By SUSAN JONES
For Pitt employees, one of the big questions surrounding the pandemic continues to be when and if they will return to campus. And for most, the answer remains the same as it has been since March 13: Stay at home.
The standards and guidelines for on-campus and remote work say: “Employees are encouraged to continue to work remotely, to the maximum extent possible regardless of operational posture, until the University declares it has resumed normal operations.”
Each department, school or unit will have to develop an Activity Area Plan that details who needs to be on campus and who doesn’t, as well as how cleaning and other activities in the office will occur.
When faculty or staff members return to campus they will be required to verify that they don’t have the COVID-19 virus or any symptoms of the virus, as well as if they are at greater risk of getting COVID-19. Anyone who knowingly lies about their health status could be subject to discipline.
In addition, employees may be required to submit to temperature checks and to provide other information.
All employees who are asked to return to campus will be given at least one-week notice and be required to complete training on COVID-19. The training will consist of an overview of the virus, University actions taken to protect employee safety, and guidance around signage, personal hygiene, physical distancing, self-monitoring, cleaning, travel and off-site activities.
All supervisors, department chairs, associate deans, vice presidents, deans and regional presidents also must complete training no later than Aug. 31. It will include how to advise employees on their rights and responsibilities, and how to ensure that their employees are complying with new requirements and procedures resulting from the pandemic, as well as guidance around staggered work schedules, phased returns to campus and tips for welcoming teams to campus.
Even if an employee is asked to come back to campus, they can request an accommodation that will allow them to continue working remotely or work on a modified schedule. The accommodations are for:
Those diagnosed with COVID-19 and/or quarantining due to exposure to COVID-19.
Vulnerable employees, which is a classification created by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that includes employees age 65 or older; employees with a medical condition identified in the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines; and/or employees with a qualifying disability that would be adversely impacted by COVID-19.
Other employees who express a desire not to return to campus also can work with their supervisor, department chair or dean to determine available options for modifications to working conditions (known as “courtesy accommodations”) for the following reasons:
The employee lives with a person fitting the EEOC’s definition of a vulnerable employee.
Although under age 65, the employee believes that their age puts them at greater risk for complications of COVID-19.
The employee has an unavoidable need to take public transportation to/from work and is concerned about the associated risk of contracting COVID-19.
The employee is unable to obtain child care because of COVID-related closures.
What if an employee has COVID-19?
If an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19, they are required to inform their supervisor and MyHealth@Work. If they have been on campus in the previous 14 days, MyHealth@Work will coordinate contact tracing with the Allegheny County Department of Health and Environmental Health & Safety.
The steps to take for employees, students and supervisors if a person is symptomatic or has a confirmed case of the coronavirus are outlined on the coronavirus.pitt.edu website.
The privacy of all health information provided by employees will be maintained consistent with HIPAA and any other applicable laws.
Geovette Washington, Pitt’s chief legal officer and executive sponsor of the Resilience Steering Committee, told the Faculty Affairs committee this week that the steering committee is developing an app that employees can use daily to track their contacts. Use of the app will not be mandatory, she said, but it would help with contact tracing for positive COVID-19 cases.
Laurel Gift, who joined Pitt in early April as head of the new Office of Compliance, Investigation and Ethics, said she will assist employees and supervisors on all privacy issues, including what questions can and can’t be asked.
Gift, who will serve as the University’s privacy officer, said in her conversations with Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, “he really emphasized privacy as an important function for me and the office and not just in a general term, it was very much in terms of prioritizing for me the work that he felt was the most important. I think that demonstrates how seriously the University takes privacy for students and staff.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-648-4294.
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