We want to update you about a policy change Harvard announced on November 12 around the use of “Emergency Excused Absence” pay. It has become clear that some members didn’t receive the initial email from Harvard announcing the change.
This policy change pertains to those entering “Excused Absence” time with the absence reason “COVID-19” in PeopleSoft because they are unable to work some or all of their regularly scheduled hours due to pandemic-related campus restrictions. This change does not apply those using Excused Absence time with the absence reason “Dependent Well Care.”
EXCUSED ABSENCE POLICY & BACKGROUND
As you know, the vast majority of HUCTW’s 5,300 members have been carrying out their work remotely since March in order to maintain low campus density and minimize COVID-19 exposure risk. Several hundred members who work in essential jobs have returned to campus and have been carrying out their work in-person, in Harvard buildings.
There is another group of several hundred members who, through no fault of their own, have been unable to carry out 100% of their regular job duties during the pandemic. These members are ready and willing to work their full hours, but are not always able to perform some or all of their typical job responsibilities due to pandemic-related campus restrictions.
In most of these situations, members are still able to do some of their standard job duties and have been working with their managers to take on special projects or new assignments in their own departments or elsewhere at Harvard to fill in the gaps. However, some staff have not found enough regular work or special assignments to fill 100% of their time, and those members have been told to enter “Excused Absence (Reason: COVID-19)” for the remaining unfilled time in PeopleSoft.
Since March, Harvard’s policy has been to continue to pay these members for 100% of any “Excused Absence” time they need to use. We have been very proud of the University for making this strong, ethical decision to maintain pay for affected HUCTW members, as well as for other affected Harvard workers, for more than nine months.
EXCUSED ABSENCE POLICY CHANGE
In the November 12 letter to staff, Harvard announced that, “Effective January 15, 2021, idled Harvard employees whose work cannot be performed due to the COVID-19 public health emergency may use the emergency excused absence benefit to sustain up to 70% of their regular pay.” This means HUCTW members who are unable to work due to campus restrictions will have their pay reduced by 30% for any hours they enter as “Excused Absence” in PeopleSoft. For some, this is a very small amount of money, but for others it is a 30% cut to half or more of their income.
This is a frustrating and disappointing policy change that primarily affects some of HUCTW’s lowest paid members. Although we appreciate that the global pandemic has created a challenging new set of financial circumstances for Harvard, it is not at all clear that the relatively small savings Harvard will gain from these pay cuts are worth the substantial financial pain they will cause the affected members.
As mentioned in previous HUCTW communications (including when the University was considering furloughs), HUCTW leaders have been meeting regularly with Harvard decision-makers, and we have been arguing strongly and consistently against pay cuts for staff. We have requested and have begun receiving information about HUCTW members who could potentially be affected by the policy change and we will be reaching out to those members and to their local departments to explore every possible avenue to avoid income reductions.
In the meantime, if you are concerned about how this policy will affect you, we want to encourage you to reach out to us to discuss how we can help you. As always, anything we discuss is confidential.