Many state employees urged to work from home

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Many employees are working remotely during the coronavirus outbreak.
Thousands of Minnesota state government employees are under work-from-home orders and others could be shifted to new assignments to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout.
Chris Graves | MPR News

Updated: 1:34 p.m.

Thousands of Minnesota state government employees are under work-from-home orders and others could be shifted to new assignments to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout.

The work situation is being handled on an agency-by-agency basis, officials said.

Gov. Tim Walz issued an order Tuesday night that ensures that any idled worker will be compensated, perhaps through paid leave if they have to stop working to care for children or other dependents. But he also asserted his ability to use “flexibility to hire staff, schedule, assign, and reassign employees without adherence to existing limitations in collective bargaining agreements.”

It’s unclear just how many of the more than 35,000 state employees will still be asked to report to a job site. Correctional officers, for instance, have less flexibility than a clerk in a state agency office building.

An official with the Department of Minnesota Management and Budget said it’s not immediately known how many employees will shift their job site or potentially be reassigned to other work.

Some customer-facing services are being scaled back, including the hours at many Driver and Vehicle Services offices.

The two major unions for state employees — the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees — issued a joint statement on the executive action.

“MAPE and AFSCME Council 5 continue to meet with state and agency leadership during this unprecedented time to quickly respond to a crisis that extends far beyond the confines of our work. We are working to support our members so they can continue to provide the quality, reliable and vital services our neighbors rely on,” their statement read.

The union presidents added: “We won’t stand in the way of the state’s powerful response to this crisis, but we won’t idly sit by if that power is abused.”

A new COVID leave program is being implemented, although the unions say the confines of that were still being developed.

Among the accommodations is relief for newer employees. Their 35-day waiting period to be eligible for health insurance was waived.

A MAPE spokeswoman says union officials negotiated an arrangement with the Walz administration to ensure that staff in the infectious disease division of the Health Department will receive overtime for their extra work. That wasn’t assured before.

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