Preparing for Return to Work: Background Information
The current conditions stemming from the global COVID-19 pandemic have created extraordinary challenges for the University, particularly as it prepares for different return-to-work scenarios. As background for the recommendations below, we make the following assumptions:
- Health and safety for employees, students, and others on campus is our high priority. As the University returns to normal work functions, we must remain flexible and think creatively about on-site work adjustments while continuing to meet our educational mission and provide students with a robust educational experience.
- As the University gradually moves toward bringing students back to campus and resuming operations that have been closed, we need to seek a balance between the educational and functional needs of the University and personal and health-related employee concerns.
- The current interactive process handled by the Affirmative Action Office (AAO) when employees with disabilities request reasonable accommodations in order to perform the essential functions of their job will continue. However, this process should not be the first option for anticipated requests from employees who desire to minimize time on-site or adjust their on-site work environment during the current pandemic.
- Individual academic, budget, and managerial units are best equipped to determine when and how their employees should transition from the current campus restriction to working on-site.
Recommendations for Managing Employee Concerns, regarding Returning to Work
The University is developing plans to support the health and safety of all members of the University community. These include enhanced cleaning protocols, universal masking, and alterations to classroom and office environments that help to ensure social distancing practices. Even with those measures, some individuals who are part of vulnerable populations may have concerns about returning to the workplace. The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s latest guidance for institutions of higher education recommends that institutions develop policies for individuals at higher risk of COVID-19. Individuals who feel that they are part of a vulnerable population and are unable to perform their assigned duties should work with their unit executives or supervisors, as described below, to determine whether adjustments can be made to their regular duties.
To provide maximum flexibility in managing employees’ concerns regarding a return to work during the current pandemic conditions, we developed different planning frameworks for various employee groups. Within each group, we list a number of options that campuses, colleges, and administrative units might utilize to address employee requests for workplace adjustments and promote a supportive and inclusive work environment. This list is not exhaustive. Faculty, staff, technical-service employees, managers, department heads, and leaders are encouraged to work creatively together to support the various work functions and one another to address specific concerns within a work area, college, campus, and/or administrative unit while also accomplishing the educational and operational mission of the University.
Framework for each employee group is outlined below:
NOTE: These recommendations are not intended as permanent University operations.
**The University reserves the right to change its approach to employee expectations or to revise these guidelines at any time during the pandemic response. The assumptions may be very different when the health and safety concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic have largely dissipated.