The Phoenix Flyer

Details dim about prevalence of telecommuting by state workers during COVID-19 outbreak

By: - May 4, 2020 4:44 pm

Tallahassee’s tall Turlington Building is home to the Florida Department of Education. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

With COVID-19 upending many workplaces in the U.S., state and local government employees are telecommuting at rates not seen before, according to a report from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, a non-profit research organization.

The report shows a 27 percent increase in teleworking among state and local government employees, “the highest share since 2016,” when it was 22 percent.

Teleworking is “more common in state agencies (64 percent) than local jurisdictions (19 percent),” according to the center.

In Florida, many state agencies have allowed its employees to work from home, although not all positions are eligible for telecommuting, according to the Florida Department of Management Services’ guidelines.

The Florida Phoenix is awaiting a response from the department regarding its latest data on employees working remotely.

In late March, the Florida Department of Education told the Phoenix that “almost 65 percent of DOE’s 2,201 workforce are now teleworking.”

However, since not all state workers have been granted teleworking opportunities, many are presumably working in state offices facing a risk of infection.

In fact, six state workers at the Florida Department of Children and Families tested positive for COVID-19, said Kelly Benjamin, communications director for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union, in a phone call with the Phoenix.

The worked at the Florida State Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Chattahoochee run by DCF, and were confirmed as positive in April, the agency confirmed in a press release.

Benjamin complained of a lack of personal protective equipment among hospital workers.

Additionally, “we had a worker who exhibited symptoms and who was exposed to a staff member who tested positive and was still forced to work. A later test revealed she also has been infected as a result,” Benjamin said.

However, the department refuted some of those claims, saying, “Although the individual claimed to be ill, they did not indicate any symptoms during screenings upon entry to their designated unit. If the individual was ill, a failure to disclose this information could have put co-workers and patients in harm’s way.”

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.