Montana employees working remote will head back to worksites

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana state employees who have been working remotely because of the pandemic will begin returning to their worksites this month and Capitol Complex offices that have been closed to the public will reopen in two weeks, state officials said.

Effective June 14, state agencies will bring at least half of their employees back to their assigned state worksites. Managers will decide which employees will return during a first stage of the process, according to a memo issued by the Department of Administration last Friday.

State employees are encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and face coverings won’t be required for most employees under the state’s guidelines.

But masks may be required for employees working in facilities that open 24 hours a day — such as prisons, nursing homes or the state psychiatric hospital. Masks may also be mandatory for state workers who have close contact with citizens, such as social workers and probation and parole officers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still recommending social distancing for unvaccinated people, the memo said.

“Throughout all stages of returning to state worksites, agency managers and employees should cooperatively address individual situations,” the memo stated.

Employees can use any COVID-19 pay leave they have remaining to address child care issues, illness or quarantine requirements.

In-person meetings will be allowed at state worksites, but agencies should also provide virtual options for people still working remotely and for those with health concerns. There are no restrictions on in-state travel, but managers will need to approve out-of-state business travel based on necessity and the prevalence of COVID-19 in the area.

No new telework agreements will be granted, at least temporarily, in part so the new agency managers appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte can assess how the agencies operate with employees back in the offices.

“In the coming months, the cabinet agencies will participate in a space and workforce study designed to maximize our workspaces for efficiency and productivity,” the memo states. “Part of this study will examine remote work for state employees.”

The Montana Federation of Public Employees, the union that represents state employees, urged the governor to “embrace public employees as partners in determining best practices for achieving productivity and efficiency goals, which should include work-from-home agreements in many agencies.”

In Lewis and Clark County, 50% of the 59,540 people eligible for the vaccine are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state information.