- Staffing Guidance
- 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
- Visiting Scholars and International Visitors
- Performance Evaluations
- Voluntary reporting of positive cases
- Questions and information that can be requested of employees
- Custodial services
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 thatcounty Extension personnel should follow guidance provided by county leadership or, if there is doubt, with the applicable District Extension Administrator.
While a few essential employees may be asked to return to work as early as May 18, most employees will not be asked to return until June 1 or July 1.
- 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. The goal is to return about 25 percent of the workforce in a given proximity (i.e. floor, building, lab, etc.) to on-site status on or soon after May 18, inclusive of those already working on-site.
- 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 (July 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).
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, email@example.com, (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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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/.
• No international travel is permitted, through May 31st; this date will be revisited and may be extended.
• No domestic air travel, exclusive of Texas, is permitted unless deemed mission critical, through May 31st; this date will be revisited and may be extended.
• In addition, System discourages travel between TAMUS campuses and locations until further notice.
• Mission critical travel, both domestic and in-state, should be reported through the Office of Ethics & Compliance with final approval by the Agency CEO or designee. Please note, this only relates to travel that is reimbursable by AgriLife or the college, not county Extension agents.
Domestic Travel Guidance:
• Domestic travelers are required only to self-monitor at this time.
• Domestic travelers do NOT need to self-isolate unless feeling ill or in a household with someone ill.
• Guidance for self-monitoring is found here:
International Travel Guidance:
• Given ongoing developments in COVID-19 transmission in recent days, any faculty, staff or students returning from international travel from any country (including cruises) and through any airport, effective immediately, must self-isolate for 14 days before returning to a System campus or work location.
• Guidance for self-isolating is found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/risk-assessment.html
In addition, CDC now recommends that travelers defer all cruise travel worldwide. Cruise travelers should stay home for 14 days after returning from travel, monitor their health, and practice social distancing.
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.
On March 16th, the White House released additional guidelines for social distancing, to limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people for the next 15 days for all U.S. events, and ensure appropriate social distancing during any such meetings or gatherings. Many local governments are moving to close restaurants and other businesses and to limit the size of public gatherings. In keeping with this new guidance, please limit any and all meetings or gatherings of faculty, students, staff or others to 10 or fewer people through March 31st.
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. These will be held March 18 and 20th at 11am. Additional information can be found on their website: https://digitaleducation.agrilife.org/coronavirus-resources-for-employees/.
Performance evaluations will be launched in Workday as scheduled on April 1. Managers are encouraged to conduct performance review meetings using technology rather than face-to-face. Evaluations will be completed on the appropriate form and uploaded into Workday and routed for signatures by manager and employee between April 1 and May 31.
Please continue to follow all guidance from local authorities, state government, the CDC and the White House Coronavirus Task Force regarding all aspects of the response to this pandemic.
Voluntary reporting of positive cases
Employees with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in AgriLife may confidentially report their diagnosis to Debi Fincher, Director of Ethics and Compliance, who will coordinate with AgriLife leadership to determine an appropriate response. In such cases, actions will likely include quarantine of the workspace associated with the infected employee and a period of self-quarantine by the employee for at least 14 days. For those who came into contact with that person, self-isolation and/or self-monitoring (at least 14 days) will occur.
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.