Several Broward County employees say they are frustrated at a lack of policies and clarity on the ability to work from home while the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across Florida.
That is despite that fact that the employees say their jobs can easily be done from home, and despite official guidance from the White House suggesting that employees do just that.
“We’re asking everyone to work at home, if possible, postpone unnecessary travel, and limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people,” President Trump said in a White House address this week.
The employees who spoke to WLRN for this story all asked to remain anonymous, for fear of reprisals from management.
They all said the government of the county with the most COVID-19 cases in the state is not being flexible or communicating work at home policies clearly, and as a result virtually all employees still have to be physically present at work every day.
Broward has 80 confirmed cases of COVID-19, out of a statewide total of 289, according to the Florida Department of Health.
“Everyone’s really in a panic. We’re not sure how we’re supposed to stay safe,” said one Broward County employee. “We’re really just in tighter quarters than what the [Centers for Disease Control] recommends, so we’re struggling with how to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
The employee said supervisors have not been given discretion to make decisions about which personnel needs to come in, and who can work remotely. Many people who are not deemed "essential" for government functions still have to come in, she said.
“I’m a primary caregiver for someone who is 79-years-old, multiple autoimmune disorders, who really could not survive a hospital visit, to tell you the truth,” she continued. “So I really need to make sure that I don’t infect her, and I don’t know how to do that. I feel like I’m in the middle-late stage of my career and I’m being asked at this point of my life to choose between my career and taking care of a family member.”
A memo sent by Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry to all county employees yesterday acknowledged the situation.
“We have received a lot of questions wondering why County operations have not been closed,” reads the memo to employees. “This is a fluid situation, and we are assessing all of the information and recommendations coming in from health professionals and emergency managers on an ongoing basis.”
In neighboring Miami-Dade County, Mayor Carlos Gimenez has taken a different approach. On Monday, he gave a directive to heads of every department head “to implement work from home, telecommuting or other virtual work solutions, whenever possible and as soon as possible, with minimal impact to the services we provide to our 2.8 million residents and visitors,” he wrote in an email to all county employees.
Another Broward County employee said that he doesn’t want to be unreasonable, but he feels the County Administration has bungled the situation, and it is hurting morale.
“It’s not like it has to be an either, or thing. If I have to go come in some day because there’s something that I can only do here because it’s something that’s on the intranet and I can’t do it from home, I’ll do it,” he said in a phone call from the parking lot. “It’s not like I can never come back in. But it seems nuts to us that we wouldn’t want to reduce the number of people in a building to the greatest extent possible.”
Kimm Campbell, Broward's acting assistant county administrator, told WLRN in a phone interview that “small pockets of employees are being allowed to work from home" and that that flexibility could possibly expand to more employees.
“We are working with our human resources team and are in the process of finalizing the procedures of telework,” she continued. “That should be coming shortly.”
Another Broward County employee balked at the statement.
“The idea that we’re all sitting around in closed quarters trying not to get sick, just because they’re finalizing their policy, that’s just dumb,” said the employee, who just returned from maternity leave and is unable to take sick time to stay at home.
“I just really don’t understand why I'm still here,” she said.