Can we give city workers a break?

Today in the Monitor I reported on the case of DeShawn Scott, a former temporary worker for the Public Works Department who was forced out of his job in December because city auditors found stuff on his work computer related to two food trucks he owns. Also, some rather mundane personal stuff.

I was pleasantly surprised when Scott called me back and unloaded on city management. He said that while he sometimes used his city-issued laptop at home, he wasn’t operating his food truck businesses during his city work hours. He said he was baffled by what other folks had gotten away with:

“There were guys who watched a lot of porn on their computers,” Scott said. “Yet these people were barely slapped on the wrist.”

Let’s consider two different scenarios. In the first scenario, every city employee with a city-issued laptop strictly separates their work and personal life and makes sure to never, ever send a personal email etc from their work computer. In the second scenario, every city employee regularly disobeys that rule, and regularly uses their work computer at home for personal stuff.

How much more expensive to the taxpayers would the second scenario be? Wild guess: the cost would be negligible.

But wait, you say, it’s not about the cost. It’s the principle. Give me a break. The only difference between sending a personal email during work hours and shooting the shit at the water cooler is that one of them is accompanied by an electronic record. You can gab with your coworkers all day about fantasy football but if your job is at risk the moment you check up on your team on a slow Monday morning.

Of course, it’s unlikely that anybody is going to check up on your computer records unless somebody has a grudge against you.

Good employers in the private sector increasingly understand that it’s unrealistic to expect employees to work non-stop for eight hours straight. Good bosses don’t care how many breaks workers take as long as they produce.

Of course, this isn’t the way it works in the public sector, which is inherently less flexible. The civil service functions based on strict standards set by our elected government. As much as right-wingers talk about how we need to make government operate like business, the fact is that extending to public employers the same latitude in hiring/firing/compensation enjoyed by private employers would not be a good situation either. That’s basically how banana republics/the Trump administration operate.

I’m not sure I know where exactly to draw the line. Probably somewhere between taking a personal call from your child’s daycare center and deer hunting on the job. 

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