Which state will be mandating the way some employees arrive at work?

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California’s Bay Area Air Quality Management District wants employers to play a part in reducing vehicle emissions with a wide-reaching commuter benefits program.

Under the program, companies with 50 or more full-time employees in the Bay Area would be required to offer their employees one of the following benefits:
  • Option 1: Allowing employees to exclude their transit or vanpool costs from taxable income;
  • Option 2: A transit or vanpool subsidy to cover or reduce the employee’s monthly transit or vanpool costs, up to $75 per month;
  • Option 3: A free or low-cost bus, shuttle, or vanpool service for employees; or
  • Option 4: An alternative commuter benefit that is as effective as the other options in reducing single-occupant vehicle trips (and/or vehicle emissions), such as a telecommuting program.
After a public hearing in March, employers will likely have six months to comply.

It’s the first state-level US legislation relating to telecommuting that applies to private employers. In 2010, the Telework Enhancement Act was signed into law for federal government employees, but its focus was on workforce flexibility rather than carbon emissions. The counties of San Francisco, Berkeley and Richmond have similar programs with limited capacity because of their scales.

Michael Gutman is a former sustainability consultant in San Francisco, who now works for telecommuting software startup Sqwiggle. He says the tax incentives involved in the program would enhance its appeal to both employees and employers. And being California, offering a telecommuting schedule is likely to be a popular option because many employers are already implementing it.

But for employers who want to avoid having employees out of the office on some days, option 1 has already proven popular in the cities with similar ordinances.

“What I suspect is that there’s going to be some initial grumblings of having to go through the effort, but the outcome is going to be happier employees,” he says. “There’s definitely a triple win for employers, employees and the planet; however, it’s going to take some time to get the kinks out of the program.”

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District did not respond to requests for comment.

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