- Staffing Guidance
- Reporting Covid-19 Cases
- Alternate Work Locations and Emergency Leave
- Remote Work Resources
- Working Hours, Time off & Leave – Benefits-eligible Faculty and Staff
- Emotional Support
- Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
- Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
- Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLA)
- Flexible Hiring Freeze
- Converting Courses Online
- Travel Guidelines
- Visiting Scholars and International Visitors
- Face to Face Gatherings
- Questions and information that can be requested of employees
- Custodial services
In mid-May, we issued guidance regarding a phased approach to returning employees to the workplace. This phased approach began with 25% of employees being allowed to return to campus and moved to 50% as of June 1. On July 1, the Phase 3 adjustment would have allowed up to 100% of employees to return to campus based on each unit’s operational needs and managerial discretion. In light of the recent growth in COVID-19 cases, AgriLife is suspending the implementation of Phase 3 until Aug. 1. Therefore, Phase 2 guidance will remain in effect until then (up to 50% of employees in any area).
It is important to note that these percentages are not targets that must be achieved. If what your unit is currently doing is working well and meeting your business needs, there is no need to adjust your current practices. Some divisions have adopted a rotational approach where, for example, certain staff will come to the office Mondays and Wednesdays and a different group will come to the office Tuesdays and Thursdays. Plans of this nature will be communicated directly by your supervisor.
As before, we will continue to monitor what is happening and adjust this plan accordingly. If additional adjustments are needed, they will be communicated to you in a timely manner.
As stated in previous guidance,
- Employees should minimize in-person meetings and follow social distancing and meeting size requirements. Should your local health authority implement stricter guidance, please adhere to this guidance.
- Face masks must be worn in our facilities’ indoor public spaces , must be worn on public transportation and wherever a six-foot social distancing radius cannot be maintained. Please see Texas A&M’s helpful page on face coverings. You may request an exception due to disability by contacting Jennifer Hobbs.
- Per System guidance, faculty, staff and students are encouraged to bring their own water to minimize touching of common water fountains.
- On the Texas A&M University campus, SSC Services continues to prioritize cleaning measures to prevent spread of the virus. This group is also continuing to provide disinfectant wipes and other supplies that support healthy hygiene. In off-campus AgriLife locations, hygiene supplies and personal protective equipment should be sourced locally. If you need help sourcing personal protective equipment or other supplies, contact David DeLeon.
For now, all employees who can effectively work remotely should continue their current alternate work location status. Return to on-site work will be handled in a way that reopens the workplace in successive “waves” between May 18 and July 1. Employees will be notified by their supervisors of their expected return to work in a timely manner. Please note that county Extension personnel should follow guidance provided by county leadership or, if there is doubt, with the applicable District Extension Administrator.
- Wave 1 (Beginning May 18): In this wave, a small number of additional employees identified by Department Heads, Research and Extension Center leadership and Center/Institute/Core Facility Directors can return to on-site work, either because they can most effectively do their jobs on site or because their presence is required on-site for management purposes.
- Wave 2 (June 1): Depending on the results of the preceding two weeks, we should seek to return a second wave of employees to on-site work to a level not exceeding half of full FTEs in a given proximity (i.e. floor, building, lab, etc.) on June 1.
- Wave 3 (Aug 1): All remaining employees who are needed based on managerial priorities or because they have limited work opportunities off-site can return to work, again presuming public health conditions do not change and do not reconsider this decision.
As individuals return to on-site work, face coverings are recommended when using common areas or attending in-person meetings. All employees should continue to follow social distancing and meeting size requirements provided by state health authorities. When feasible, we should minimize in-person meetings as much as possible. Should your local public health authority have implemented stricter guidance, please adhere to this guidance.
Additionally, throughout this waved reintegration, supervisors should fully consider the need to protect our employees and their families from cluster infection, particularly where highly vulnerable populations are involved and should continue to allow remote work for employees who have child care or elder care obligations or other overriding factors that might make an immediate return to work difficult or impossible. Similarly, employees should work with human resources to take leave, when applicable, under the recently implemented Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
Reporting Covid-19 Cases
AgriLife employees who:
- develop symptoms of COVID-19, or,
- in the previous 14 days, if they have traveled to an area that requires quarantine upon return home, or
- have been in contact with anyone known or suspected to have tested positive for COVID-19 must notify their supervisor, who will then ask that the individual complete an online form, and also contact Debi Fincher.
Alternate Work Locations and Emergency Leave
System strongly encourages members to implement temporary alternate work location arrangements (remote work) in accordance with System Regulation 33.06.01 for all employees when possible. This may involve work that is outside the employee’s primary responsibilities. Please note, it is preferred that emergency leave be reserved for those who cannot work from home. Based on this strong guidance to work from home, managers are empowered to modify employee expectations and find tasks employees are capable of completing remotely.
Unit heads have the authority to approve requests for a temporary alternate work location. Temporary alternate work location due to COVID-19 may be documented by using the Alternate Work Location Request form or alternative method as determined by the unit head. Approvals should be maintained at the unit for reporting at a later date.
If remote work is not possible for employees otherwise able to work but are not able to report to their normal work location, emergency leave is then recommended in accordance with System Regulation 31.03.03, section 2.5.2 and/or the FFCRA. This may include employees who are unable to report to their normal work location because of the need to care for dependent children where schools have canceled classes. Emergency leave requests must be approved prior to being submitted in Workday. Emergency leave requests, other than FFCRA leave, should be entered as “Other Emergencies” in Workday with a comment indicating leave due to COVID-19. For additional information please see FFCRA FAQs in the “News” section: https://agrilifeas.tamu.edu/hr/
Remote Work Resources
For AgriLife IT Agency supported employees
The AgriLife IT service desk will continue operation and provide remote assistance for the majority of computer and software support needs. A skeleton team available to perform hands-on computer repair as required. The group has also put together the following reference guide with details on how to access email, files and perform voice, video and chat collaboration with fellow employees and others: https://firstcallhelp.tamu.edu/remote-office-resource-guide/
Additional information from the university on working from home can be found here: https://it.tamu.edu/work-from-home.php.
For College Employees
Information from the university on working from home, as well as VPN support, can be found here: https://it.tamu.edu/work-from-home.php.
Supervisors will provide additional guidance in the coming days. We will also continue to keep you informed through email communications and on our Coronavirus resource webpage for employees.
Working Hours, Time off & Leave – Benefits-eligible Faculty and Staff
- Employees who have children whose school or daycare is closed should promptly notify their manager of the reason for their absence and the anticipated date of return to work. Children may not be brought to work for safety reasons. If the employee is able to work from home with an approved Alternate Work Location (AWL) while supervising their child, the employee will be paid for hours worked. Otherwise, employees may take other paid leaves as applicable to their position and situation. To determine eligibility for leave under the FFCRA, please see FFCRA FAQs in the “News” section.
- Employees who choose to self-monitor or self-isolate because they belong to categories considered to be at higher risk of getting sick from COVID-19 (adults 60+ OR people who have serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease) should consult with their managers about telecommuting or working from home, where feasible. See more information at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html. Otherwise, employees may take other paid leaves as applicable to their position and situation. To determine eligibility for leave under the FFCRA, please see FFCRA FAQs in the “News” section: https://agrilifeas.tamu.edu/hr/
- When an employee returns from self-isolation supervisors may accept a doctor’s note if it is voluntarily provided but they may not require or ask for any specific documentation. However, supervisors may require that the employee notify them prior to return to work and may also require that the employee be asymptomatic upon return from self-isolation.
- Employees who are coughing or displaying other symptoms can be sent home and may be encouraged to seek medical advice but cannot be required to go to the doctor. Supervisors can require the employee to be asymptomatic before returning to work.
- Coronavirus qualifies as a “serious health condition” under FMLA, allowing an eligible employee to take FMLA leave if either the employee or an immediate family member contracts the disease.
Employees experiencing emotional challenges (such as anxiety) due to the coronavirus outbreak should contact their physician and/or Work/Life Solutions Program by GuidanceResources®. Work/Life Solutions employee assistance program offers a variety of services including consultations with clinicians for anxiety, depression, stress, grief, loss, life adjustments, relationship challenges, marital conflicts, etc. Additional information about Work/Life Solutions Program by GuidanceResources®.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires certain employers (including Texas A&M System Members) to provide two forms of paid leave to assist employees impacted by COVID-19: Emergency Paid Sick Leave(EPSL) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave (EFMLA). A summary document is attached.
FFCRA leave is accessible only when there is an assigned function/role that is capable of being performed either at an onsite or remote location, but the employee is unable to perform the assigned duties for certain, specified COVID-19-related reasons.
Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
Provides up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for employees (ALL employee types: faculty, staff, students, temp/casual) who are unable to work, either onsite or remotely, and who meet one of six qualifying reasons related to COVID-19.
- The employee is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID–19.
- The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID–19. A self-imposed quarantine without medical advice does not qualify.
- The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID–19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
- The employee is caring for an individual (not specifically limited to family members) subject to or advised to quarantine or self-isolate.
- The employee is caring for the employee’s child whose school or place of care is closed, or whose child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions
- The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of the State.
Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLA)
The EFMLA amends and expands the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), on a temporary basis, to provide qualifying employees 12 weeks of leave (job protection) if the employee is unable to work, including work-from-home, due to the need to care for the employee’s child (under 18 years of age) if the child’s school or place of care is closed or the child care provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency. A public health emergency is “an emergency with respect to COVID-19 declared by a Federal, State, or local authority.”
Employees are eligible to take leave under the EFMLA Act if they have been employed at least 30 calendar days. This includes ALL employee types ( faculty, staff, student, temp/casual).
The FFCRA’s paid leave provisions are effective on April 1, 2020, and apply to leave taken between April 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020. These paid leave provisions are not retroactive. Prior to April 1, 2020, members were encouraged to designate emergency leave to employees to account for non-productive hours due to reasons related to COVID-19.
Managers and Absence Partners are encouraged to be aware of these provisions. For questions, please contact Doris Tykal, Human Resources Specialist II, firstname.lastname@example.org, (979) 845-2361. For additional information please see FFCRA FAQs in the “News” section: https://agrilifeas.tamu.edu/hr/
The required notice has been added to the Required Workplace Posters website.
Flexible Hiring Freeze
Given the short- and long-term uncertainties and impact of COVID-19 on the state economy, we must make every effort to conserve resources that can be called on should the need arise. At the direction of The Texas A&M University System, Texas A&M AgriLife will immediately implement a flexible hiring freeze for positions paid all or a portion from appropriated funds.
- Current requisitions for positions paid from appropriated sources will need to be reviewed by executive leadership to allow time for conversations with hiring supervisors about their needs.
- Requisitions for positions paid from appropriated sources and deemed essential by executive leadership will continue to be posted so that recruiting can continue. All others will be cancelled, and recruiting will be deferred.
- For positions paid on appropriated sources, requests to fill currently posted requisitions and to post new requisitions will require approval.
- Written offers of employment made on or before March 24 require no further approvals.
You may view additional guidelines on the flexible hiring freeze on our website for guidance going forward.
Converting Courses Online
To support faculty in converting their courses to online format, the college has established an onsite help center in the open access computer labs in the Agriculture & Life Sciences Building. Instructors seeking assistance can log in to a desktop machine with their NetID and password or bring their own laptop. Registration is required so we can maintain social distancing safeguards.
- Faculty are recommended to review the guide at http://keepteaching.tamu.edu/ before scheduling time with the help center.
- A full schedule of when the COALS Online Course Transition Help Center is available can be found at https://ers.tamu.edu/event/7926.
- For assistance beyond the help center, you can email email@example.com with your request or questions.
- Additional information, including FAQs, are online at https://aglifesciences.tamu.edu/covid19/.
The current, limited operations and essential research which has been approved by individual System members will continue throughout May. Six feet social distancing, wearing of face masks in lab settings, and all other CDC, State of Texas and other prevention recommendations which have enabled essential research to be conducted safely, should continue to be followed.
A phased approach will begin after June 1. A plan for gradually resuming full research staffing will be forthcoming. This will be informed by the results of earlier staffing waves. Additional factors could include, but are not limited to, availability of masks, and prevention measures are effectively managing risk of COVID-19 spread.
Because of the disruption in work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas A&M University is providing tenure-track faculty, upon request, a one-year extension of the “tenure clock” whose mandatory tenure review is during the 2020-21 academic year. An extension must be requested by May 31, 2020, and follow the process described on the DOF website.
AgriLife Research is extending the same courtesy to Assistant and Associate Professors whose mandatory promotion review was to occur the next fiscal year. The agency will grant, upon request, a one-year extension. Such extension must be made by completing this form on the Administrative Services website. This form should be routed for approvals by close of business on May 31, 2020.
All other Assistant and Associate Professors will remain with their scheduled promotion clock. For those who are due for a mid-term review (3rd year review) as Assistant Professors, we have pushed the review by the college and AgriLife P&T committee to mid-summer. Departments must submit midterm dossiers to the college for initial review by June 19.
Impacts to Federal Funding Agencies / Grant Opportunities
This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) posted a frequently asked questions document regarding impacts of the COVID-19 emergency on NIFA. This FAQ document includes updates to deadlines for USDA NIFA applications, awards, and administrative relief for recipients of ongoing projects impacted by COVID-19 due to loss of operations. When in doubt or if you have a program specific question not covered by NIFA’s FAQ, please contact the National Program Leader listed as contact for your program. For questions about awards, please contact NIFA firstname.lastname@example.org to consult with a grant specialist.
Updates related to COVID-19 impacts from other Federal Funding Agencies can be found in the following link provided by the Council on Government Relations: https://www.cogr.edu/institutional-and-agency-responses-covid-19-and-additional-resources
Additionally, current federal agency COVID-19 funding opportunities can be found at: https://cers.tamu.edu/funding-opportunity-news/.
Continue to follow current protocol for travel authorization through your direct supervisor. Employees engaged in business-related and personal travel who suspect they have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 while away from the university or agency are required to notify their supervisor and place themselves in self-quarantine for a period of time in accordance with current CDC guidance.
Within the state of Texas, all traveling employees should review the current community transmission of COVID-19 in the locations they will be traveling through or to.
Out-of-state travel must be deemed mission critical and approved by the CEO or designee in Concur. Employees traveling outside of Texas should review the CDC COVID Data Tracker prior to travel.
No international travel is endorsed at this time.
Please continue to check the CDC website as these recommendations may evolve: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html
Visiting Scholars and International Visitors
External guests may be invited to physically attend face to face meetings no earlier than June 1 and should be expected to observe guidance related to social distancing, meeting size and face covering in place at the time of the visit. Invited external guests should be limited to mission critical functions such as interviews for positions. This guidance does not apply to face to face group educational programs. 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.
Face to Face Gatherings
As per the Governor’s proclamation, outdoor events are now limited to 100 people. For each agency, our guidance may vary slightly based on the nature of our work and our audiences. AgriLife units on the Bryan-College Station campus should continue to follow TAMU limits for in-person employee and staff business meetings and/or gatherings at the university, which in light of recent community spread, will allow up to 30 people if social distancing can be maintained and 50% room capacity is not exceeded.
AgriLife Research units on the Bryan-College Station campus should continue to follow TAMU limits for visitors, limited to parties of less than five visitors on campus for meetings with departmental staff for essential business or employment recruitment. Approvals should be routed through Dr. David Ragsdale.
For AgriLife Research off-campus units, as of July 1st, with approval from Dr. David Ragsdale, can allow up to 30 people if social distancing can be maintained and 50% room capacity is not exceeded. Extension personnel should continue to follow Extension guidance based on the activity. Should your local health authority implement stricter guidance, please adhere to their guidance.
Many centers are getting community requests for events to be held at our facilities. AgriLife has an existing facilities rental use form and an occupancy agreement. A new COVID-19 form for participants to complete will now be used as an addendum to these forms. This is similar to what Extension already has in place for youth events.
For all meetings of any size, use video or phone conferencing when possible.
If applicable, distance education is also encouraged. The Distance Education group will offer webinars this week for those in need of assistance with Zoom and questions related to converting their course or program online in the coming weeks. Additional information can be found on their website: https://digitaleducation.agrilife.org/coronavirus-resources-for-employees/.
Questions and information that can be requested of employees
Supervisors may ask, but not require, information about apparent signs or symptoms of illness that may be associated with COVID-19. Employees should not be asked if they have, or suspect having, a specific illness or diagnosis. However, employees may be asked about:
- Their possible direct exposure to COVID-19;
- Their having been advised to go into self-quarantine by a healthcare professional; and
- Their recent travel or plans to travel, both domestic and international.
All information about employee illness should be maintained in the confidential medical record section of the personnel file. Jennifer Hobbs, Chief Human Resources Officer, can advise supervisors on an appropriate way to have this conversation if necessary.
You may have noticed an increase in custodial staff in your buildings. This is not a coincidence. The Texas A&M System has purposefully asked SSC to re-prioritize their work and focus on tasks that will prevent the spread of the virus. For example, instead of cleaning large classrooms that are not being used, they’ve been asked to focus on cleaning restrooms, disinfecting hard surfaces, etc. Departments can assist by locking classrooms that should not be in use so that custodial staff really can focus on high use areas.