HR Impacts from DPI Reopen Plan and COVID-19 Issues
Vickie Adkins, WASPA Executive Director
Impact on FTE/Staffing - assess how budget reductions and Reopen Safety Plans impact staffing levels:
- Many substitutes are retired teachers in a high-risk age category that will choose not to sub during the pandemic as will subs that are not in a high risk category but don’t want to expose themselves to COVID-19.
- The need for substitutes will be greater with increased absences due to COVID-19 (see absenteeism section)
- Limiting subs and employee travel between buildings to avoid cross-contaminating other sites will increase the need for more substitutes and increased FTE for employees
- Increased FTE for Electives with reduced mixing of students and offering electives for cohorts at elementary level, etc.
- A national report indicated that a third of teachers are at higher risk of severe illness for COVID-19.
- A recent US Today poll indicates that nearly 1 in 5 teachers will opt to not return in the fall, creating an unprecedented teacher shortage that will require flexible licensing.
- Education Week recently reported that their survey indicates two-thirds of educators say they're concerned about the health implications of resuming in-person instruction in the fall, and some say the coronavirus outbreak—and its dramatic effects on schooling—has increased the likelihood that they will leave the classroom altogether.
- Many FS and Custodial employees are in a vulnerable age category that may not want to work onsite
- School districts will likely have to hire additional cleaning staff to make sure buildings are disinfected properly at the end of every day, for more frequent filling of hand sanitizing products and for installation of physical infrastructure to promote social distancing.
- Increased Food Service FTE with staggered lunch periods for social distancing and/or for preparing/delivering meals to students staying at home on staggered learning/school schedule
- Experts recommend that every school building have at least one registered school nurse to monitor students’ symptoms and isolate any sick students from the rest of the school.
- Potential need for increased FTE for school nurses, health aides, or educational aides to perform health checks for staff and students, help quarantine sick individuals, etc.
- Increased staffing to supervise more recesses and lunches for social distancing
- Increased demands on administrators, managers and principals for more frequent check ins and communications with employees
- Increased HR staff time to investigate and process leave of absence requests or job modification/accommodation requests (see section below)
- Increased FTE for bus drivers to accommodate social distancing on buses and more routes
- Potential decrease in coaching assignments for summer and fall.
- Potential decreased FTE in LMC if they are closed to classes/students.
- Potential decrease in Pool staff or other common area supervisors/staff during pandemic
- Parental anxiety is high - many parents will keep students home in the fall. Fifty-nine percent of parent respondents to the USA Today/Ipsos Poll said that, if their child's school were to reopen and implement social distancing guidelines, they would be "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to pursue at-home learning, like home school or online education.
- In the poll of K-12 teachers, 18 percent said it would would be "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that they would not return to teaching if their schools reopened with social distancing guidelines. That includes a quarter of respondents over age 55.
- Evaluate organization needs: rightsizing
- Be aware of wage and hour or overtime claims due to donning/doffing PPE equipment or engaging in health screenings as employees enter the building. These are compensable activities if the employer requires participation in these activities.
- Prepare for additional early retirements as staff members make decisions about returning or remaining at home
- Budget cuts may force layoffs, furloughs, elimination of jobs. An analysis by the National Education Association projected a loss of 1.9 million education jobs in public schools and universities by fiscal 2022.
- Will increase due to employees or their family members contracting COVID-19
- Will spike due to employee stress or fear of contracting COVID-19
- Many employees will be reluctant to return to the workplace for personal concerns for childcare, elder care, compromised immune system, or the wish to continue working from home.
- Employees may not have been eligible for FFCRA benefits when they could work remotely or schools were closed, but they may be eligible for FFCRA upon recall if they experience an FFCRA covered event such as a non-school daycare closing.
Wage and Benefit Increased Costs
- FTE and staffing costs will probably increase with the implementation of stricter return to work policies and procedures.
- Testing is compensable time if you require employees to show up early for testing before entering the worksite.
- Employees who have not had insurance in the past may be looking to add onto the insurance, particularly if a spouse/partner has lost their job.
- Sick leave and insurance costs may increase if district’s change their policies to accommodate more employees during the pandemic in an effort to retain employees.
- Districts should strongly consider expanding their sick leave and benefits policies to support desired behavior in employees -- i.e. being truthful about symptoms/exposure to COVID-19.
- Health insurance renewal rates are expected to be higher than normal due to COVID-19.
Employee Stress and EAPs
- Districts must consider how they are supporting mental health: loneliness, anxiousness, depression, and abuse at home.
- Schools that have an EAP in place should communicate regularly with employees about how to access the confidential resource and track usage to ensure employees are using the service.
- Schools that do not have an EAP in place should strongly consider adding this benefit.
- Anxiety and stress levels of employees are increased now and will spike when schools reopen and people are in contact with potential COVID carriers.
- Long-term impact of mental health, reduced stamina of employees and PTSD will be more evident.
- Substance abuse will increase as employees self-medicate for stress and anxiety.
- Having an EAP in place may help decrease absenteeism, improve employee mental health and increase productivity.
- Expect an increase in requests for service or comfort animals as employees/students deal with stress and anxiety.
- Will be increased pressure on Pupil Services staff (psychs, guidance counselors) from employees to help deal with their concerns/anxiety as well as the increased requests for them to evaluate students to identify them for services.
Compliance with Regs During COVID-19
COVID-19 has resulted in issuance of emergency rules and regs, changed deadlines for some benefits and impacts on WC and UI. Be sure to implement appropriate policies and procedures and to update your existing written policies and employee handbooks accordingly.
- Emergency Paid Sick Leave
- Expanded FMLA
- ADA interaction with FMLA
- Determine which jobs, and how many employees (FTE) within a similar job category can continue to work remotely
- Employers must be mindful of both federal and state wage and hour laws in implementing flextime. For example, if nonexempt employees are allowed flextime, it is especially important to track their actual work hours to ensure compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Mechanical and computerized time clocks are valuable tools for accurate documentation.
- Internal consistency, or at least well-thought-out reasons for any seeming inconsistency, will be critical.
- Telecommuting issues, including:
- Identifying compensable working time
- Controlling unauthorized off-the-clock work that obligate overtime rates
- Controlling unauthorized reported work
- Managing overtime pay obligations
Increased Requests for Leave of Absence or Work From Home
- Due to fear of contracting COVID at work
- Be aware of impact on FMLA, ADA, UI, WC
- Be aware of FLSA wage considerations with flexible scheduling
- Exempt employees must receive pay for the full week if they perform any work during that week
- Flexible work arrangements can improve recruitment and retention efforts
- Compressed workweek
- Shift work
- Part-time schedules
- Employee requests for flexible hours and remote-work arrangements may be part of the new normal.
- Understand and accommodate the need for flexible scheduling when possible
- Employers that offer flexible work arrangements can experience cost savings, improved attendance and productivity, and an increase in employee engagement
- Focus on the unique needs of specific groups of workers without creating a second class of workers and without engaging in unlawful disparate treatment or disparate impact discrimination.
- How will leaves of absence impact employee benefits? Will the district modify its policies?
- Put a system in place to track all requests for leave.
Accommodation for Employees Who Contract or Exhibit Symptoms of COVID-19
- Employers can require these employees to stay at home until they are symptom free following the DHS guidelines.
- Legally protected IF they qualify for EFMLA or EPSL
- Employees may still be able to perform work functions if only suffering mild symptoms so consider allowing the employee to work from home.
Accommodation for Employees at Risk for Serious COVID-19 Illness
- Employees at risk should stay home from school. Possible solutions include letting vulnerable teachers continue to teach remotely, reassigning high-risk staff to other roles that can be done from home (such as remote tutoring or mentoring), or offering early retirement.
- Need a consistent procedure in place with clear parameters for determining when an employee can work from home - to avoid discrimination complaints from protected categories (EEOC/ADA)
- Need a consistent procedure in place with clear parameter for determining when an employee will be granted a leave of absence due to COVID-related reasons to avoid discrimination complaints for protected categories (EEOC/ADA)
- Require medical verification to ensure a fair and consistent process.
Accommodation for Employees Who Choose Not to Work (fear or wish to collect UI benefits)
- Will you honor an employee’s preference? Consider allowing employees to voluntarily designate as vulnerable or not vulnerable.
- Will you modify your leave policy to accommodate their request? (Caution: You need to be flexible to meet unique needs of individuals, but still be consistent. We can all think of a heart-tugging example of a beloved employee recovering from cancer (but doesn’t have a doctor’s order to self quarantine) may make a request to not report for work. Are we willing to extend that same consideration to all other employees? If not, you are leaving yourself open to a discrimination complaint.
- Will you increase PTO/SL/Vacation days or provide mental health days to provide some paid leave during their absence?
- For non-FFCRA qualifying requests: Will you offer paid or unpaid time off?
- Unemployment Insurance Implications
- Employees are not eligible for UI benefits if the employer recalls them to work and they refuse. Make employees aware of this.
- Employees may request that the employer lay them off, in which case the employee would qualify them for UI.
- Employers should consider how a layoff for this employee would impact their worksite needs, the school budget and future UI costs.
- Employees ordered to self-quarantine are eligible for UI if in unpaid status.
- Employers must engage in an interactive process with employees who request job modifications to understand the reasons for the request and to determine if the district can provide a reasonable accommodation unless it poses an undue hardship.
- Leave of absence can be a reasonable accommodation. Intermittent time off or a short leave of absence can help employees dealing with depression, PTSD, OCD, severe anxiety, etc.
- Consider ADA (i.e. work location change) for those with severe anxiety after FMLA leave is exhausted
Management Response to Employees Who Refuse to Return to Work
- Ensure you have communicated clear expectations to all employees.
- Engage in an interactive process to understand employee concerns, explain steps the district has taken to protect employees and attempt to alleviate concerns.
- Management has the right to discipline or terminate workers who refuse to return.
- Re-evaluate discipline/discharge process. Consider the the labor market in your area (will you be able to hire for a vacancy?) and impact on morale of employees
Employee Handbook and/or Pandemic Policy Procedure Manual
- Develop temporary policies (i.e. emergency tele-work policy for distance learning, virtual interview teams rather than in person, performance management process, biometric screening, etc.) and clear expectations for all employees. Be sure to specify that these policies are at the District’s discretion.
- Be careful of making commitments now for an uncertain future -- we probably will have a second wave this fall and may experience more temporary closures in the future.
- Be sure to change your policies to fit the current situation as thing develop over time so you are not locked into outdated policies
- Policies, the district website and language in the Employee Handbook must be consistent.
- At a minimum, districts should have the following policies:
- Memo to explain what FFCRA leave is and how it applies (and post federal posters in all work areas)
- Policy to modify the current FMLA policy with EMFLA language
- Requirement for medical certification form completion for all requests for leave of absence related to COVID-19 CAUTION- employers can ask if employees are subject to quarantine, but not if they have tested positive for COVID-19.
- Be sure all temporary changes in policies don’t extend beyond the intended application by limiting application specifically to the pandemic or specify a sunset on the change i.e. throughDecember 2020 to align with FFCRA language, etc.
- Communicate these to staff well before the return to work this fall
- Have staff acknowledge/sign receipt and understanding of handbook or policy -- written affirmation of obligations and responsibilities
Unions and Labor Relations
- Unions and labor leaders are becoming more vocal, voicing concerns about working conditions
- OSHA complaints are at record level.
- Teachers may object to teaching in the classroom and providing online instruction for students at home who are ill or on a staggered school schedule. Districts may need to agree the recording won’t be used for evaluation purposes, but only for teaching.
- Remote bargaining
- Exchange electronic proposals ahead of time
- Keep the video on for all bargaining team members to reduce members texting each other on the side
- Both sides should agree whether the session(s) will be recorded
- Given the uncertainty of the budget, use If/Then trigger language to determine financial consequences
- Consider modifying the pay scale calendar to move raises to January 1 versus July 1.
- Be prepared to implement wage concessions across the board, including management
Members are invited to join the Reopening Wisconsin Schools Discussion on WASBO's ConNectwork by clicking this link, signing into your WASBO account, and pressing the "Join" button!
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