Most of City’s HR employees’ jobs no longer guaranteed - ‘We’ve been told our department is the heartbeat of City Hall, but we’ve been left in the dark’

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 2/16/2023, 6 p.m.
Richmond continues to struggle to fill vacant positions in multiple City Hall departments, ranging from police to finance. The situation ...

Richmond continues to struggle to fill vacant positions in multiple City Hall departments, ranging from police to finance.

The situation could soon be more difficult as the city’s key recruiting and employee services department, Human Resources, undergoes upheaval.

City officials have not made any public statements and did not respond to a Free Press inquiry.

But three department employees have separately told the Free Press that effective Friday, all of the remaining full-time employees are to be laid off except for the three top managers, who include Robin Redmond, the interim director.

The workers said they were told at a staff meeting in early February and urged to reapply for new positions that are being advertised, but that there were no guarantees they would have jobs.2

As one employee put it, “We’ve been told our department is the heartbeat of City Hall, but we’ve been left in the dark. None of us knows what will happen.”

The three employees who discussed the situation would not allow their names to be used for fear they would face retaliation and lose any prospect of retaining a city position.

The department has been short-handed. According to the city’s 2022-23 budget book, Human Resources was authorized to have 41 full-time and one part-time employee, down 11 people from the previous fiscal year.

Employees said most the recent directory listed 33 people, indicating there were eight vacancies. Ahead of the layoffs, nine people employed as analysts were allowed to transfer to vacant positions in other departments, the Free Press was told by the Human Resources employees.

Of the remaining employees, the Free Press was told that three are managers, two are temporary workers and one is a retiree who has filled in part-time.

Of the 18 full-time employees left, one has already resigned, leaving 17 full-time employees facing layoffs, the Free Press was told.

According to the city’s employee manual, workers subject to what is known as a reduction in force are usually allowed to move to a lower position in another department, essentially a demotion.

“We have been told we cannot do that,” one employee said. “Either we get rehired in one of the new positions or we get terminated. That’s the choice.

“Maybe we’ll all get rehired. Even so there will be fewer people left to do the work,” the employee said, as result of the transfers that have already taken place.

Human Resources reports to Sabrina Joy-Hogg, deputy chief administrative officer for finance and administration.

The department that is involved in every aspect of employee services, from hiring and retention to designing and administering classification, compensation and performance evaluations, overseeing employee data, handling employee grievances and providing training and development.

Human Resources also is anticipated to play a key role in providing labor relations services given the city’s decision to allow employees to unionize and bargain collectively.

“I don’t know how everything we’re involved with will get done,” one of the employees said. “The city is fortunate. Instead of running for the exits, for the most part, everyone has stayed on and kept focused on the work. But it becomes so stressful when the reward for loyalty is uncertainty and worry. This is not what we signed up for.”

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, a professional human resources membership association headquartered in Alexandria, having employees reapply for their jobs is a commonly used strategy in restructuring scenarios such as mergers, acquisitions and downsizing.

“When these events occur, employers are often faced with duplicate positions and inefficient staffing configurations,” notes an article on the association’s website. “Although this approach seems controversial, there are several reasons organizations may choose to ask employees to reapply for their positions during restructuring. This includes clearly defining staffing needs, helping employers find the most qualified workers, weeding out employees who do not wish to stay, and helping to alleviate discrimination concerns.