July 13, 2021 — With the state of emergency lifted, the governor hopes to reach pre-pandemic capacity in state workplaces by Labor Day. With return to work looming or already happening, what do you need to know to keep yourself safe, or to navigate mixed signals on telecommuting at your agency?

Health and Safety

Keeping everyone safe is paramount.

When returning to work, fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to mask, in most settings, while unvaccinated or those with unknown status will need to mask and social distance. The state will not require proof of vaccination status. Be aware that not everyone who is wearing a mask is unvaccinated – some people may choose to continue masking depending on their personal comfort level.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says, “in general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. If you return to work, continue to protect yourself by practicing everyday preventive actions. Keep these items on hand when returning to work: a mask, tissues, and hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, if possible.”

However, for those who can, getting vaccinated gives you the best chance at reducing your risk of contracting COVID-19. Especially given the increase in COVID cases caused by the Delta variant. According to the CDC “COVID-19 vaccines are effective at keeping you from getting COVID-19, especially severe illness and death… (and reduce) the risk of people spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.”

Local leaders and PEF health and safety staff are working hard to identify hazards and implement control measures at your worksites. They are looking at things like cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and PPE; signage; occupancy levels; the HVAC systems and air ventilation; screening and contract tracing; visitor policies; and more.

If you feel something is missing or not adequate, take action. Reach out to your local leaders or PEF health and safety at healthandsafety@pef.org.

Mental Health

Stressing about returning to work or continued telecommuting, such as fear of contracting COVID, changes in your duties or workload, lack of access to necessary equipment, taking care of personal needs balanced with working, and many more factors can impact your mental health.

Do any of the following apply to you?

  • Feeling irritation, anger, or in denial
  • Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating

Union leaders and PEF staff are prepared to assist members with mental health and stress reduction in the workplace. Are you concerned about confusing directives from your agency or GOER? Are you worried about the risks of returning to work using public transportation or the possibility of conflict between vaccinated and non-vaccinated staff?

Communicate with your local leaders and PEF, or access the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), http://www.pef.org/eap-toolkit. You can also read about EAP in the Communicator here.


The Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER) is directing agencies to bring employees back to the office at an increased frequency with the July 2, 2021, expiration of the Emergency Telecommuting Agreement.

But, the pandemic has proven that telecommuting works and PEF labor-management committees and Field Services staff are working around the clock with agencies to devise interim plans by the July 31 deadline set by GOER.

“We believe that the telecommuting experience during the pandemic, which provided important information about the success of telecommuting at many agencies, including those that did not previously have telecommuting, will be useful in establishing telecommuting throughout the state at levels more robust than pre-pandemic,” said PEF Director of Contract Administration Debra Greenberg. “In addition, the Tentative Agreement, if ratified, requires agencies to develop telecommuting programs with PEF and to implement the programs within nine months of ratification. Importantly, the prior limitation of no more than four telecommuting days per pay period under normal circumstances was eliminated.”

The Tentative Agreement would replace the four-day limitation with language allowing for broader options: “Agencies, to the greatest extent possible, should allow flexibility in the employee’s choice of which and how many days to telecommute per pay period or per week.” However, agencies would still retain discretion in approving individual telecommuting applications.

Members can vote now for the Tentative Agreement. The American Arbitration Association (AAA) mailed out ballots on July 2 and ballots must be received by AAA on or before 5 p.m. on July 26, 2021. Received means in hand, not just mailed or postmarked by July 26, 2021. Any PEF member in the PS&T unit who has not already received a ballot should call the AAA hotline at 800-529-5218 to request a ballot or replacement ballot. AAA will count ballots on July 27, 2021.

Despite overwhelming evidence that #PEFDoesIt while telecommuting, members should not expect the same level of telecommuting.

“Going forward, with the reopening and an end to the state of emergency, we do not expect telecommuting on a full-time or near full-time basis as some people were able to do during the pandemic,” Greenberg said. “However, we do expect a more robust telecommuting program than existed pre-pandemic due to the changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the positive experience with telecommuting during the pandemic.”

If you have questions, reach out to your local labor-management chair or PEF Field Services representative. For a list of contact, click here and select the Labor Management Contacts dropdown.