COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Starting this week, many state employees will be returning to their offices for the first time in over a year.
Governor McMaster announced in an executive order last Friday that the state will begin facilitating the return of state employees to the workplace full time.
He said in a statement, “Now that the majority of South Carolinians are eligible to receive the vaccine, and infections and hospitalizations have dropped significantly, state agency heads may safely bring back the last group of state employees working remotely.”
State employees, who asked to remain anonymous to protect their jobs, said they are nervous and upset.
“We’re so close,” one state employee said. “We’ve been doing this for a year. We finally have vaccines. We’re being told that we’ll have vaccines for everyone who wants one by the end of May, so why now? Why rush this? We’re not there yet.”
One employee said the announcement felt irresponsible and rushed.
However, South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East said recently many teachers raised questions about why state offices were closed, but schools were returning to in-person.
“It seems a little hypocritical to try to force teachers back into a situation with a lot of people where we can’t social distance, but you haven’t opened offices that you very much could have kept safe because you aren’t around mass amount of people,” East said.
Some state employees said they don’t need to be in-person to do their jobs and they don’t feel like it’s safe until more people get the vaccine.
“They’re nervous to all be back. They’re nervous for the expectation to have changed and for the expectation to be that everything is back to normal now.”
District 72 Representative Seth Rose said he’s also concerned about the decision.
“We’re starting to come out of this, and we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Rose said. “Why are we ordering thousands upon thousands of people back to work? The question is are they being productive working remotely? And the answer that I’ve gotten is yes.”
One former employee told WIS that concerns over transitioning back to in-person led them to resign last month. Other employees said many are now struggling to find childcare accommodations in time to return to in-person.
McMaster’s executive order also lifted the mandatory rule for wearing face masks in government buildings.