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At Broward government, your boss decides who gets a chance to telework from home in pandemic

Light brown Broward governmental center
Broward County Governmental Center in downtown Fort Lauderdale

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

On March 22, Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry issued an emergency order shutting down all non-essential retail and commercial businesses to help stem the rising tide of the deadly COVID-19 virus that’s wracking the country.

Now eight days later, and after Henry’s further order Thursday that all Broward residents stay home,  hundreds of the county’s non-essential employees who work for Henry – analysts, clerks, custodians, elevator inspectors, groundskeepers and others  – continue to commute to their government jobs in offices across Broward County.

The county has more than 6,200 employees. Many employees even report to locations that are no longer open to the public, like libraries and parks. Libraries were closed March 19 and parks on March 24. The emergency order announcing the parks shut down notes, “Parks employees will continue to report to work … Libraries staff will continue to report to work.”

Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry

“Whole county divisions have decreed you can’t work from home,” said one county employee who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation. “We are having a crisis and this woman [Henry] wants county employees that don’t need to be at work to write reports when the parks are closed and the libraries are closed.”

“I don’t know anybody who knows anybody who is working from home,” said another longtime county employee in a different division. “They misplanned for this.”

Turns out that Broward does have a “temporary telework policy.” Broward Human Resources boss David Kahn provided Florida Bulldog with an undated copy on Thursday, which included a section where an employee can acknowledge they have read and will adhere to the policy. Kahn said it was written and distributed the prior week. Turns out, too, that the new policy was little known among the county’s rank and file because its existence wasn’t disclosed with an online notice and no one was asked to apply.

Broward’s telework policy

County employees who spoke with Florida Bulldog, including a man with longstanding health issues, said they would be interested in applying to work from home. But that’s not how the policy works. You have to be recommended by your boss. Then you’ll be given a copy of the policy to sign.

Broward Human Resources Director David Kahn

“To be clear, employees did not apply to participate in the telework program. Each department recommended employees based on job responsibilities and the technological resources needed to perform their duties,” Kahn said Friday in an emailed response to questions. “The policy/acknowledgement was sent to those who are eligible to telework.”

Broward’s telework policy was prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak, yet public and human health concerns were secondary in its formulation. “All Temporary Telework arrangements are made on a case-by-case basis, focusing first on the business needs of the organization,” the policy says.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that older adults and people of any age with serious underlying health conditions – including people who are immunocompromised due to cancer treatment or other reasons, those with chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma and serious heart conditions – are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Nevertheless, Broward’s telework policy makes no mention of consideration or prioritization being given to employees with those health conditions.

Unlike closure requirements imposed on county businesses deemed non-essential, eligibility for telework is not based on whether employees are considered essential vs. non-essential. Asked if that means department heads or administrators could work from home, Kahn did not respond.

Computer security concerns

County Administrator Henry told commissioners last week that security concerns about the county’s computer network were front-and-center regarding the issue of working from home. In a March 19 email obtained by Florida Bulldog, she also explained that there have been an “astonishing” number of attempts to penetrate the network and that it is “absolutely unwise to have hundreds of laptops all throughout the community with access to our networks without a thorough vetting.”

“We are triple checking who has what access to which databases and any vulnerability we could face – the last thing we need now is a ransom attack,” she wrote.  “We will be authorizing certain employees, with vetted equipment to work from home.”

At a commission meeting on Tuesday, Henry said about 1,200 employees had met the county’s security needs “so we are allowing that work where it can happen.”

How many county employees now telecommute? “I don’t have a number for those actually telecommuting,” Kahn said Friday. “Some employees have declined, and many departments are doing switch schedules where a percentage of the workforce comes in on one day while the other teleworks, and then they switch.”

County employees who want to telework must agree to keep “an appropriate level of communication between them and their supervisor.” They also must agree to submit a “Daily Telework Productivity Log” to their supervisor and to have their performance evaluated “based on the successful completion of pre-determined tasks and duties.”

Hourly employees who normally clock in will have to “accurately report all hours worked” every day, “including time spent ‘off the clock.’” Hours worked beyond those scheduled require a supervisor’s advance approval.

Other action to limit exposure

Henry has taken other action to limit employees’ exposure to the public. That includes limiting hours and heightening security at offices to reduce “traffic to our facilities without compromising our ability to be nimble when we are called upon to provide the essential governmental services.”

Leaders of two unions that represent many county blue- and white-collar employees, Dan Reynolds of the Federation of Public Employees and Greg Blackman of Government Supervisors Association Local 100, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

To try and avoid exposure to the virus, employees can also take paid personal sick and annual leave days they are owed, or unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.  “I have said to each and every one of my directors, ‘If there’s an employee that is uncomfortable in any way shape or form, let them go home. If they have leave,” Henry said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re being liberal with that.”

Meanwhile, an internal county email written last week and obtained by Florida Bulldog says that unresolved employee “Leave Without Pay Requests” are mounting.

Late Friday, Henry’s office also announced it would take step the unprecedented step of barring the public, including the media and the county’s general staff, from attending Tuesday’s regular county commission meeting and public hearing. “Interested parties can view the meeting in a variety of ways, including webcast, broadcast and live streaming on social media,” the announcement said.

Persons who want to speak “must utilize a new remote public participation option…In order to comment on an item remotely, you must have access to the internet (to register), a working email address (to receive your confirmation code) and a telephone (to dial into the meeting). For instructions on how to participate and links to the registration website, visit RegisterToSpeak.Broward.org.”

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Latest comments

  • Just give all of them an extended vacation. Why librarians need to work when libraries are closed?

  • Broward County Libraries are closed to the public until further notice. But libraries are more than just books, they are vital Internet access for people who cannot afford it or manage the technology themselves. Much important communication is done via email. Access to vital government services is thru web pages. Many people will be in trouble because of this.

  • Broward County has been extremely ignorant in this whole matter. I am a former employee that retired recently, I have many friends that are still working for Broward County…. and ARE very uncomfortable working in their offices and are very frightened and concerned because Bertha Henry and the commissioner’s are NOT really making provisions for their employees!!!!
    I guarantee you they are waiting for the first case of COVID-19 to show up in an office and will then scramble to try to cover up and then fix !!!!!

  • Bertha Henry and the county commissioners have been extremely incompetent in handling this whole matter and are not acting with their employees best interests in mind.
    They seem to be waiting for a case of COVID-19 to show up in an office and will then scramble to cover up first and then act. The incompetence is unbelievable!!!!!

  • I cant believe Ms Henry believes selling cars is a necessary business. Dealerships are delivering cars to people and people are buying online. Is a business..and you have people working in the sales floor, risking the customers and the employees…

  • UNTRUE:

    To try and avoid exposure to the virus, employees can also take paid personal sick and annual leave days they are owed, or unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. “I have said to each and every one of my directors, ‘If there’s an employee that is uncomfortable in any way shape or form, let them go home. If they have leave,” Henry said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re being liberal with that.”

    As a PT19 employee over 65 and with underlying health issues who does not have any benefits with the county and does not get paid when not working, I speak for many of us, we have not been given the option of staying home. If we stay home, we are required to submit a Doctor’s note.

  • Transit needs to be looked at again during this state of emergency. Transit is typically an essential service, but this latest situation should make moving potentially infected citizens throughout the community nonexistent. On public transportation there is no way of practicing social distancing. The operator is put at an increased risk, while seemingly to only be moving the homeless population around. These are people who have not and will not be tested for Covid-19. They do not meet the criteria to walk into a hospital to request testing and they don’t own a vehicle for drive thru testing. Meanwhile, the employees driving them around are stuck in a 40 foot long tube for an average of eight hours a day breathing in recycled contaminated air. Finally, we get to take whatever we contract back home to our families.

  • Not surprised at this at all. Being that this county administrator doesn’t follow her own policies unless it suits her.

  • As an employee I am disappointed in how this has been handled. It is an indication Broward is not prepared to react quickly and efficiently. To my knowledge, there has never been any telework policy, as we have been told you are not allowed to work from home. This “temporary policy” is a scramble to react, and shows management does not know what they have, what their employees do or in what capacity. Many employees are already perfectly equipped to work from home, yet they are scrutinized in being provided this privilege, made to account for every minute of their day and most likely have every keystroke monitored. Shame on you Broward County for not taking care of your employees, specially those with health concerns. Ms. Henry’s attempt at showing empathy by stating they are being generous with paid leave policy is baloney. It would make one think the word pandemic and the seriousness of this virus is not enough to show leadership and taking action, regardless of what other counties and government agencies are dong.

  • They have not informed employees of coworkers that are infected with the corona virus. Total neglect.

  • As an employee I am disappointed in how this has been handled. It is an indication Broward is not prepared to react quickly and efficiently. To my knowledge, there has never been any telework policy, as we have been told you are not allowed to work from home. This “temporary policy” is a scramble to react, and shows management does not know what they have, what their employees do or in what capacity. Many employees are already perfectly equipped to work from home, yet they are scrutinized in being provided this privilege, made to account for every minute of their day and most likely have every keystroke monitored. Shame on you Broward County for not taking care of your employees, specially those with health concerns. Ms. Henry’s attempt at showing empathy by stating they are being generous with paid leave policy is baloney. It would make one think the word pandemic and the seriousness of this virus is not enough to show leadership and taking action, regardless of what other counties and government agencies are dong.

  • Not sure what all this complaining is doing in helping. How can changes be implemented? For starters the whole organizational structure is not kosher. The Human Resources division, which Mr. Kahan (featured in this article) runs, reports to….. the Financial Department!!! No direct line to Administration or commissioners.

    If any employee, particularly those under the Financial Department have an HR related issue, they run a very good chance of being trumped by the Financial department head! Employees are hopeless, and that is how he wants it. HR, who makes all these policies should be independent and only be accountable to the highest in command.

  • I say every person elected to office in Broward County should be voted out of office in the next election cycles. Enough of playing politics. The voters always lose.

  • County workers bitch too much. If you’re worried about your health, protect yourself. Or stay home. They can’t fire you bc you stayed home during a pandemic.

  • To Big Bertha
    You are not qualified to handle a pandemic as we can see by your lack of
    proper decision making & actions in regards for your employees health and safety.
    You are only qualified in giving raises / bonuses out as we have seen, which are grossly high and a form of professional stealing from tax payers (Penny Tax ).
    I forgot to mention that your also good at covering up Fraud / Theft for who you know and like.
    KARMA is coming 🙏

  • To Tired & Disgusted: Fraud(s)

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