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Employees Accuse Assessor’s Office of Forcing People Back to Work Regardless of County Orders

Santa Clara County remains on California’s COVID-19 watchlist, but employees at the Santa Clara County Assessor’s Office say the agency is putting policies in place to make sure employees return to work at the office, even if they have the capability to work from home.

153 of the approximately 270 employees that work at the Assessor’s Office have submitted a petition to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 11. They say, they’re being asked to return to in-person work for something that has “no service function nor work-related need.”

An employee who reached out to The Weekly says he was among the first employees told to return to work at the Assessor’s Office in May. He says medical issues were not considered a valid excuse to stay home.

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“They basically say that if you’re sick or you have a doctor’s note, then you are able to take emergency sick leave,” said the employee. “Beyond that, they would rather that you come into the office when you’re scheduled to come and work from home, when you’re scheduled to work from home.”

He says once the sick leave and vacation time are exhausted, you have to make the choice to not get paid or return to work at the office.

County Assessor Larry Stone says 77 of his employees returned to work in May, some on a rotational basis. He says because the Assessor’s Office brings $5.1 billion in revenue into the county each year, it’s an essential business and his employees are essential workers.

“When you employ yourself in the county…they tell you at the beginning you’re a disaster [service worker],” said Stone. “Every employee including me, every employee in the county, all 22,000 of them, are disaster service workers.”

Stone says his office has made significant effort to make sure the office is safe. There is room to socially distance and proper PPE is provided to employees as well as hand sanitizers; bathrooms have been remodeled to include touchless faucets. He says his office has gone above and beyond county guidelines and it is safe for employees to return to work.

The employee who spoke to The Weekly says while it’s possible to social distance now, a current plan to bring 40 more employees in on a rotating basis makes him nervous.

“When the non-management people are brought in half-time, I think we can keep it socially distanced. There’s plenty of people who are still very uncomfortable just doing that,” said the employee. “I don’t know if we could have more in the office and be safe.”

The petition submitted on Aug. 11 is the second petition submitted to the Board of Supervisors by employees at the Assessor’s Office. On Aug. 4, employees in the Real Property Division of the Assessor’s Office reported that Stone is “pressuring” 40 more employees to return to the office to deal with the assessment appeals process.

The petition points out that much larger counties like Los Angeles County and San Diego County are not providing in-person service. In fact, Los Angeles County has postponed assessment appeals while San Diego County is offering virtual appeals hearings. The employees say either could be done in Santa Clara County.

Both the employee who spoke to The Weekly and the petitioners say in many instances the Assessor is missing is a key component of the Santa Clara County Public Health order, which says, “All workers who can do their jobs from home are required to work remotely.”

“99 percent of the time we’re on Microsoft Teams calls or Skype calls, there’s not really a lot we do in person so there’s not really a good reason for us to be in the office,” said the employee.

A Public Health spokesperson confirmed the county health rules apply to all businesses in Santa Clara County, even government agencies.

Stone believes the health order is missing a key component.

“What is absent from that health order is you should have as many people teleworking as you can, but it doesn’t say, at the highest level of productivity,” said Stone. “So I agree, people can work from home, but we can’t accomplish our essential responsibilities if all of those people, all of the time work from home…you can work from home, but you can’t work productively enough to generate $5.1 billion with a revenue a year.”

The employees disagree. They say they met the July 1 deadline for property assessments while working from home and that should be proof enough that working from home is feasible.

“I think that he [Stone] should take into consideration that we’ve proven we can do the work remotely. That 95 percent of the work that we do can be done remotely and that we’ve proven that,” said the employee.

Stone says it was the nine months before that helped them reach the deadline.

“They conveniently forget about the nine months, where we didn’t have COVID-19,” said Stone. “So, all the preparation for nine months up to the [July 1 deadline], if we were teleworking all that nine months, that’s what they’re asking for. We would be even the worst. So next March, we would be in a worse position that we were this March.”

Stone says his office has agreed to reasonable accommodations for 17 employees who have verified medical issues, but he says just being concerned isn’t a good enough reason to not come to work.

“I’m sorry, we’re not a social service organization. We’re an assessor’s office,” said Stone. “Just not feeling safe is not a reason for us to allow somebody to do something that doesn’t accomplish the objective.”

Stone feels teleworking does not and cannot accomplish the objective.

“I’ve done extensive research on teleworking, it reduces productivity almost everywhere that it has been happening,” said Stone.

“I think he [Stone] needs to take his people’s feelings into consideration,” said the employee. “I don’t really feel that they are concerned. I think they are more concerned about the business, obviously, than their people.”

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23 Comments
  1. The Fox 2 months ago
    Reply

    What happens to the productivity of your office when the people that come into the office end up being sick with COVID-19?

  2. C. Bossio 2 months ago
    Reply

    Mr. Stone sites telecommuting policies from IBM and Yahoo when the polices to eliminate telecommuting occurred in 2014. What he doesn’t state is that those companies have since reversed that position prior to the COVID pandemic.

    Mr. Stone also failed to report that current production while working at home is up over 8% from the previous year at this time.

    The devil is in the details; unfortunately Mr. a stone doesn’t report those facts.

    Sorry Larry, the Stone Age is over…

  3. Stoneage 2 months ago
    Reply

    Larry, what happen to IBM and Yahoo since then? Yahoo is DEAD! IBM is hanging on to dear life – stunted growth for the last decade. It’s the likes of Facebooks and Googles that had taken over – companies that adapted to new technology and new management approach! It’s true – it’s impossible to teach Old Corporations new tricks – and they die. You are saying they don’t know what they are doing – when it comes to flex hours no badging in requirements ever, and telecommuting etc etc – STONE-AGED! mindset.

    What Larry is also saying is the County Management is “managing a social service organization” by having all other county employees work from home! Other County workers are just as much DISASTER WORKERS when they work from home – Larry bringing up the part about Assessors being disaster workers is simply nonsense. I think it’s an insult to the County managers. The County managers and DA needs to step in and protect the COUNTY EMPLOYEES (NOT LARRY”S EMPLOYEES) and protect the County from potential liabilities. Larry simply is trying to make a one man personal statement, a one man personal unilateral decision. His managers – where the rubber hits the road had acknowledged to employees in many meetings that the job had been getting done and efficiency had increased as far as property tax collection is concerned. Larry is irrelevant to getting the assessors’ job done – the JOB WILL GET DONE EVEN IF HE IS GONE – may be even better! The assessors takes pride in what they do! Most County employees have families – young children or young adults living with them – of course we are not just thinking of 1 person or two persons being affected should anything happen.

    We have seen how the CDC guidelines are not fool proof and are constantly being updated – it’s not risk free. THE ASSESSOR’S OFFICE IS A TOTALLY ENCLOSED LOW CEILING SPACE – 0 WINDOWS AND VERY AIR TIGHT WORK SPACE – PERFECT FOR COVID-19. New emerging research is showing that 6 ft is insufficient for such an environment with air-con blowing.

    County Managers and Counsel needs to override individual Fiefdom rulings – these are no ordinary times – nice to haves can be a very high price tag personally to families as well as potentially the County. There’s precedence throughout the major counties in California – one man’s poison shouldn’t be fed to all!

  4. More productive than Larry thinks... 2 months ago
    Reply

    “I’ve done extensive research on teleworking, it reduces productivity almost everywhere that it has been happening,” said Stone.

    Larry, have you actually researched the productivity for your own department? It sure doesn’t appear that way. For the 2020/21 Roll Year, we started working from home in mid-March when Shelter in Place(SiP) started. Some of staff didn’t receive their work laptops until the end of March. Maybe you should ask your frontline supervisors how much productivity went up once we received our laptops. You know, the supervisors who actually work with your staff on a day to day basis.

    I ran some of my numbers for the 2020/21 Roll Year vs. the 2019/2020 Roll Year to check my “productivity”. And Larry, you won’t believe it, but my productivity working from home during the period of April 1, 2020 thru June 23, 2020 was higher than the same time period working in the office in 2019. On top of that, I had a heavier workload during the 2020/21 Roll Year than the previous year. My overall workload for 2019/20 had me turning in 615 total assessment activities. In 2020/21, I had 756 total assessment activities. That’s roughly a 23% increase in my workload from 2019 to 2020.

    From April 1 thru June 23, 2020, I completed 241 activities. During the same time period in 2019, I completed 167 activities. Even though my workload was heavier during SiP compared to 2019, I still managed to complete 40%+ more activities in spite of not working “…at the highest level of productivity,” while at home. So tell me Larry, how does my lack of productivity while at home work out for you?

    Larry, you need to admit that this is strictly a control issue. You cannot wrap your mind around the fact that people don’t have to be in the office everyday to work effectively. You’re unable to grasp that there are plenty of metrics in place for supervisors to ensure that staff are getting their jobs done while at home, the same metrics used while we’re in the office. You need to accept that the only way that you feel in control is to have “your” people in the office everyday, even if you maybe visit our floor once or twice a year.

    You’ve fought us on the telecommuting issue for several years and always turned us down. Now that we’ve successfully closed a roll under duress while telecommuting, you still won’t change your mind, even when presented with factual statistics. Instead of making up excuses with refuted “studies”, why don’t you just come out and say that you don’t trust us to work from home? We’d appreciate your candor even if we didn’t like message. That way, we’d know where you actually stand. At least you’d be showing leadership and integrity. However, I don’t believe leadership and integrity are part of your vocabulary.

    Larry, your unwillingness to adapt to the modern work place along with your comments in the above article have destroyed whatever morale boost that working from home has provided your department. You are clearly a dinosaur in the modern world.

  5. Karin Babbitt 2 months ago
    Reply

    This is a thinly disguised effort to politicize a safety issue.

  6. Politician 2 months ago
    Reply

    Larry – You single handedly demoralized and insulted the assessors’ office employees. We worked our rear-ends off to close the 2019 roll using our own equipment initially and later County equipment – it was like running and trying to catch a falling knife – we were totally unprepared to work from home because of the Frozen Mentality of the past 20 years!

    We would like you to know – You were totally irrelevant during the whole process of getting the job done! We worked closely with our supervisors/managers to get it done with whatever means we could. Ok … you did your part – the very tough part … Lifting your pen to sign the PO for the new laptops!

    YOUR INSULTS AND LACK OF CANDOR, LACK OF LEADERSHIP IN THE FACE OF THE WORST CHALLENGES TO OUR LIVES IN DECADES, LACK OF INTEGRITY AND LACK OF CONCERNS FOR OUR FAMILIES IS DEMORALIZING!

  7. Sector 7-G 2 months ago
    Reply

    Larry, it’s telling that most of the comments here appear to be from Assessor’s Office employees. This is apparently the only way we can reach you! You unilaterally put these plans into place without soliciting the ideas, opinions and concerns of those of us on the front lines who are going to be the most affected by this. You get to hide out in your spacious, enclosed, corner office and give Zoom webinars to whoever will listen. You spend more time talking to, for instance (just today), the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors, than you do to us. You left it to the division managers to inform us of your plan, in meetings that you chose not to attend, and you have ignored our requests to discuss the matter with you directly. You apparently submitted a plan to the County Executive for our return without sharing it with staff OR the division managers. You only know how to communicate to us through memos and the occasional all hands meeting

    And believe me, there are more us than just those employees that signed the two petitions. There are many more of your employees who share the same concerns, but did not want to say so publicly for fear of retaliation and added scrutiny from management. We are all aware of how you’re willing to lavish us with empty praise, and then in the same breath throw us under the bus for some trivial, irrelevant issue. And you’re doing it again. Telling us how you appreciate our professionalism, focus, and adaptability while working from home. Telling us you’re very proud of our team. And then turning around and telling this reporter that the work we did in the safety of our homes is deficient, and that it was really the other nine months that contributed to our roll close success, and that we should all stop being snowflakes, put on our face shields, and come to the office to be chaperoned.

    Larry, there’s a phrase I’ve heard you close with time and time again in those speeches you give at the all hands meetings. “You make me look better than I deserve”. In the past, I’ve always dismissed it as hollow, false humility and standard politician-speak,. But the last couple of weeks have made me realize that it’s the only genuine thing you’ve ever said to us.

  8. Never Again Voting For Larry Stone 2 months ago
    Reply

    Larry Stone clearly doesn’t understand how to run a successful business department. I will definitely not be voting for him next time he is up for reelection.

  9. bethelgomez@yahoo.com 2 months ago
    Reply

    It’s interesting that all of the comments are on one side of the issue. I’m not an employee working in the assessor’s office – but I was one. Mr. Stone’s attitude with regard to this current issue is the same as his attitude on many, many prior issues – and the perceptions, perspectives, and sensitivities of the employees, as expressed herein, are also exactly the same as they have been since early in Mr. Stone’s tenure.
    I felt the same: insulted and demotivated by an autocratic micromanager. Mr. Stone is a wily politician, not a leader. How wily is he? In a meeting with me and the SEIU Chief Steward and the Chief of Administration, he told me that he believed that my fellow employees thought I was a crackpot. Notice that he did not defame me by saying I was a crackpot, nor did he directly express his opinion about me; he only told me what he thought others believed.
    I continue to believe that the best thing Mr. Stone could do for the county is retire – not because he’s old, but because he is trapped in his old-fashioned ways. It’s time for him to step aside and give employees a chance to breathe and get on with their careers in the 21-st century.

    • Jack 1 month ago
      Reply

      Agreed. Time for Stone to retire.

  10. The Barking Dog 2 months ago
    Reply

    *Unconfirmed Report* Another County of Santa Clara Assessor’s Office employee has just been reported to test positive for COVID-19.

  11. Assessment Drone 2 months ago
    Reply

    As a long time employee at the Office of the Assessor, I have come to be proud working in this county department in how we provide assistance to the public, the great people among the ranks and even Larry Stone. I respected Larry and have for all my years of service, until the last few weeks. In the middle of this pandemic, while infection cases were on the rise, he chose to draft a plan to bring back as many staff as possible into the office. It simply didn’t make sense and in the middle of processing this new development – like a switch, everything snapped into focus. For all the praise he has lavished upon us during rare all hands meetings, the memos recognizing our accomplishments and the smiling idle chit-chats in the halls was quite simply, bullshit. I pretty much lost all respect for him and it’s quite sad at a personal level, but also infuriating which fuels this post.

    In the last few weeks as we started hear that this plan was being developed, Larry had been contacted several times asking for discussion by representative staff. In the asbence of any response, we were left to wonder and began accounting for personal risks when forced into his plan. Why is he insistent in defying the recommendation of the County Health Department or the State Health Department? What net benefit would be attained by risking employee health, regardless of the precautions taken and ignoring that CDC recommendations are constantly changing or that we still understand little of this Coronovirus? Who, besides Larry thought this was a good idea – perhaps the Assistant Assessor and Deputy Assessor? How would we deal with another discovered infection in the office, send everyone home while the office receives another “deep cleaning” again? We have questions and if Larry was a leader, we would have heard from him by now. We have not heard from him since the beginning of the year, actually. He is no leader and quite frankly as things came into focus; in all my time with this department, all of our accomplishments will still have happened, even if all that sat in that corner office was a ham sandwich. So no, Larry does not lead the office – the office’s leaders are the Division Chiefs, Assistant Chiefs and Line Supervisors. Those leaders collectively know every aspect of the office’s function, because all of them have done the job personally in closing the roll and have worked by our side before becoming leaders. It would behoove Larry to at least heed the advice of his Chiefs and even more so with Supervisors. He’s not listening to the peon workers after all.

    What of Larry and this article? He is quite masterful in making us look unreasonable with our request, in ignoring reported analytics that shows higher production compared to the same week in the prior year while working from home, by lying that the nine months prior is the defining factor that we were able to close the roll-that’s indicative of how little he understands the production calendar and to speak as an unqualified public health official in denial of their recommendation. We are ill-equipped to challenge him like this, because those are the stereotypical tools that gives politicians a bad name. That’s in Larry’s wheel house. We’re just trying to do our job safely and no amount of assurance from someone with no medical background who has also been seen recently walking around 70 W Hedding without a mask as per county policy is going change that.

    I commend the reporter for being the first to cover the issue at hand. Any follow-up stories should also include the published data of our production as well as the number of phone calls received while working safely at home, because that would bring into focus the bullshit Larry is quoted in this article. Also of note is that while no other Bay Area county is receiving in person visits to the office, we are with skewed data. We were actively discouraged to contact the taxpayer who made an in-person appointment by phone to see if we can resolve their issue and save them a trip. All in the name of justifying the increased health risk of the employee, their family and the taxpayer along with whoever they later come into contact with, for that tick mark on a report. Even though appointments numbered in the single digits on weeks observed, Larry required six employees of one division for in-office standby, even if there no appointments for the day. Taxpayers that were called with resolution by phone were still counted in the report for physical visits.

    While California schools have made the right choice in protecting the health of the teachers and students by keeping them at home, Lawrence E. Stone would have taken a page out of the Georgia Governor’s playbook and send them all to school. While many of the local Fortune 500 companies have made the wise decision to protect their workers by keeping them at home to work, Lawrence E. Stone cites a decade old failed study that is his proof that workers are only more productive when physically in the office and ignoring the health risk from experts. While I used to ponder how someone can be so confidently ignorant as to dismiss Dr. Fauci’s recommendation, I now have a front row seat in seeing how Lawrence E. Stone is doing just that with the Department of Public Health’s recommendation. Larry is unrelenting and all I can hope is for a higher authority like the County Executive, Board of Supervisors, Department of Public Health to step in and do what is right, otherwise what is to stop Stone from doing as he pleases while undermining their authority. We already see this with the “Leader” in our country’s Executive Branch.

    [We] “make [him] look better than he deserves,” as often said in the couple office-wide gatherings we have each year. Truth be spoken. The next time Larry is up for election, he will surely get my vote: No Confidence

  12. Elizabeth G 2 months ago
    Reply

    You know, there is still that County health order mandating that anyone who can work from home, do so. Other companies are being good citizens, struggling to make it work, but apparently Larry Stone thinks he’s special and doesn’t need to pay attention to the law. The law is for other people; he is above such petty concerns.

  13. No love for boss Larry 1 month ago
    Reply

    This crisis is the last straw for many of us. Many agencies throughout the county with critical missions have done a better job of protecting employee LIVES. My family is freaked out that I will bring the Covid-19 back and infect them.

    Hiding in his big, ventilated office is not good leadership. Instead he talks to Realtors, his developers buddy and the like all day and then says we are lazy.

    Hopefully our union will do something here. Maybe call DA Rosen on this.

    I and several people around me agree, but would not sign the petition because the environment is retaliatory.

    Clearly we need a new boss. Supervisor Mike Wasserman (Even thought he is Republican) or Water District Chair Gary Kremen (endorsed by Labor) – both who have said to be running against Stone / sidekick Ginsborg in 2020 Stone will do so.

    They would do a much better job.

  14. Andy Dufrense 1 month ago
    Reply

    How can you be so obtuse?

  15. Mark 1 month ago
    Reply

    Larry needs to resign, Assessor should get fresh blood.

    Larry has a old way of thinking… Google,Microsoft,Cisco others all have work from home option till next year and according to larry they don’t work 🙂 🙂

    Larry you should Resign!!!

  16. Timothy Tsai 1 month ago
    Reply

    Mr. Stone comment about the determination of essential workers based on revenue is obviously incorrect. He is wrong, just as Elon Musk was wrong. The determination of essential workers is based on the county list of exceptions.

  17. Where's Larry? 1 month ago
    Reply

    Larry, you and your lieutenants have been awfully silent regarding this reported new Covid case in the Assessor’s Office. It’s now late morning and no announcement, no memo, no email, nothing. Six employees were required to come in to work on the third floor today, and many more in the other units, all amidst this uncertainty. Uncertainty about whether or not the latest Covid case was a person on their floor, perhaps even the person at the next desk over. Uncertainty about whether bringing in 4 times as many people into the office will allow for sufficient social distancing. Uncertainty about whether they will run into you in the corridors, not wearing a mask.

  18. We Don't Matter 1 month ago
    Reply

    To the staff of the Assessor’s Office. Understand this: we are just a cogs in Larry’s machine. We are all replaceable. None of us matter to him. The only thing that matters to him is looking good and being interviewed by various local media. Let’s make sure he gets interviewed by the media, but for all of the wrong reasons. Silicon Valley Business Journal, NBC Bay Area, etc. Look at the list of articles in the network and you’ll find all of the media groups who have interviewed him. Start contacting them. Go on Twitter and tag those same groups. Put him on the spot.

  19. Coward 1 month ago
    Reply

    He comes into the office and wall himself off in a walled corner office. He conducts zoom meetings occasionally which can just as well be done from his toilet at home! So his rational that he wants folks to be in the office to have the benefits of that “office interactions” whilst he isolates himself from everybody – all talk no walk!

  20. SJ 1 month ago
    Reply

    It is not about one division/one floor .We all need to stand up and fight this.
    When there is so much hue and cry about opening gyms, indoor dining, schools ,
    bars etc does not make sense for so many of is to be working
    in such a closed environment.

  21. The petulant child... 1 month ago
    Reply

    On Friday, the County Executive denied Larry’s plans. Like a petulant child, Larry took his ball and ran home. Now, instead of having a few people in the office like we have had, all employees except for Executive Management have essentially been locked out! Under no circumstances is anyone to be in the office except for Larry and his minions. He has turned this completely into a personal battle!

    We never said that we didn’t want to work. We just wanted a safer work environment. While other department heads have been asking their subordinates for ideas on how to work more from home to minimize exposure, Larry wanted more of us in the office. For what reason? Its not like the public was breaking down the doors to meet with us. Now, none of us allowed in. And now, there will be no in person appointments with the public. It also means that there will be no Assessor’s Office representation at upcoming appeals. This will probably result in automatic wins for appeals applicants, thus depriving the County of millions of dollars of assessed value. Value which turns into property tax revenue used for the citizens of the County. Furthermore, the Assessor’s Office IT staff will not be allowed into the office. This means if a staff member’s work laptop goes down and is unable to be fixed remotely, the staff member will have to take leave because they’re “unable to work”. Of course this intentional sabotage of his staff’s work efforts will be spun to show how “inefficient” telecommuting is.

    Larry Stone is a dishonest, back stabbing, career politician who doesn’t give a damn about the people in his department. He needs to go.

  22. government worker 1 month ago
    Reply

    I am an employee of the Assessor’s Office. My reason for signing the petition was to try to get Larry Stone to adhere to the county’s own guidelines which state: 

    “…all businesses must require that all personnel carry out their job functions remotely if they are able to do so.”

    I am able to do so. So why is this a fight?

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