate the affidavit, but when you give people a large discount on healthcare (I think $500 annually) if they agree not to do a super addictive thing, you’re almost setting up people to fail. I believe that the motive behind it was 50-50 getting healthier employees/being able to reduce headcount through random test failures. I’m so disappointed in our government. The best thing about leaving state work is knowing how the sausage is made and finally being able to talk about it without fear of (unofficial) retaliation.

        1. Contracts Killer*

          Sorry, I thought this was under my Indiana comment. Although VA and other asinine states may be doing the same crap.

  79. pieces_of_flair*

    I am also a VA state employee and the chaos has been similar in my agency. On the positive side, our leadership has expressed that they support telework and advised us on how to word our telework requests to maximize the likelihood of approval. The advice was not to mention office space or our commute or family responsibilities since those would not be considered valid. We were told to make the case that teleworking improves our productivity and efficiency. However, our leadership’s hands are tied by the governor, and they can’t/won’t push back too hard for reasons that make sense. It remains to be seen whether our requests will be approved. I’m nervous because I can’t handle going back to the office full-time (I am currently WFH 2 days a week), but I really don’t want to leave my job.

    We’ve already had a hell of a time trying to hire new staff because of the requirement for 3 days/week in office. This is going to make it impossible. Plus current staff are going to leave in droves. We are screwed.

  80. Nom*

    Oh boy and i was INCENSED my office brought us back when mice and keyboards were on backorder and i didn’t have them for 6 weeks. at least i had a desk!

  81. A Pound of Obscure*

    I work in state government, too (different state). If anyone out there is convinced that the government is perpetrating some sort of ongoing conspiracy/cover-up/evil plan, just read letters like this one. Conspiracies / cover-ups / evil plans require a level of competence and coordination that simply does not exist in government!

  82. SixTigers*

    I didn’t know that stupid crap was going on but I’m not surprised — I did not think much of Younkie in the first place, and he and his band of Merrie Men are performing well under expectation. Chaos? Yep. Incoherence? Yep. “‘Cause I said so”? Yep.

    Could very well be that he came up with the brainwave that if he makes working for the state SO FREAKING MISERABLE that a lot of people quit, that he’ll earn brownie points for his political party.

    “Gov. Younkie TRIMMED THE STATE BUDGET by $XX by lowering the number of state employees rooting in the public trough by YY!”

    In other news, roads won’t be getting fixed, child welfare calls won’t be answered as quickly, restaurant inspections won’t be scheduled, and state Websites won’t be updated, but hey, there’s a political ad on the “plus” side of the scale.

  83. Anonymouse*

    I’m a state worker in Virginia, and while I’m not eligible for telework in my role, I am incensed about this. I despair when I recall that this malicious clown has only been in power for 5 months.
    I really wish that state workers had some way of organizing around labor issues, even if we can’t collectively bargain. We are so siloed and don’t seem to have any capacity for building coalitions between agencies (at least, this is my perspective as someone who works at a relatively small agency). The public universities seem to be doing better, as they do have (non-bargaining) unions.
    We do have VGEA, and for what it’s worth, they are lobbying for an extension and soliciting comments on the policy: https://vgea.org/vgea-to-request-extention-asks-for-feedback/
    Thank you for using your voice to help, Alison. Government workers and the public deserve so much better than this.

  84. Cats Are Really Fuzzy*

    Thank you for taking this to the media, Alison
    This is ridiculous!!

  85. Jay*

    I literally did not have time to read more than half of what was written, so I apologize if this has already been covered.

    But this is, to put it as bluntly as possible, a Purge.
    -It could be political, I.E. targeting state employees that they consider left of center.
    -It could be economic, I.E. targeting employees that they expect to be expensive long term (chronic health problems for themselves and/or their families).
    -It could be ideological, I.E. targeting employees providing services that they do not believe should be provided by the government, or even provided at all.
    -It could be A STATEMENT, I.E. “Y’all don’t like Big Government? Well I just fired 10,000 government employees!”. And then, of course, replace that 10,000 employees with party loyalists and cronies.
    -But most likely, it’s some combination of all of the above.

    1. Sangamo Girl*

      Correct! The chaos is a feature not a bug.
      I understand the outrage, and feel it too. But I’ve worked for government entities all of my adult life and have seen stuff like this my entire career.

  86. jen*

    First, I think this is insane. Other questions I would have:
    What covid safety measures are being taken? Are masks going to be required indoors? For those who are high risk could they insist on having a building wide mandatory mask policy to reduce their risk? If not, and someone who is high risk goes into work because it’s that or lose their job, and they get covid, would they have a basis to sue for not ensuring a safe work environment, especially if they requested an accommodation (universal masking and/or work from home) and it was denied? Is the government taking on any liability in that regards?

    1. F*** Glenn Youngkin*

      Good Ol’ Boy Glenny Y thinks mask requirements are harming MURRICAN FREEDUMBS, so I wouldn’t bank too hard on protecting workers being a thing that will have much of a positive effect on him and his slackies who are pushing this “back to the office” crap.

      –Chesapeake Resident

    2. Susie Q*

      0″Are masks going to be required indoors?”

      Masks aren’t even required in federal buildings anymore.

      1. jen*

        this is what I was guessing. I am still curious if they are opening themselves up for legal liability if someone who is high risk requests accommodations, they are denied, and then they get seriously sick from covid/get long covid. I wonder if OSHA has any options to pursue from that end. Still sucks because in the end the person still winds up seriously sick. And no, I honestly don’t think that will change the governor’s mind and would put it under practical considerations that they don’t give a crap about

          1. Megster*

            I suspect a savvy attorney could make a successful case – or at least try – based on the fact that the current omicron subvariant is many, many times more infectious than influenza or other common respiratory viruses. *The* reason we saw so little of them when masks were required was because masking was so effective against them.

  87. Anya the Demon*

    As a Virginia resident, I am begging you to just bring everyone back and tip off the news.

  88. ssz*

    I am also a Virginia executive agency employee — my agency made it clear they were not passing any requests above the agency head, so requests of *more* than 1 day, unless you had a job condition when hired about telework or ADA reasons. I think they are afraid of blowback from the applicable Secretary or Governor’s office. For example, my team has two people that work remotely from another city that were hired during the pandemic.

    So, my team decided they are not following it down to the t. They told us all individually they don’t want to lose staff members because of how much they value us, so they’re going to provide us “flexibility” to retain staff. *wink wink*

    We provide 0% customer service or front-facing services for the State. No reason to fill office space.

    1. Brett*

      And be ready to lean on those merit employee protections to their fullest if anyone tries to come down on you.

  89. lilsheba*

    What the hell is WRONG with these people? Why do they have such an aversion to telework, it’s been proven that it works out quite well! So stupid.

  90. Brett*

    Here’s some pieces of advice specific to public sector work.
    First off, I am assuming that OP is a merit employee given the size of their division. If the OP is a patronage employee, this doesn’t apply. (Patronage employees are directly appointed by and serve at the discretion of the chief elected official, i.e. the governor. Normally this is only cabinet staff and other department heads, but sometimes that extends to lower positions based on specific state law. If you are a patronage employee, you need to toe the policy line set by the governor or else provide direct feedback to the governor as to why you are not.)

    For a detailed definition for the state of Virginia, OP needs to be covered by the Virginia Personnel Act (https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacodepopularnames/virginia-personnel-act/) and specifically not be any of the job roles listed under Ҥ 2.2-2905. Certain officers and employees exempt from chapter:.
    (Also note that if any of OP’s staff are wage employees, they are also not covered under the Virginia Personnel Act and do not have merit protections. Wage employees are a form of temporary seasonal worker.)

    Okay, that said, assuming OP and all of OP’s reports are merit employees protected by the VPA, it is time to take advantage of merit protections. If OP’s direct reports continue to work from home, the state of Virginia is going to have to follow due process to terminate them. Their own merit system likely requires a course of progressive correction and eventual discipline with warnings before terminating any of them.

    This is where OP is already a layer of protection. If OP is not documenting their continued work from home, is not issuing any warnings, is not initiating any progressive discipline, then they can functionally continue to work from home without immediate threat to their jobs. I would get _extremely_ familiar with the merit system and progressive discipline system so that you can follow every single step of foot dragging and sand bagging possible.

    The next step for OP is to protect their employees from accusations of being a ghost employee (an employee who continues to draw a paycheck without reporting to work). This is a serious policy violation in pretty much every state and local government and would result in immediate termination without progressive discipline. The key here is to document that the employee is continuing to produce productive work. Document their output in every way possible to show that they continue to complete their work even though not physically present on site. Just don’t document that they are not physically present on site.

    But now we get to OP. In protecting direct reports, OP may be creating a serious policy violation for themselves. Easiest path? Don’t rock the boat. Don’t do anything to formally track if employees are on site or not. Just let that type of documentation slip. Keep letting it slip until told to do otherwise. Do everything you can to be more incompetent than willfully non-compliant. Don’t draw attention so that you don’t draw warnings. If you get warned, keep doing enough to stay just ahead of progressive discipline.

    State government is large. It could be months until anyone actually catches up with what is going on, especially if some of your employees are still voluntarily coming on-site. Understand your merit employee due process protections and be ready to leverage them to the fullest when push comes to shove. You can likely count on being far enough down that others will fight the fight of merit protections long before you have to.

  91. OverIT*

    Another discriminating factor that is going on is picking and choosing who can apply for how many days of telework. This is happening in the DOT. There are a lot of people that are contemplating retirement over this. That may be the driving force behind this whole thing, reduce the size of government. Cheaper than offering an early retirement package or layoffs.

  92. PJ*

    Thank you so much for publishing this letter. I’m in my final week at a government job because of similar “Return to Work” mandates.

    1. My department is required to report in person
    2. Except the agency gave up our office space rental during the pandemic, so,
    3. My department is working out of a garage where they set up computers on folding tables. With no bathroom facilities on site – you have to walk over to the maintenance garage, where there is one. single. toilet. allocated to women.
    4. We have no masking requirements, despite an entire office’s worth of people now working in a crowded garage together.
    5. When I asked my department, then HR, then the govt job equivalent of the exec level for a meeting to talk about my health concerns in this set up, I was told that I couldn’t have a meeting because the person I’d be meeting with isn’t coming into the office himself.
    6. Did I mention I have a job that is strictly capped 1-hour below the threshold where they’d have to provide me with health insurance?

    And they wonder why no one makes it to the one-year mark in this role!

  93. Reluctant Trailing Spouse*

    YoungKingWithNoClothes has his Eye of Sauron set higher than just governor. He is literally running for Prez while governor here. I think media attention would work. Also, stuck in the part of the state with said Volvo plant.

  94. Jon*

    Just pretend like they’re all in the office, it’s not like he’s gonna walk through there.

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