- Staffing Guidance
- Alternate Work Locations and Emergency Leave
- Remote Work Resources
- Working Hours, Time off & Leave – Benefits-eligible Faculty and Staff
- Emotional Support
- 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
Governor Abbott has given municipalities the authority to issue “shelter-in-place of residence” orders within their jurisdictions. Numerous Texas counties have now announced their own shelter-in-place residence orders, which impact our headquarters in Bryan-College Station, as well as several of our Research and Extension Centers across the state.
In accordance with the guidance previously issued by the System, we will continue to follow operational changes implemented over the last few weeks, through May 1. Only essential personnel should come to the workplace with most—if not all—employees working via alternate work location (AWL) or remote work. Department Heads, Research and Extension Center leadership and Center/Institute/Core Facility directors should designate essential staff needed to maintain critical business operations and continuity during this time. Please remember to follow CDC guidance on social distancing, maintaining a six-foot distance from others.
- Employees who are unable to work from an AWL may take other paid leaves as applicable to their position and situation.
- Student employees are due the same consideration as every other employee. If there is work for a student employee to accomplish then please allow them to work either remotely or from the office. If there is no work for them then they should not be scheduled for any hours until there is.
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 (https://agrilifeas.tamu.edu/documents/ag-438.pdf/) 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. 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 by the agency director or designee prior to being submitted in Workday. Emergency leave requests in Workday should be entered as “Other Emergencies” with a comment indicating leave due to COVID-19.
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.
Working Hours, Time off & Leave – Benefits-eligible Faculty and Staff
- Employees who have children whose school or day care 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.
- 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.
- 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®.
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 Texas A&M System has stated that research can continue under the local shelter-in-place order as an essential business function with appropriate precautions. In addition to social distancing protocols, each laboratory should be carrying out the following cleaning protocols:
- All touchpoint areas should be disinfected every morning that people are in the lab. These areas include, but are not limited to the following: tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, knobs, desks, and push plates. If there are multiple people in the area, cleaning more than once a day is recommended.
- Each person should clean and disinfect their personal items including phone, keyboard, mouse, monitor, computer, and desk.
- Cleaning should be carried out using EPA rated virucides. These cleansers can be obtained by contacting Ted.Dawson@sscserv.com with a cc to firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional guidance can be found on the VPR website.
• 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
All requests for visiting scholars from a level 2 or 3 country are discontinued until further notice. TAMU ISFS is not processing any visas at this time for visiting scholars or foreign employees.
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.