U.S. immigrants create hands-on STEM courses for students in Utah 10

Luka Jayaseelan, 14, of Provo, looks through a program on a computer as he works on programming a robot at Learning Through Robotics’ after-school and teacher training center in Lindon on Monday, July 6, 2020. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

With tens of thousands of Utahns being forced to adjust to working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials are looking for ways to expand telework and make working from home a new normal.

Telework is defined in the Telework Enhancement Act as “a work flexibility arrangement under which an employee performs the duties and responsibilities of such employee’s position … from an approved worksite other than the location from which the employee would otherwise work.”

The law, signed by President Barack Obama in December 2010, requires federal agencies to adopt a policy establishing which employees are authorized to telework, “provides a framework for Federal agencies to better leverage technology and maximize the use of telework” and “enhances Federal employee work-life balance,” according to a summary of the Telework Enhancement Act.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox implemented a similar statewide program in July 2019, allowing 2,555 state employees who typically commuted to work to switch to working remotely.

“Rolling out expanded teleworking as an option for many more state employees means that everyone wins,” Cox said last July. “Employees win. Managers win. Our air wins. Rural wins. The taxpayer wins. It is time to see our state workforce transition to this more sustainable, efficient, balanced model.”

With the coronavirus pandemic bringing increased attention to the usefulness of proactive work-from-home policies, Cox, who is the Republican candidate for governor, told the Daily Herald in May that he is considering expanding the state’s telework program.

“I think our initial impulse is to recover to where we were before,” said Cox. “But I started thinking, what if we could recover to something better? What lessons are we learning through this crisis … and how can we use those lessons to recover to something that’s even better than we were before, and that is, how do we make ourselves more resilient?”

State lawmakers also are looking for ways to increase telework opportunities and access to remote services.

Utah Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, introduced a bill during a special session in February to improve insurance coverage related to telehealth and telemedicine services and updated the definition of “telemedicine services” in Utah Code to include “remote patient monitoring occurring incidentally to general supervision.”

The bill, House Bill 313, passed unanimously through both the House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert on March 24.

On May 13, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, announced he would be sponsoring telework legislation with the intention of decreasing air pollution.

“I’ve opened a bill to require Utah to classify employees as ‘Work Site Essential’ and ‘Work Site Optional,’ ” McCay wrote on Twitter. “On bad air days, Work Site Optional employees will work from home.”

The Riverton lawmaker clarified that the bill would only apply to state employees but hoped it would “set an example for the rest of the private sector.”

“The bill will focus only on state government,” said McCay. “I’d love to see the largest employers make this shift voluntarily. The state gov can be a disruptive influence in the market for good.”

Fox 13 reported on July 13 that Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, was considering a resolution that would encourage Utah businesses to classify which of their employees could work from home.

For more information about telework services currently available for state employees, visit http://dhrm.utah.gov/employment/utah-works-telework.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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