A bill requiring state and local governments to develop plans for teleworking and encouraging private businesses to do so will likely reach the House of Delegates’ floor next week.

Del. Carol Krimm (D-Frederick), sponsor of House Bill 73, is hopeful the legislation will make it through both chambers this session and to Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) desk.

The bill requires municipal and county governments to establish teleworking policies and guidelines and those in several state government agencies to do the same.

Krimm said this week the coronavirus pandemic has shown a lot of state employees and businesses can get work done through teleworking versus in a typical office space.

It also could have benefits of getting more cars off the road, which might lessen the traffic burden on roads like Interstate 270 and reduce traffic emissions, Krimm said.

“There’s many people in state government who are loving life right now because they’re able to telework, and they’re getting their work done,” Krimm said. “And it’s a recruiting mechanism for state government also, to be able to offer people telework if it’s available for their job.”

Rick Weldon, president and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, which represents about 42,000 full-time employees in hundreds of businesses, estimated roughly half have transitioned to a form of teleworking since the pandemic started.

Weldon was concerned about proposed amendments to the bill, including one that would require small businesses provide a plan to state government about teleworking before year’s end.

Krimm said via text Friday those amendments did not stay in the bill, which the Appropriations Committee passed Friday in a nearly unanimous vote. Del. Nino Mangione (R-Baltimore) and Del. Reid Novotny (R-Howard and Carroll) were the only votes against.

Currently, the bill would set up an office that would work with businesses statewide to develop “best practices” for teleworking and require the governor to allocate $1 million in grants to help businesses transition, including for software and hardware upgrades.

Jennifer Hess Williamson, director of operations at Business Management Company (BMC), an accounting firm located by the Frederick Municipal Airport, agreed that legislation that incentivizes teleworking — versus mandating it — is a better approach.

Williamson said about 35 employees work on the accounting side, with another 10 in the insurance portion of the business. Even though a lot of work can be done from home or elsewhere, many small businesses that work with BMC still prefer paper checks or in-person interactions when conducting business.

Last March, the office had a major flood, so workers had to telework regardless of the pandemic. There are, however, long-term benefits for employees working from home, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic, she said.

Williamson herself doesn’t battle much traffic driving from Loudoun County, Virginia. But she does understand the appeal from both a commuting and environmental standpoint.

BMC’s employees live all over, including, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., Williamson said.

“It’s a great benefit to tell people you can work from home,” she said.

Weldon, however, said it’s trickier for some industries to do that, including biopharmaceutical and manufacturing companies.

Peter Oykhman, founder of CorePartners, an information technology company in downtown Frederick, said some of the work, like software development, is difficult to do unless you have co-workers collaborating in the same space.

Some of the company’s roughly 20 employees, like those in sales, can more easily adapt to remote work, he said. Regarding government assistance, Oykhman said it would have been nice to have that money months ago as his and other businesses were adjusting to working from home.

There’s also another potential cost to having everyone telework — the mental health of employees.

“We had, frankly speaking, people who were severely depressed doing work from home, and that was a problem — and is still a problem,” Oykhman said.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(8) comments

Luke Skywalker

Not to mention the $1 million in tax payer money to "administer" the program the first year. The "oversight" will go up from there.

KellyAlzan

The Maryland home improvement commission needs revamping of their contractor licensing from head to toe. All aspects of Contractor licensing is written into law. The current laws are antiquated. And the MHIC really does protect homeowners, especially senior citizens.

Time and effort would be better spent on revamping the MHIC.

bosco

That's not Krimm, that's really Dolores Umbridge. [lol]

sue1955

This is overkill. Legislation is not needed. A supervisor and employee(s) can work up a written agreement as to expectations/requirements of the at-home employee(s). The personnel (human resources) department should have the insight and work skills to help with the subject, if needed. Separately, I take exception with the contention that state/local departments were able to be contacted during COVID. I happen to know that social agencies were impossible to get a hold of, both a year ago and that issue is still a problem. People fell "between the cracks" in regard to their situations. Both phone numbers and the websites were virtually not accessible. And, if there was a way to leave a message, nobody got back to the public. It was not a problem with employees actually having COVID. They simply were not in the office and did not have a system for getting back to the people having needs. The infrastructure was not there and nobody had the sense to call into their voice mails left on their work phone, etc. In other words, COVID has been the big excuse for not having to work.

BWI, I am all for working at home if your job can be done via the Intranet. I large worked from home from late 2007 until I retired in 2010. It worked out very well.

One last point, potential at-home employees need to realize that they are in a position of trust. I heard on TV the other day that employees do not want their bosses calling them and telling them that they need to be available for on-the-phone conferences. That sounds like the employees just want to do anything but working. Such employees need to be available anytime that their bosses (or ANY callers) contact them. For example; working at home does not mean that one can take an extended doctor visit without taking leave, picking up children from whatever activity (if applicable), etc. You are to be working, not taking care of children and so forth.

bosco

What's the penalty for non-compliance?

MD1756

It's about time. Teleworking some percentage of the time even if only 10 or 20% benefits everyone. Just think of a 10 or 25% reduction of vehicles on the road during any given rush hour. Transportation is a major source of pollution in this country. Think of the environmental benefits from reducing the vehicle miles traveled. Those are just two obvious benefits, there are more (insurance savings, potentially less stress, more free hours adding back to one's live since not as many would be spent commuting, etc. I'd be ok with a mandate if the incentivized program isn't successful after a certain number of years.

Rockfish

Do we really need this legislation? In my opinion, absolutely not. Public & private entities should be able to figure this out on their own, which, after almost a year, most have. What entities need are Continuity Of Operations Plans (COOP) that covers all types of disasters, not just pandemics but also loss of offices due to fires, etc. & ensure off site data backup.

bosco

More Democrat over-reach because they think they know how everyone should live and work.

How's that working out for New York and California? Well, pretty well I guess since Pelosi is rewarding their mismanagement with billions under the guise of covid relief.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. No vulgar, racist, sexist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, not personal attacks or ad hominem criticisms.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Be civil. Don't threaten. Don't lie. Don't bait. Don't degrade others.
No trolling. Stay on topic.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
No deceptive names. Apparently misleading usernames are not allowed.
Say it once. No repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link for abusive posts.

Thank you for reading!

Already a member?

Login Now
Click Here!

Currently a News-Post subscriber?

Activate your membership at no additional charge.
Click Here!

Need more information?

Learn about the benefits of membership.
Click Here!

Ready to join?

Choose the membership plan that fits your needs.
Click Here!