Dear Deputy Director LeBaron,
As a group, the DDSD MCs are not only upset but are also extremely disappointed with the latest directive requiring us to return to the office three days a week starting next month. We thought the current plan with us being there one day a week was working absolutely fine. The decision to increase that now seems arbitrary and makes no sense. The benefits of continued teleworking are real and obvious to us, and together with your help, we have managed to surmount the most anticipated obstacles, including our ability to participate in training and to communicate effectively with the DEAs and staff on a daily basis.
In an email to one of our physicians earlier this year, you stated “I have to agree with you regarding the deployment of telework. It is something that I did not expect to see from SSA but was extremely happy when it did happen. Everyone (SSA, DDSD, and ISD) worked very hard and efficiently to see it rolled out as quickly as possible. And I think we are all grateful for that. …. we are looking at some type of long-term telework option. It may not be at the current level it is now, … but the Department and DDSD is looking at some level of teleworking carrying out into the future.” You went on to say that the addition of MS Teams and Skype video capability has helped to make the MCs available to all staff for communication and training.
In addition, there were two State-wide surveys that we completed which overwhelmingly supported continued teleworking. So, the sudden change to our in-office requirements came as quite a surprise, and we are wondering “What happened?” and “Why now?” We hoped that all of the positive feedback on teleworking and its benefits would result in a well-planned, long-term pro-teleworking policy which would benefit everyone.
We are convinced that our continued presence in the office for one day a week more than satisfies all of the DDSD Branchs’ legitimate needs, and that forcing us to work there three days a week is unnecessary, threatens our well-being, and is dangerous to our health. To support this point of view, we offer the following:
• Other than working on paper cases, there is nothing we cannot do equally or better working from home.
• We are more productive at home, and we have proven that. Cases continue to be adjudicated in a timely manner.
• We are much less-stressed working at home:
- We avoid traffic and all the additional drawbacks of commuting, including gasoline and the environmental impact.
- There are fewer distractions at home, making the home atmosphere more conducive to productivity.
- It decreases the risk of contracting COVID, (considering the new strains) and possibly passing it on to other employees.
- We are generally an older group of employees and many of us do have some health issues. The added stress of having to come in two more days a week not only increases our risk of exposure to COVID but also has a deleterious effect on our overall health and quality of life. We are much happier and more motivated employees when working at home. Isn’t that what you are ultimately looking for?
• Having more and more people come into the office seems like an extremely unwise idea, especially with the very real threats posed by the newer COVID-19 mutations (Omicron, etc.) Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading US authority on COVID-19, has predicted an increase/surge of COVID 19 cases as winter approaches. So, if it is not necessary for us to be in the office to do our work and serve the public, then why expose us and everyone else there to the added risk? Even major companies like Google, Ford, and Uber have recently re-thought and postponed their return-to-the-office policy in light of the new threat of yet another rise in COVID cases. While it is true that we are considered essential workers, it is not essential for us to do our work at the office.
• The current setup with us coming in one day a week is quite sufficient to “support internal and external customer service.” This is the reason that has been given to us for our need to return more to the office. For the physicians, this is a vague and ambiguous statement with no real basis in fact. If our physical presence in the office is really needed to help train new DEAs, then we are more than willing to come in on certain days and do that, but this does not require all MCs to be there three days a week. We have actually experienced better day-to-day communication with the DEAs while teleworking than we ever did at the office.
• The current setup is working well. Why would you want to change it suddenly? It makes no sense! There’s an old adage which applies here– “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Why institute a policy for us that is not only extremely unpopular and unnecessary, but is also detrimental to our physical and psychological health and well-being?
• For those of us working four days a week, requiring us to come in on three days represents 75% of our weekly workload which would be spent in the office, and for those of us who work 5 days a week, it would be 60%. Teleworking only 25-40% of the time does not really respect the fact that its benefits and accomplishments over the past two years have been proven and are very real.
• MCs are a group of employees with needs and requirements that are different from DEAs, PTs, OSB, TMs, etc. Each group of employees should be treated based on their actual need to be present. True fairness for all would involve considering the maximum number of days per week that each separate group’s presence in the office is actually required to achieve the Division’s customer service needs. This will be different for each group depending on their job description and expected duties. It will not be a “one size fits all” solution. Arbitrarily setting a policy which says that regardless of need, everyone has to go back three days a week so that all groups might perceive they are being treated equally ignores that fact that all groups are not equal with regard to their work and actual in-office responsibilities. It is “apples and oranges” - a false argument.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, this new policy will have an extremely deleterious effect on State-wide MC recruitment and retention. As mentioned, many of the MCs are older individuals – age 55+, and the Department benefits greatly from our knowledge and years of experience. Many of us decided to work at DDSD in lieu of continued practice or other work because it helps give back to the public and is significantly less stressful. We are willing to work for less salary than most of us could earn in the private sector because the trade-off of having some flexibility in our work environment and less day-to-day stress is worth it. The new policy adds back needless stress and inflexibility to our good work. There may be a significant number of us who will decide to retire or simply resign rather than having to return to the office so many days of the week- especially after having enjoyed the many advantages of teleworking over nearly the past two years. And we strongly believe that the State, SSA, DDSD, and the public have all benefited greatly from this bold but necessary endeavor. We should embrace change and consider if returning to the old status quo really makes sense in these new and very different times. We need to accept that getting “back to normal” should really mean going forward with a “new but improved normal.”
We urge you to carefully consider these points. Mid-course correction with a reconsideration of policy is sometimes necessary. When such change not only make sense but can also improve the welfare and happiness of the employees while maintaining productivity and excellent service to the public, it is a “win-win” result for all.
Thank you for your consideration.
The CA DDSD MCs
Jacqueline Berry, MD
Dona Chan, MD
Richard Dwyer, MD
Steven Gitlin, MD
Huy Han, MD
Jeffrey Lane, MD
Margaret Lin, MD
Mel Morgan, MD
Vijay Ranganath, MD
John Rule, MD
B. Vaghaiwalla, MD
Jasbir Virk, MD