I hope you’re all enjoying your weekend. Even though it’s getting harder to tell the days apart, I’ve been trying to take Saturday as my official “day off.” I did spend a lot of time with my wife yesterday researching out of state sleepaway camps since all of the in-state plans we made for our son have crumbled, and I did some laundry, too, so maybe it was more like a morning off… As Safer at Home conditions begin to ease, hopefully everyone can spend a little more time outside and a little more time connecting with our fellow humans under semi-normal conditions. Wearing a mask while you hike sucks, but it’s better than not wearing a mask while you’re stuck in the house every day… Like all of you, despite the blessings of steady employment and the benefits of working from home, the struggle is real. Staying on an even keel is impossible sometimes and it’s normal to feel occasional despair – but don’t forget that mental health services exist for a reason.
This note includes guidance on using the expanded Professional Development Allowance and brief updates on returning to the office and furloughs. As with all things covid-related, definitive information is limited and the situation remains fluid. Even though there’s always a chance, however small, that things could change between now and July 1, you should expect and plan for furloughs when the new fiscal year begins.
LACAA is tracking your questions and concerns, and soon we will be hosting some virtual membership meetings and distributing a survey to get a more detailed understanding of your perspectives and priorities. More to come, schedules permitting.
Professional Development Allowance (PDA)
For your reference, I am attaching the new MOU, the recently updated reimbursement form and instructions, and some additional benefits available through the LA County Bar (thanks to Phil Lam). Travel Guidelines
How it works:
Because we are shifting from calculating this benefit on a calendar year to a fiscal year basis, you must submit two separate sets of reimbursement requests – one for the period 1/1/20-6/30/20 and another for the period 7/1/20- 6/30/21. You are entitled to reimbursement up to $625 for the first period and up to $750 for the second period. In addition, you will get a $750 cash payment in July (less tax withholding) to spend on the same things, for a total benefit of $1500 per fiscal year. When you’re ready, complete the attached form and submit it to the business office.
Unlike previous years, for the period starting 1/1/20 and continuing through the term of this mou, you can spend your PDA on more than just MCLE. We successfully negotiated to expand the permitted uses for this important benefit, on the basis that a wide array of resources exists to make us better attorneys, and by pursuing these opportunities we are providing a direct benefit to the office and the City. Especially in light of the current budget situation, please use good judgment in spending these funds and don’t abuse the privilege.
Permitted expenses now include:
- Training (MCLE and other professional/career development training and materials, including travel and lodging). The idea is that you can develop your skills as an attorney to benefit the office by taking training beyond mcle. As the description indicated, this training includes (but is not limited to) traditional mcle, “mcle in a box” or similar subscription services (as long as you take 1 hour before the end of the reimbursement period), a class on public speaking, supervisor training, using Powerpoint for presentations.
- Professional associations dues, Los Angeles County Bar Associations dues, California State Bar specialized section dues. This is in addition to the standard benefit of $100 reimbursement for joining LACBA or State Bar specialized sections.
- Books/practice guides/reference guides. This applies to anything that might be useful for your legal practice and is not limited to your specific practice area. Purchases should bear some reasonable relationship to your work as a lawyer.
- Software (e.g., CEQA, Crime Finder, maps). Same note as for books and practice guides.
- Certification fees. Although the form from the office says “Certification exam fees,” the MOU is more broad than that, so this category covers test prep materials and related expenses if you are interested in obtaining a certificate in a subject that is relevant to your practice. In addition to State Bar certifications, you could, for example, get certified as a privacy professional.
I hope this expanded guidance helps you make some informed decisions, but if you run into resistance from the business office, LACAA is standing by to make this benefit work for you.
Returning to Work
Many of you have asked when our offices will reopen, what that will look like, and how the office will accommodate attorneys with childcare challenges. The short answer is we don’t know yet. LACAA’s number one priority is protecting your health and safety, and we have clearly communicated to the front office that many of you are reluctant to return without adequate assurances that our work environments will comply with public health/CDC requirements and recommendations. The front office is also aware that many of you are parents whose kids require supervision and that, even if the work environment is rendered safe for your return, it will not be feasible to come back until you have somewhere or someone to take your kid(s) while you’re at work.
We recognize that the conditions for successfully returning to the office will vary based on the nature of individual assignments and that there may be different expectations/burdens placed on folks in different branches of the office. We expect the front office to follow a slow and deliberate approach to all of the issues related to returning to work, and we have suggested that now is an opportune time for the office to re-evaluate what we do and how we do it. Consistent with our current practice, we will address any problems as they arise. Decisions about returning to work will now undoubtedly be influenced by adjustments necessary for getting our work done in response to limitations dictated by furloughs, so we anticipate things will remain in flux for the foreseeable future. It’s reasonable to expect that conditions for returning to (and remaining at) work will go through multiple iterations and may change after folks have returned to the office.
Our new mou includes a letter of agreement to establish a pilot telecommuting program, and some City officials are starting to talk about permanent telecommuting solutions for employees. When the time comes, we will be taking all of the lessons learned from our current experiences to help us negotiate the best telecommuting program we can, and ideally it would be in conjunction with City-wide efforts along those lines. Stay tuned.
At this point in time, we cannot say the City’s finances are improving or the City knows how much Federal money will be available to close the projected budget gaps. While we continue to explore potential alternatives to the City’s chosen solution to its budget challenges, it’s too soon to say whether anything will pan out before the start of the new fiscal year.
Based on all of this uncertainty, expect furloughs and a 10% pay cut to go into effect on 7/1/20 and plan accordingly. All of the unions whose members have been threatened with furloughs are in agreement that the City cannot furlough us without our consent, and the City has been put on notice to expect another legal challenge if they attempt to impose furloughs unilaterally. You will hear many rumors as we approach July 1 – please do your best to ignore them and have faith that LACAA will make sure you know everything you need to know as soon as the details come into better focus.
There is no talk of layoffs, furloughs will not impact your path to tenure or your retirement benefits, and, for what it’s worth, the City intends to honor every other term of our mou. If furloughs happen, regardless of the circumstances that bring them into being, we are pushing for maximum flexibility in how they are implemented (for example, whether a full furlough day or flexing furlough hours is best for your assignment), establishing the conditions that would bring them to an early conclusion, and working hard to ensure everyone can accrue CTO if required to work during furlough hours.
For those of you who are wondering, my wife’s roots look amazing and I have been encouraged to pursue my cosmetology license as soon as I can find the time!
Please do what you can to stay safe and healthy; as my mom likes to say, remember to put on your own oxygen mask first. We will let you know as soon as we work out the arrangements for virtual membership meetings – I look forward to “seeing” you soon.