Staff Council hears complaints about uneven COVID absence policies


Staff Council debated the latest COVID-19 policies at its Jan. 19 meeting, with new Human Resources head James Gallaher in attendance to address several of their questions.

Several members complained about their departments or units not making accommodations for COVID-19-related absences, or how it’s decided whether those absences are counted as sick or vacation days.

“Are we supposed to note days we have to take off due to COVID-related school closures as sick or vacation days?” asked one, adding that “we’re supposed to note days missed due to weather-related school closures as sick days.”

“We have left it up to each school, each responsibility center how they’re going to manage folks who are going to stay home,” Gallaher said. “There isn’t one answer to everyone. If you can work remote … you don’t necessarily have to use your vacation or sick time.”

Another member suggested that “there should at least be a baseline policy for all employees at Pitt so that we can all know what the minimum expectation (is). If we are going to allow departments or responsibility centers to vary it (then the policy) should be based on a common floor.” This employee also noted that his department allowed everyone to work from home during a recent brief closure for building maintenance, but “there are people that aren’t given the opportunity to work from home when they are out because of COVID-related issues.”

One member of the group reported that “the University has lost at least one employee due to their department refusing to meet with them for a flexible schedule. Everyone in their office got to work from home but them and there was no real reason for this policy. In the end, after being ignored for weeks on end, they ended up quitting their job. So leaving it up to the departments is not working.”

Asked why new flexible work arrangement plans, covering lengthier times, could no longer be approved for current employees but only for new employees, Gallaher said he would look into the reasoning.

One Staff Council member suggested that “we should consider asking (the University) to add staff (to) the shelter-in-place policy so staff don’t have to spread anything during the critical time” of higher COVID-19 cases — similar to arriving students’ shelter-in-place rules. Staff Council President Angela Coldren, of the Research Conduct and Compliance Office, said she would use the group’s seat on Pitt’s resilience committee (which oversees parts of the University’s COVID-19 policies) to ask whether staff should or could be included in this policy.

Gallaher also was asked about progress on Pitt’s lengthy compensation modernization project and replied that the committee is still working on aligning jobs into job families and on a larger communication plan for the project’s completion.

He also reported that the director of compensation position, which has been vacant since Maureen Kendall left in October 2021 after four and half years at Pitt, will soon be filled. Kendall introduced the compensation modernization project, leading the discovery and design phases. Gallaher said his department is now otherwise fully staffed but that this vacancy had created a queue of jobs waiting to be posted that had “gotten so far behind … it was unmanageable.”

In other Staff Council news, this year’s Spring Assembly, set for March 9, will be entirely online and feature keynote speaker Felicia Savage Friedman, founder and head of Yoga Roots On Location. No yoga will be involved in her talk, which will instead focus on “how we may dismantle racism, patriarchy and capitalism in a way that centers our histories, our present and unconditional love,” said the Staff Council committee planning the event, adding that the event should help “build capacity for professionals to examine systems of oppression, their roles in them, and how to create change in the systems they interact with.”

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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