Virtual employee town hall discusses the university’s transition to modified operations
June 25, 2020
On June 25, Virginia Tech President Tim Sands and a core of senior leaders said that the top priorities for employees were ensuring their safety at work and maintaining the university’s talent and knowledge base.
“We have a plan that supports our mission while also protecting our community," Sands said. "Our goal is for Virginia Tech to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger, more resilient, and on track to achieve the goals in our Strategic Plan.”
During the virtual town hall, Sands was joined by Dwayne Pinkney, senior vice president and chief business officer, and Bryan Garey, vice president for human resources, to discuss employee issues and answer questions related to the university’s transition from its status of essential operations – as defined under Presidential Policy Memorandum 309 – to modified operations by Aug. 3, part of the university’s plan to resume in-class instruction and on-campus experiences for the fall 2020 semester.
Following are some takeaways from the conversation. Watch the full video below.
Testing, tracing, and quarantine
Multiple questions were asked about how Virginia Tech would approach COVID-19 testing and tracing. Sands said that the university is preparing a plan based on guidance from Virginia Department of Health epidemiologists who are working in concert with Virginia Tech researchers that will cover all members of the Virginia Tech community. The plan will be available July 3.
In addition, a number of questions were raised about guidelines for quarantine. Sands addressed these by saying the university will continue to follow CDC and Virginia Department of Health guidelines as it relates to members of the community who travel or return from an area with a known outbreak. At this time there are no quarantine requirements for travel, but Virginia Tech will continue to monitor and update the guidance accordingly.
Sands said, “Our number one goal is the safety of our students, faculty, and staff. This situation continues to evolve and we are committed to following the guidelines.”
Work schedule options
The university wants to be as flexible as possible when it comes to the work environment. Faculty and staff have been abundantly flexible during these past few months while the university has been under essential operations. Thanks to that flexibility, Garey said, the university was able to move 80 percent of employees to remote work, protecting the 20 percent of employees on campus.
“It is important to be flexible while also working together to make sure our university continues to operate as it needs to,” he said.
Addressing a number of questions about continued remote work, childcare and school issues, and concerns from employees who are members of a high-risk population, Garey acknowledged that “every situation can’t be identical.” Employees are encouraged to articulate their needs and work with their supervisors to discuss roles and work options.
“Each individual case is unique. Key is communication, flexibility, and creativity,” Garey said.
“With everything we do, we need to be able to turn on a dime and be prepared for anything that will come our way," Sands said. "Our ability to react to changes – for individuals and the university as a whole – is important.”
For employees who are members of a high-risk population, Garey also encouraged engaging in the interactive process with Virginia Tech’s Office for ADA and Accessibility.
Employees with childcare needs or who are impacted by the virus in other ways have leave options available that they can explore. The state has options through the Public Health Emergency Leave (PHEL) program, and the federal Families First Corona Virus Relief Act (FFCRA) provides additional leave for employees who qualify. Virginia Tech also offers a rich leave program to full-time faculty and staff.
“There are a number of options that work together to provide robust options for employees,” Garey said.
Addressing one question about whether the university is considering increasing the leave carryover amounts this year because many employees have not been able to take time off, Garey urged employees to take breaks to rest and refresh themselves.
At this time, there are no plans to increase carry over limits or extend the January 9, 2021, deadline to use time. Garey encouraged employees to work with their managers and supervisors to plan time off before the leave deadline.
Mask/face coverings and PPE
Many questions and concerns were submitted regarding mask/face coverings and PPE. Pinkney said that employees, students, and visitors are expected to wear masks to keep each other safe.
“It is important for us at Virginia Tech to rely on our Principles of Community and to remember our motto," Pinkney said. "We are asking our faculty and staff, our students, and visitors to join with us and follow the guidance that is out there. Part of that guidance is wearing masks.”
For questions about how PPE will be distributed, Pinkney said that Virginia Tech’s procurement team will be distributing PPE from a central location and that it will be available to faculty, staff, and students as they need it. He acknowledged that the need for PPE will continue to evolve and that the university wants to be wise in our distribution of it, which underscores the importance of continuing with practices such as remote work to lessen the need for PPE.
A number of questions were submitted about the university’s parking plan for fall. Pinkney responded to the questions by saying that Virginia Tech would continue the sale of annual parking permits, but that the university is working hard to include some options for faculty and staff such as hourly or daily parking for those who do not need to be on campus every day.
Sands addressed several questions related to budget cuts, stating that pay cuts and furloughs are a last resort; that Virginia Tech wants to preserve its talent.
“If pay cuts or furloughs become necessary, they will start at the top at the executive level,” he said.
Sands also said he was optimistic about the state budget, which is looking like it was affected less by COVID-19 than originally thought. Additional information about the impact of the pandemic on Virginia’s fiscal year 2020, which ends June 30, will be available in early July. Additional financial information will be available in August after the state reforecasts for the coming two years. An update will be shared with the university at a later date.
Additional resources for employees
As Virginia Tech gets ready for the fall 2020 semester, employees can visit the university’s vt.edu/ready for up-to-date information. Visit the ready resources for employees page on the Human Resources site for guidance on returning to campus as well as information on benefits and leave, employee wellness, ADA and EEO laws, and more. For information regarding face coverings, respirators, hand washing/sanitizer, research, and laboratories, visit the Environmental Health and Safety FAQs page. Information about the university’s enhanced cleaning efforts is available on the university’s Facilities page.