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California pays for some employees' internet but not others. A union is considering suing

California pays for some employees' internet but not others. A union is considering suing

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The state attorneys' union is exploring legal action to try to force California departments to reimburse employees' telework expenses during the coronavirus outbreak, the union's president said Thursday.

Eight months into the pandemic, just a few state departments are offering to pay employees for their personal phone and internet usage while they're working at home.

As a result, some state employees, such as attorneys, are doing similar work under similar circumstances yet are being compensated differently, said Peter Flores, president of California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment.

"We think it's an equal pay for equal work problem," Flores said during a Little Hoover Commission hearing on transitioning the state workforce to permanent remote work.

If the state doesn't develop some kind of standard related to reimbursement, the union might consider litigation, he told the commission.

Government Operations Agency spokeswoman Amy Palmer said in an email that the agency is working on state and department telework policies.

"We are in conversation with employee representatives about the state's telework policy and related department policies and procedures for telework to settle on policies for the state going forward," Palmer said in the email.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has called for making telework available permanently for state workers. A memo this week from Finance Director Keely Bosler instructed state departments to look for ways to save money with permanent options for remote work.

In a phone call after the hearing, Flores said other avenues for the union to address the variation could include filing an unfair labor practice or a grievance with the state.

"It depends on how long this goes on," he said. "Obviously we're all being flexible for this emergency. What we don't want is for it to be institutionalized where different departments are doing different reimbursements."

He said Covered California, the Department of Industrial Relations and the State Compensation Insurance Fund have been reimbursing attorneys for their work-from-home expenses, but other agencies haven't been. The department of Fish and Wildlife has also reimbursed employees, according to the State Controller's Office.

Not every department needs to have the same policy, but departments should work around shared principles, Flores said.

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