COVID Update for Staff

November 16, 2020


Williams staff and faculty,

As we near the end of the in-person semester, COVID rates are rising significantly in Massachusetts and nationally. Williams has navigated this challenge well. Along with relatively low rates regionally, people’s respect for our community commitment to health and safety has been a critical factor in that story. Thank you to all who contributed.

Many of our COVID-related policies and protocols were developed last spring and summer when the pandemic was new and much was unknown. We are now updating them with the benefit of seven months’ experience and data-driven projections for the months ahead.

Following are summaries of a few significant updates:

Remote Work

Staff who can do their work remotely should plan to do so through the end of the Spring 2021 semester. Remote work reduces the demands on our colleagues in Facilities, who have taken on additional duties because of COVID cleaning and safety protocols.

Earlier this fall, we asked every department and office to develop a business continuity plan that clarified which functions could continue remotely and which needed access to offices or other campus spaces full- or part-time. Supervisors, those plans should continue to guide your decisions. If you need to update or revise your plan, please contact Matt Sheehy.

If you have been reporting COVID time on your timesheets, you should work with your supervisor to minimize those hours. Please talk to your supervisor about whether you could now begin coming to campus safely to do your work, or whether there are other duties that you could take on remotely to fill out your hours. We understand that some jobs have significantly changed during the pandemic response, so we will launch a shared services model through which people can assist in areas of the college that need additional support.

When we initially closed, staff were advised that they could move their college computers and other standard office equipment to their remote work location. We know that leaves questions about associated needs, including Internet access, office supplies and technology, and printing. As a reminder, anyone who has such needs can come to campus to access these resources.  The college cannot pay for toner cartridges, Internet and other services and supplies used at home. Please note that, depending on the office environment, coming to campus might put you into the “high contact” job category, which in turn would require that you participate in the college’s testing program.

Department heads are also asked to analyze critical needs and determine a process for managing office access and density. For many teams, a shared Google Calendar offers a simple way to coordinate people’s time in the office. In any case, we encourage you to be as creative and flexible as possible.

COVID Shift Differential

The COVID-19 shift differential will end after Saturday, November 21, when all but a few students will have left campus. The code will not be available on your timesheets after that date.

Senior staff and operational leaders are discussing whether the differential might be needed again next February when students return for the spring term. It is impossible to predict right now, but please know that we are tracking developments and will let you know as soon as we can make an informed decision.

COVID Workplace Accommodations

When we introduced various COVID accommodations last summer, we approved them through Thanksgiving, at which point we said we would revisit them. Here are the plans going into effect Sunday, November 29th.

Medical accommodations

Accommodations designed to create low-contact work environments will continue through the spring term. For example, dining staff in CDC high-risk categories will continue to work in the Mission Park production kitchen, and custodians in the high-risk group will remain on low-contact teams. If you did not need such an accommodation previously but have since moved into a high-risk category, please talk with your supervisor.

Staff who were approved to work remotely as an accommodation should also continue with that arrangement, provided you can do your work effectively.

The small number of staff who were approved for full COVID medical leaves will be expected to return to work on Monday, November 30. By that point, only a handful of students will remain on campus, and faculty and staff presence will also decrease in conjunction with the move to remote classes. If you are on such a leave, HR will reach out to help you initiate a conversation with your supervisor about low-contact work arrangements.

Childcare accommodations

School and daycare closures, as well as remote learning, continue to be a challenge for parents and others with childcare responsibilities. Staff who were approved for a flex arrangement or schedule change should assume that you will continue with that arrangement. We will keep a close eye on how the school systems are managing and responding to the pandemic, and adjust policies if needed to support those affected.

Inclement Weather, Essential Staff and Campus Closures

As a reminder, one of the many reasons for moving to remote study after Thanksgiving was to limit the demands on essential staff as we move into winter weather.

Staff who have traditionally been designated “essential” for the purpose of weather emergencies (e.g., Campus Safety, Facilities, and Dining) will be expected to report to campus if we declare a weather emergency this year. Anyone staffing the COVID testing center is also considered essential for 2020-21 and should report to work as scheduled. Essential staff will be paid according to our weather emergency pay policies.

Staff working remotely should continue to do so during a weather emergency to the extent possible (allowing for power outages, etc.). If you work on campus but can transition to remote during a weather emergency, please do so. Support staff who work from home should record your hours as usual.

If you are not able to work from home and a weather emergency is declared, you will be paid according to the college’s weather-related leave policy.

COVID Testing during Weather Emergencies

The college’s COVID test center will remain open during inclement weather and weather emergencies. Employees will be expected to continue testing on your regular schedule unless advised otherwise. As a reminder, between Monday, November 23, 2020 – Monday, February 1, 2021, testing site hours of operation are Mondays only from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.  If we do have to make a weather-related change to the testing schedule, we will inform everyone via all-campus email.

We hope it helps you to see this information as we all begin to think ahead to the post-Thanksgiving period, the shutdown, and winter in the Berkshires. We will continue to monitor case numbers and state guidelines and inform you of any necessary adjustments to keep everyone safe.

On a personal note, I want to thank everyone for your own vigilance, which is helping to protect us all. Personal responsibility is a key to success during the pandemic and so far we have been successful. And thanks to everyone who helped to make in-person classes happen this fall. It was a herculean effort with no road map to follow. Yet with much hard work and the dedication of numerous staff, faculty, and students, in a few days we can say, “We made it happen”. Thank you.

Fred Puddester, VP Finance and Administration