The Potluck

Minneapolis pushes back date for employees to return to office to Feb. 14

By: - December 28, 2021 12:08 pm

The Minneapolis City Hall clock tower covered in snow in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by Tony Webster/Minnesota Reformer.

Minneapolis city employees found out on Tuesday they will be able to work from home until Feb. 14, about a month longer than expected. The delay comes after some city workers voiced concerns about being required to return to the office as the highly contagious omicron variant drives up COVID-19 cases across the country.

City employees were first told they would be required to return to the office in September, which was delayed until Jan. 10 because of the delta variant. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey stuck with that date even after the local state of emergency was extended again, until Feb. 14, which will allow the city council to continue meeting remotely until then.

In emails to city employees obtained by the Reformer, department leaders told staff that Frey decided to push back the date “to be consistent with the expiration of the Emergency Order.”

The additional time will also allow the city to implement testing protocols and “assess the status of the spread” following holiday gatherings, according to the email.

The email signals that Frey and other city leaders are not inclined to push back return-to-work plans beyond the Feb. 14 date. It points out that 60% of city employees, including emergency responders and other essential workers, have been working in-person through the pandemic even as new variants have emerged.

“The reality is COVID and its variants will be with us for some time and the world has found new ways to operate despite it. Many people are traveling, attending concerts and weddings, dining in restaurants, and attending public events which do increase our exposure to COVID,” the email reads, borrowing nearly identical language from an email sent to workers last week telling them they would be required to return to the office on Jan. 10.

The emergence of omicronhas led some large employers including Wells Fargo to delay plans to bring workers back downtown, while others such as U.S. Bank will push ahead with return-to-office plans beginning Jan. 10.

Earlier this month, Frey proclaimed that “downtown is back and it is open!” although less than half of all downtown workers have returned.

City and business leaders are eager to repopulate the deserted downtown in order to bring economic activity back to the city’s center and have seemed to coalesce around the Jan. 10 date.

Jonathan Weinhagen, the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, told KARE 11 on Monday that many large companies will be asking employees to return to the office in January.

“We’re hearing a lot of companies that continued to be resolved to the Jan. 10 date,” Weinhagen said. “We’re optimistic that we’re going to see more than a trickle — probably a rush — back to downtown, come Jan. 10.”

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.