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A circuit judge on Friday denied a request from the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina to temporarily halt Gov. Henry McMaster’s order for all state employees to return to the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a filing denying the request for a preliminary injunction, or temporary restraining order, Judge L. Casey Manning said the General Assembly gave the governor the responsibility to ensure the “safety, security and welfare of the state” and has the power to modify or rescind emergency measures.
Last month, McMaster called on state agencies to bring employees back as COVID-19 vaccine distribution have picked up and new COVID-19 cases have dropped off in recent months. He ordered state agencies to come up with “plans to expeditiously return all non-essential employees and staff to the workplace on a full-time basis.”
More than 24,000 state employees have still been working from home since the governor ordered nonessential workers to work remotely last spring.
Department of Administration Executive Director Marcia Adams on Tuesday said close to 5% of state agency employees were still working remotely. She added employees are receiving health and workplace accommodations before they come back into the office.
“In reviewing the Department of Administration’s guidance to other state agencies, the department encourages agencies to consider requests for lawful accommodations, to observe measures to mitigate risk of exposure to COVID-19, to consider whether to require appropriate masking measures, (and) to permit employees additional time to develop a child care plan,” Manning wrote.
The ACLU of SC did not immediately comment on Friday’s filing.
In the lawsuit, the ACLU said McMaster’s order will disproportionately harm women, people with disabilities, caregivers and Black people.
Manning said in the order other remedies are available to the plaintiffs in the case, such as a state grievance procedure.
Manning said an employee can bring lawsuits under the Human Affairs Law, the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Civil Rights Act if they believe they have been discriminated against.