File photo.

‘Not pro-active at all’: City Hall criticized by employee for COVID-19 work policy

Staff receive little communication, denied work from home

As city hall plans for a potential shortage of staff from COVID-19 infections, one of their employees says senior management’s policy is not pro-active enough, not communicated properly, and forces staff into work against the advice of the Federal Government.

The employee wanted to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions. In an email to workers on Wednesday, after concerns began to surface, city managers suggested some “critical staff” will be allowed to work from home.

The employee said staff have been denied the chance to work from home, even when it would be entirely possible.

“Yesterday one of our legal staff said she had underlying health issues and would like to work from home, and was told … that no one would be working from home,” the employee said in an email. “We have not been given a reason, other than we are public servants and have a job to do.”

Mayor Henry Braun told The News on March 17 that senior management have been planning for weeks in anticipation of a potential staff shortage of anywhere from 30 to 70 per cent. He said senior management has considered setting up remote access to the city’s IT system at staff homes, pulling employees from different departments to fill any potential gaps in the city’s essential services; and starting start holding council meetings remotely.

“There will be some people in this building who can’t go, I am one of them. I will be here every day unless I’m sick,” Braun said. “We’re having that conversation but we haven’t landed on how that’s going to look.

“I want to be mindful of our staff, we have an obligation to keep them safe too.”

But the details of senior management’s planning was all breaking news to city staff, according to the employee.

“The statement the mayor released [March 17] was not sent to staff, we read it on the Abby News page,” the employee said. “Staff are concerned at the lack of communication… Managers have been meeting daily but no staff have been privy to those communications, even just to say, ‘Hey we are working on a plan…’ There is nothing! Staff are getting angry.”

The provincial health authority announced a public health emergency on Tuesday (March 17), coinciding with their now-daily reports of new COVID-19 cases, which have reached 271 in the province with eight deaths. The Federal Government announced a $72 billion stimulus for affected employers and employees on Wednesday (March 18). Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that anyone who can work from home, should be doing so.

RELATED: B.C. coronavirus cases jump by 83, public health emergency declared

RELATED: Trudeau promises $82B in economic supports in COVID-19 fight

“The contradiction lies in the fact that the federal government has told everyone that [they] can stay home, yet we are all expected to arrive at city hall every day. Many jobs could work remotely,” the employee said. “No one has been given this option.”

Peter Sparanese, Abbotsford’s city manager sent an email to employees on March 13, informing staff that if they need to self-isolate upon returning from travel they will be required to use their sick days. The employee said that also applies to staff who choose to self-isolate and work from home.

“The general feeling among the staff is that we are not setting a good example for our community. We are not protecting our essential workers by having everyone in the building and being open to the public,” the employee said. “The city is not being proactive at all.”

On March 18, Sparanese sent another email to staff saying they will start implementing work-from-home protocols for some “critical staff.” He said the city appreciated the staff members’ patience, teamwork and reminded them this was an unprecedented situation.

“In my view, those who may end up working from home to help in creating social distance are providing the same level of public contribution as those who continue to come to our place of work,” Sparanese’s email reads. “This plan will be reviewed daily and, as circumstances change, will be adjusted and communicated accordingly.

“There will be gaps. There will be challenges.”

The News reached out to the city for comment on March 19, but have not received a response by Friday paper’s deadline.


@portmoodypigeon
patrick.penner@abbynews.com

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