MARIETTA — Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce and south Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid may be opponents in this year’s general election, but the pair teamed up Monday morning to criticize county administration for what they said were insensitive changes to the county’s teleworking policy amidst a pandemic.
After extended discussion at a Monday morning meeting, county staff agreed to change a proposed revision to the teleworking policy that would have required employees with dependents to arrange for their care.
Currently, the policy states teleworking “is not an alternative to child or elder care,” and employees working remotely must arrange for dependent care “when applicable.” But it makes an exception for emergencies such as the one declared by Boyce at the beginning of the pandemic — during which many county offices closed and employees first began working from home en masse — “or at the discretion of the county manager.”
The revised policy would eliminate those exceptions. It goes on to note, “decreases in productivity or behaviors that detract value from the county may result in immediate loss of teleworking status and may result in disciplinary action.”
Tony Hagler, the county’s human resources director, said his department had revisited a number of policies approved during the pandemic for “cleanup and clarification.”
More than half of the county’s employees can telework, County Manager Jackie McMorris said during the meeting.
Cupid said the policy would put affected employees in a difficult position, as child care hasn’t been easy to find during the pandemic.
“They have to find other care when there isn’t other care available,” she said.
The commissioner also argued that the county was being too selective in deciding which of the pandemic’s many issues to address. She pointed to one of the proposed revisions, which would insert a line stating teleworking is a means for, among other things, “accommodating social distancing.”
“How can we recognize the health impact of (the pandemic) and not recognize the other impacts of it?” Cupid said.
And Boyce said the only real concern should be whether a county employee working remotely can do his or her job – not whether they have childcare.
Hagler and Bill Tanks, the county’s director of public services, said a number of employees have come to the county asking for permission to work remotely so they could look after children.
“We got some employees that are not wanting to really telework,” Tanks said. “They’re actually coming in and saying, ‘I need to take care of my kid, can I telework?’ We’re just changing the language – don’t say you want to take care of your kid. Be smart enough to say, ‘I want to telework.’ And leave it alone.”
Boyce bristled at his comments.
“Let’s just listen to that comment,” the chairman said. “We’re talking about people here. They’re our people. … We’re almost making them lie. And that’s the problem.
“The bottom line here,” Boyce continued, “(is) if you can telework, and your job allows you to telework, I don’t care why you’re going to telework. Just give them the permission to do it.”
Other commissioners had no issue with the policy revision.
North Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell suggested the new policy wouldn’t be used to discipline employees who are able to effectively juggle work and keeping an eye on a dependent.
“Nobody’s going to be monitoring them if they take a five-minute break to help their kids,” Birrell said. “That’s ridiculous.”
East Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott said giving county employees tacit approval to work from home so that they can also care for a child or elderly parent would not be fair to other employees who have already used personal leave for that purpose.
“Are you going to go back to everybody that was made to take leave and tell them they ... can come back and get full pay now?” Ott asked.
Boyce said he would not.
“You can’t look back,” he replied. “We’re trying to look forward.”
Ultimately, Ott ended the back and forth when he proposed amending a line in the revision that read, “Teleworkers shall make or maintain child care, adult care, or similar personal arrangements to permit concentration on work assignments during work hours” to read “Teleworkers shall make arrangements to permit concentration on work assignments during work hours.”
The Cobb County Board of Commissioners will meet virtually at 9 a.m. on Tuesday. The meeting can be viewed on Facebook, YouTube, cobbcounty.org and cable TV.