McMaster sued over order bringing all remaining S.C. state employees back to the workplace

Updated: Apr. 6, 2021 at 10:26 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – A lawsuit has been filed against South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster over his executive order that called for all remaining state employees still working from home to return to the workplace on a full-time basis.

The lawsuit, filed April 5, names College of Charleston employee Deborah Mihal and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of S.C. as the plaintiffs, while McMaster and Marcia Adams, the executive director of the S.C. Department of Administration, were listed as the defendants.

At issue is McMaster’s March 5 order that advised state agencies to “immediately expedite” the return of non-essential state employees to in-person work, according to the lawsuit.

RELATED: McMaster lifts mask mandate for S.C. government buildings, restaurants

“This was a complete course reversal from the Governor’s order that non-essential state employees work remotely, which they had been doing effectively for a year,” court documents state.

The lawsuit states that Mihal is the director of disability services for the College of Charleston and has been working remotely for the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to court documents, she has been able to fulfill her responsibilities while acting as the primary caretaker for her 9-year-old son, who is enrolled in remote learning.

According to the lawsuit, the order requiring her to return to the workplace by April 5 has left Mihal without options for childcare or “workable accommodations.” Court documents state her husband works full-time out of the house five days a week and she has gotten no response from her outreach to the principal at her son’s school to see if she can switch him to in-person learning.

“Additionally, both returning to the workplace and all of her available childcare options would increase her and her family’s exposure to COVID-19,” the lawsuit states. “Mihal scheduled her vaccination as soon as she could, and though she has an appointment, she will not be fully vaccinated before she is required to return to the workplace.”

According to the lawsuit, the College of Charleston has not provided her with any solutions, stating administrators have suspended the approval of new telecommuting agreements.

“Additionally, several members of the ACLU of SC are also unable to find adequate childcare on such short notice,” the lawsuit states.

According to court documents, other members of the ACLU of SC are put at risk by the order calling for their return to the office because they are breastfeeding or having chronic health conditions.

“There is simply no emergency need, or business necessity, served by requiring nonessential employees to return to the workplace in person at this time. Non-essential state employees have been working remotely successfully for over a year,” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to prevent the use of any policy or procedure requiring non-essential employees to return to the workplace in-person “that is inconsistent with the responsibility to protect the safety, security, or welfare of the State.”

Brian Symmes, communications director for the governor’s office, released the following statement:

“South Carolinians all over the state have been going to work, in person, throughout the last year and they have been able to do it safely. The Department of Administration has done an incredible job working with agency heads to bring state employees back into the office in a safe way, providing flexibility to make accommodations when necessary and giving agencies time to implement safety precautions in the workplace.

“It’s ridiculous to think that requiring employees to go to work is discriminatory in any way. Employees were given weeks to make any necessary plans for a number of contingencies including childcare, and with 94% of South Carolina’s childcare facilities open for business, there should be no issue for anyone actively working to make those arrangements.”

The full lawsuit can be read below:

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