County Manager Column from Sept. 14, 2021

Update on flexible workplace policy, employee vaccination/testing requirement

This week, I wanted to provide an update on our progress related to implementation of our flexible workplace policy and employee vaccination policy. The date that both policies will go into effect is in about six weeks – Monday, Nov. 1. We will continue to remind the organization of that date, but I want to provide early notice to every employee for planning and awareness purposes.

Flexible workplace policy

Following my update from about a month ago, we continue to make progress on development of a new flexible workplace policy that will be a part of Ramsey County for the long-term. That policy will be implemented in three phases over six months. It will align with a plan to safely bring employees into our new work environment. On Nov. 1, Phase 1 will go into effect as described below. That will initiate a six-month process to transition from our current state to one in which all departments and work areas are operating under the new policy that sets us up for a successful and sustainable future.

To implement the policy, we are currently identifying the functions and groups within departments that will 1) work on-site most of the time, 2) work out in the community most of the time, or 3) have hybrid flexibility in schedules that provides a mix of on-site and remote work environments. Departments are currently working to designate the majority on-site and majority community-located positions, and those designations will then be submitted up to me as County Manager for final review and approval. This is hard work. But together we can build a workplace for the present and future, grounded in the following principles:

  • Effectively serving residents in-person while also leveraging service delivery through technology and other means that we’ve improved during the pandemic.  
  • Accommodating employee needs.
  • Recognizing our values and the collective spirit we will build and foster across our organization.
  • Recognizing the uniqueness and value of every job across Ramsey County.

We expect each of three phases to take about two months to implement. Phase 1 will include:

  • All full-time employees already working on-site.
  • Community-embedded or mobile employees.
  • Employees working at Saint Paul City Hall – Ramsey County Courthouse, which include the County Manager’s Office, the County Board Office and other leaders and staff that represent each Service Team.
  • The other departments within the Strategic Team (Human Resources and Finance).

More information will be coming out to employees that fall under the Phase 1 designation soon, and we will share updates on Phase 2 (to be implemented Jan. 1, 2022) and Phase 3 (to be implemented March 1, 2022) in the weeks ahead.

What this means

In addition to our employees who have continued working mostly on-site at our workspaces throughout the pandemic, those employees who work mostly out and about in the community (as opposed to Ramsey County-owned) sites and Strategic Team employees will be returning from remote work to work in-person at least two days a week. We’ll be implementing this move over a two-month window and what we learn from each phase will inform and improve the next phase, concluding in spring 2022 with those departments based out of the Government Center East building.

As part of the policy, we continue to need to keep everyone safe and monitor the situation with COVID-19, closely following public health guidance. As you know, like most U.S. counties, Ramsey County is currently designated as “high” for community transmission by the CDC based on case rates of COVID-19 due to the delta variant. Whenever we are in the “substantial” or “high” designation (more than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past week), we will return to a “remote-first” work environment for non-essential staff until we are back into the “moderate” or “low” designation.

Proof of vaccine/employee testing requirements

Last week you may have seen that President Biden announced executive actions that will impact more than 100 million Americans. Much of what was announced already aligned with the direction Ramsey County announced last month, and I want to update you on this important work.

A broad, cross-functional team from across the organization is working on finalizing the Ramsey County employee vaccination/testing requirements policy and implementation plan. Although it has not been finalized yet, you can expect it will include these elements:

  • The policy will go into effect Nov. 1, 2021 for all eligible employees.
  • All doses in a course of approved vaccines must be completed, as well as the two-week period following the final dose to satisfy the proof of vaccination requirement.
  • Proof of COVID-19 vaccination and/or weekly testing results will be provided by entering your completed card or your testing results into the Summit self-service employee portal. This decision follows medial privacy and document retention protocols as advised by the County Attorney’s and Compliance & Ethics offices – protection of your privacy is a cornerstone of this plan.
  • Authorized Human Resources staff will review and monitor compliance, working directly with department staff directly as necessary.
  • Reasonable accommodations will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for employees with documented health or religious reasons for being unable to be vaccinated.
  • Failure to comply with the policy will result in disciplinary action following existing Human Resources disciplinary policies.
  • Training on procedures associated with the policy will be provided prior to implementation through our learning management system, with additional information available through RamseyNet and ramseycounty.us.
  • Employees will also be expected to continue to follow all policies and practices in effect related to COVID-19 (e.g. face coverings, exposure protocols, leave requirements, etc.).
  • All employees who upload a completed vaccination sequence will receive a one-time payment that aligns with vaccine incentives that have been offered more broadly across the Ramsey County community.

As mentioned at the outset of this section, we are keeping a close eye on the developments from this past week as we continue to refine our policy and rollout. The major news of course was President Biden’s executive order that all federal employees will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and that testing will not serve as a substitute. Other organizations have also adopted similar approaches, determining that mandates are the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and its variants and to keep employees and all those with whom we interact safe. Our team will continue to follow best practices as we shape our policy in the weeks and months ahead and we’ll publicly be providing updates to the board of commissioners during the COVID-19 section of regular board meetings.

Thanks to all of you who have provided feedback and have reached out with your input. I have personally strived to answer every message and question that has come in on this topic, and I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to hear from and connect with so many of you. We will continue updating our FAQs under “Vaccination or testing requirements” at ramseycounty.us/Employees. These are challenging topics for a large and varied organization – many employees have very strong feelings and we can all appreciate the commitment to our organization shown through feedback which has been useful, frank and respectful. Thanks to all for continuing to participate as we work through these topics together and do our best to keep our staff and community safe. We are in this together, and that is something we must never forget.

Previous updates and resources