Judith Faulkner, CEO of healthcare IT giant Epic Systems.
Source: Epic Systems
Epic Systems shared a letter with employees over the weekend informing them that they are no longer required to return to the Verona, Wisconsin campus on Monday.
It marks a shift in their previous plans to bring the majority of their workers back to the office during the coronavirus pandemic, which led to criticism from employees about the lack of concern for their health and well-being.
Epic sells electronic medical software to hospitals. About 4,000 of its 9,000 employees volunteered on its campus during the pandemic, the company said.
Employees were previously told to return to work this month unless they had trouble arranging child care or had a health condition that put them at risk for serious complications from Covid-1
Epic received a letter from local public health officials on August 6, raising questions about its return to the work plan. It told Public Health Services Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) that it will change its policy so that staff will not have to return to the office.
“Throughout our planning process, we have been in frequent communication with PHMDC to ensure that our plans follow their orders,” a spokesman told CNBC. “We responded to the letter on August 8 and asked for clarity in their regulations and approval of our plan that goes ahead. While our intention is to return staff to campus, we adjust the time frame when working with public health representatives to get their agreement on our plan. . “
Epic did not share its timeline for when it expects staff to return. It stressed that it still hopes to get back as many employees as possible. The original plan was to bring back most employees by mid-September.
“We hope you can provide us with further guidance on your ordinances,” wrote Epic’s chief executive Sverre Roang in a letter to local public health representatives, which was shared with CNBC.
The company also said in the letter that it had hired Dr. Nicky Quick, a former public health official, as an internal expert. It works with the former acting health commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration Dr. Stephen Ostroff and consults with the Cleveland Clinic to return to labor policy.
Letter to employees
The missive shared with its employees on Saturday night from senior vice president Sumit Rana, also watched by CNBC, said that company executives “recognized that you (staff) may feel anxious when you return to work for various reasons.”
“For those of you returning to campus, you have the choice to return gradually,” the letter continues. “We expect that you will maintain your normal workload and be available to your team and customers and needed.”
An anonymous employee, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the company, told CNBC that the workers felt intimidated by the need to report their decision to stay at home to human resources (Epic said the decision was made to get a better sense of the number of staff).
The employee also shared that colleagues were worried that they would still need to return to work in the near future. In the letter, Epic said it would give “two weeks notice” before asking employees to return to campus.
The employee also said that they felt that Epic had a “lack of confidence” regarding its employees’ ability to work from home effectively.
These feelings do not seem to be isolated to a few workers. The results of an internal employee survey obtained by CBS News found that hundreds of employees expressed objections to the plan.
Epic has emphasized that the main reason for bringing back staff is to maintain its culture. It has said it is adapting its campus to ensure social distance. Employees must wear masks indoors unless they are alone in an office and the door is closed. It is also taking steps to improve ventilation and to roof its cafeteria.
Cerner will continue with the remote work until the end of 2020
Cerner, Epic’s largest competitor in electronic medical records, said it will continue remote work until the end of 2020. Cerner is based in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Midwest, where both Cerner and Epic are based, could be a potential Covid-19 hotspot. Wisconsin has reported more than 64,000 cases and over 1,000 deaths. Dane County, where Epic is based, has reported more than 4,500 cases.
“As a healthcare technology company, we are committed to not only doing our part, but leading, for example, to reducing the potential exposure and transmission of COVD-19 in our communities,” a spokesman for Cerner said.
A spokesman said Cerner had successfully switched to remote work.
“We have determined that it is currently safest for our workforce to stay away until the end of the year,” the spokesman for Cerner said. “We continue to monitor the situation and evaluate our plans for a possible re-entry based on the latest available data.”