OCEAN CITY – Working from home for many employees has become part of the post-pandemic landscape, but resort officials have approved a revised policy clearly defining the requirements.
During COVID, many non-essential employees were not only allowed to, but required to, work from home. Private sector telework policies proved to be effective with little or no decline in productivity and many continue to do so even though the pandemic has waned. Ocean City Human Relations Director Katie Callan last Tuesday presented an updated employee handbook, which includes a revised work-at-home policy.
Callan said it is not a significant issue for the town, but the written policy borne out of the pandemic has been updated and revised. She said there is only one full-time town employee currently working remotely as a health accommodation. Four others have regular schedules that include telework to varying degrees throughout the week. A total of 17 employees from four different departments have signed agreements in the event of a special circumstance, but do not regularly work from home. In addition, two departments have signed agreements and employees work from home occasionally, but not regularly.
“The policy was drafted in 2020 because of COVID and updated again in 2021,” she said. “In 2022, it was updated further. We wanted to put some parameters around the policy.”
The town’s revised telework policy covers a lot of ground about expectations, reporting of hours, the use and condition of home work spaces and the use of company equipment for work purposes, for example. Councilman John Gehrig voiced concern the telework policy might not be defined enough.
“I have some concerns,” he said. “Do department heads make the decisions on this? It can be beneficial, but it can be a concern, especially with so many employees in a government situation.”
Gehrig questioned the apparent arbitrariness in the work-from-home decision-making process. Each request is handled differently, and for different reasons, and there are times when working from home can be more efficient, and times when it simply isn’t practical because of the nature of the position.
“I think that everybody should have the same opportunities,” he said. “I’m not comfortable with it at all. I’m concerned about the loss of productivity. I know there are emergency situations.”
Gehrig said human resources advised they were monitoring the limited cases of town employees working from home. He asked if there had been any examples of a decline in productivity, and Callan said she could only think of one example, and it was a minor one and had been addressed.
City Manager Terry McGean said it was difficult to create a blanket policy for town employees working from home, either full-time or part-time.
“It differs from department to department,” he said. “The positions in town vary so greatly. For example, we have an IT department where it has been effective. It wouldn’t work for police officers or public works employees necessarily. There are some gray areas and some simply wouldn’t work out.”
Gehrig said the town has around 800 employees at its peak and he could envision a scenario when a large majority could apply to work from home.
“Suddenly, we’ll have 500 applications to work from home and the department heads will have to decide which to allow and which to not allow,” he said.
Callan said there had to be some flexibility worked into the policy. She said for some potential town employees, the lack of a defined work-from-home policy has been a deal-breaker.
“We have to have some discretionary judgment,” she said. “We have lost interviewees before potential employment because of the remote work possibility.”
Mayor Rick Meehan asked if there were any distance restrictions included in the remote work policy.
“Is there a distance defined?” he said. “We could have somebody working from the town from some remote location in Ohio, for example. We would like to have them be able to report if need be.”
Gehrig said there are clear examples when allowing an employee to work remotely from home was beneficial to the employee and the town, but suggested the policy as presented did not cover all of the examples.
“If we have an existing remote work situation, that’s great,” he said. “If we have a policy about emergencies, that’s great too. Maybe we need some type of hybrid.”
As far as Meehan’s point about a distance restriction, McGean said the department heads monitor that and there had been no examples of employees working remotely from great distances.
“The option to do it is up to the department heads,” he said. “I don’t know of any department head that would have somebody that wanted to work remotely from Ohio. I’m comfortable with this.”
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca made a motion to approve the updated employee handbook and the amended work-from-home policy for town employees. That motion carried 5-2 with Gehrig and Councilperson Carol Proctor opposed.