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The institutions and agencies of The Texas A&M University System have been advised to begin a phased reduction of off-campus and off-site work requirements beginning no earlier than Monday, May 18, 2020 (Wave 1). This coincides with the departure of remaining undergraduate students from our campuses at the end of the current semester and allows for an evaluation of the first two weeks of results under Executive Order GA-18. 

As we plan to return to working on-campus and on-site, we will be doing so in ‘waves’, as described below, and based on business-related reasons that take into consideration those employees: [1] whose job duties cannot be performed remotely; [2] whose essential job duties can partly, but not entirely, be performed remotely; [3] who are needed to workon-site based on managerial priority; or [4] who would be more productive on-site rather than working remotely. 

WT employees who are notified to return to work on-campus or on-site by their supervisor but have concerns aboutreturning should complete the Request for Return to Work Exemption Survey, which will be distributed to the campus from Human Resources via an all informational e-mail. Human Resources will be working with the supervisors of the employees who choose to submit an exemption survey to determine whether the employees may temporarily continue to work remotely, if they are able. An analysis will be conducted by Human Resources and the employee’s supervisor (and others as needed) on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the employee’s concerns can be addressed without an undue hardship. According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance, flexibility by employers and employees is important in these circumstances.

Example 1. If an employee 65 years of age or older is notified to return to work, and they request to continue towork remotely because they could face an elevated risk from COVID-19 exposure on-site, the employer may approve the temporary workplace modification, according to CDC guidance.

Example 2. If an employee informs the employer that they have a disability that puts them at greater risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19, and they request an accommodation, such as continuing to work remotely, the employer may provide the accommodation if it would not pose an undue hardship. The employer can require verification that the employee has a disability and that the accommodation requested is needed.

Example 3. If an employee informs the employer that they have a valid health condition that puts them at greater risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19, and they request a temporary workplace modification, such as working remotely or a flexible work schedule, the employer may approve the temporary workplace modification if it would not impose an undue hardship.

Example 4. If an employee who is notified to return to work on-site informs the employer that they are unable to do so because their child’s school is closed or child care is unavailable due to COVID-19 related reasons, the employer should allow the employee to continue to work remotely. If the employee is unable to work their fullschedule, they may request leave in accordance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The employee should document the leave appropriately in Workday.

 

WT will continue to exercise appropriate social distancing, wearing a face covering, and in-person meeting-size requirements consistent with state policy unless specific exceptions are granted. 

Employees returning to work on-campus and on-site in Wave 2 (June 1) and Wave 3 (July 1) should proceed only after we are satisfied that the risk of contagion has been effectively managed in the Wave 1 (May 18). We will manage this process consistent with work needs and the safety of students, faculty and staff. The particular employees included in each of the return to on-campus and on-site work waves will be determined based on operational needs and managerial judgment, while remaining sensitive to the employee issues outlined above. 

WT facilities will remain closed and accessed only by personnel approved by the employees respective division head. Limited facility access (M-F, 7:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.) is planned for all employees on June 1.

External guests may be invited to physically attend meetings at WT no earlier than Monday, June 1, 2020 and will be expected to observe guidance related to social distancing, meeting size and wearing a face covering at the time of the visit. Invited external guests should be limited to mission critical functions such as interviews for positions. Limitations on invited external guests will be reevaluated regularly for consideration of adjustment in the standards and/or expansion of the purposes for which external guests may be invited. Use of WT’s facilities by external groups should not resume any earlier than Monday, June 15, 2020 and then only when expectations of social distancing and crowd sizes (occupancy levels) are equal to what is allowed in restaurants, etc. are met and at local discretion.

Overall, in a thoughtful and careful manner, WT’s goal is to slowly return to something approaching pre-COVID business operations, which we all recognize could take months to be fully realized. Further guidance will be provided as necessary.

You have all worked miracles to maintain quality instruction, critical research, clinical and administrative functions in the face of this unprecedented public health emergency. Reopening WT will require all of us to continue working together to make sure we are proceeding in a way that protects our students, faculty, researchers and staff and follows the old medical dictum: First, do no harm.

Walter V. Wendler
President
president@wtamu.edu