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PacifiCorp tells Portland employees to return to the office in less than 2 weeks or take pay cut

AP file photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Power company PacifiCorp told employees at its Lloyd District headquarters Thursday afternoon that they must return to the office full-time on June 1 or take a 10% pay cut to continue working remotely.

Several PacifiCorp employees told The Oregonian/OregonLive they were caught off guard by the sudden announcement and felt frustrated and upset that they were being given less than two weeks to either make accommodations to return to work or take a significant cut in pay.

An email sent to employees announcing the return-to-office plan did not directly reference a pay cut but said employees who wish to continue working remotely must enroll in the company’s voluntary work-from-home program. PacifiCorp confirmed that the program comes with a 10% reduction.

Stefan Bird, president and CEO of Pacific Power, the subdivision of PacifiCorp serving Oregon, California and Washington, told employees in a Thursday afternoon email that the company had decided to set a return-to-office date of June 1 after Multnomah County announced it expects to move into the state’s lower-risk level for COVID-19 spread by May 28.

“Positive vaccination rates coupled with lower infection rates give us confidence that office work can be safely done with appropriate provisions for social distancing and mask wearing,” PacifiCorp spokesperson Tom Gauntt said in an email. “Managers and human resources staff are working with our employees to provide guidance, workplace safety training, and individualized plans to return to work in person.”

Employers across the region are weighing when and how to bring employees back to the office after more than a year of remote work. PacifiCorp’s return-to-office timeline appears to be among the most aggressive, but other employers may follow suit as pandemic restrictions ease and vaccination rates increase.

In the email to staff, Bird said the company won’t require employees to wear masks at individual workstations once they return to the office but will mandate masks in areas where employees can’t maintain six-feet of distance from others.

Approximately 1,000 employees work at the company’s Lloyd district headquarters, some of whom have already been working in the office voluntarily.

“Starting Tuesday, June 1, all employees should begin working in the office in accordance with our flexible work policies and office protocols,” Bird wrote to employees. “This means that we will be able to reacquaint ourselves with colleagues and catch up on our shared experiences during an unprecedented time.”

Gauntt said PacifiCorp was offering employees flexible work hours and alternative schedules to help ease their transition back to the office — as well as the option to enroll in the company’s voluntary work-from-home program.

The power company had previously informed employees who work at the Lloyd Center Tower that they would have to return to the office beginning Nov. 9 or take a 10% pay cut to continue working from home — an announcement that drew the ire of employees.

PacifiCorp backtracked on that decision after Gov. Kate Brown announced a two-week “pause” on social activities in five counties in November amid rising coronavirus cases and encouraged employees to continue working from home.

However, PacifiCorp is now moving forward with its return-to-office plans.

A manager at PacifiCorp who asked The Oregonian/OregonLive not to publish her name so she could speak freely about company policy said the sudden announcement had put some employees, especially those who are caring for children or family members, in a difficult situation.

“You can’t just get childcare on a whim, it takes time,” she said. “I’m hearing from people who are just going to take the pay cut because they don’t know what else to do.”

An internal document describing the company’s voluntary work-from-home program says the 10% pay reduction “is considered an equitable trade off in exchange for the elimination of commute time, additional flexibility, transportation cost savings and even potential tax breaks.”

However, the manager criticized the policy, pointing out that employees incur costs working from home, like higher utility bills. She said she and others had also paid to set up home offices last year without reimbursement from PacifiCorp.

She said she doesn’t understand why the company is so intent on forcing people back to the office when they’ve praised employees for their productivity working from home.

“You really don’t feel the appreciation with their response to this at all,” she said.