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APPA COVID-19 Message Following the April 10, 2020 APPA Town Hall

April 13, 2020

headshot of Lander Medlin

An occasional blogpost from Lander Medlin, APPA’s Executive Vice President

Impact of COVID-19 on Human Resources in Educational Facilities

April 13, 2020  —  This week marks another grim juncture with the uptake of coronavirus cases and deaths in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere.  The exponential rate and pace of the virus is mind-numbing, exceeding half a million cases and 22,000 deaths in the U.S. alone – all within five weeks.  We could talk numbers all day long, but this is really about people dying!  We have yet to get a handle on the health strategy and infrastructure needed to consider how and when to re-open the economy.   

With respect to the economy, the other extremely untenable milestone we hit this past week was that 17M people applied for unemployment benefits – a historic number!  That’s 11% of the U.S. workforce and growing quickly.  These are indeed unprecedented times!  The daily headlines grip us and trigger a myriad of fears.  Everyone is reaching for hope and stability.  Frankly, that’s what our organization’s leaders and our human resource professionals are all about – providing some stability, communicating the facts transparently and realistically, listening to our fears, and helping us be ready . . . prepared for both the obstacles and the opportunities of a different future . . . this new normal.   

The challenges and changes confronting the higher education and K-12 schools landscape, its workplace and workforce, are also unprecedented and reflect uncharted territory.  For both the employer and employee, legislative, regulatory, and state and local compliance issues have become even more complex and complicated.  The answers are not simple and they change daily, sometimes by the hour. 

Therefore, we were thrilled to have a stellar panel for our April 10 Town HallAndy Brantley of CUPA-HR; Jenna Elmer of University of Arizona; and Jamie Gayer of Indiana University — sharing their knowledge and expertise on the impact of COVID-19 on human resources in educational facilities.  Some highlights follow: 

  • FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act) addresses Emergency Family & Medical Leave (12 weeks of job protected leave) and Emergency Paid Sick Leave (80 hours provided due to quarantine or child whose school or daycare is closed or unavailable).
  • CARES Act represents unemployment assistance (from 26 weeks to up to 39 weeks and an additional $600 per week through July 31 – federally funded) whether employee, self-employed, or independent contractor.
  • $14B Education Stabilization Funding distributed by a Department of Education formula with half representing direct emergency aid to students for numerous uses.  (For institutions, it’s a drop in the bucket.)  
  • Make sure you stay updated on all regulatory agencies (e.g., OSHA, ADA, etc.) and your state and local compliance changes.
  • Document your decisions and needed changes so you/we can build upon and learn from them over time.
  • Establish a work continuity plan that provides for essential functions to maintain the integrity of the campus buildings and grounds and incorporates staggered shifts and smaller group sizes.  (It should be in alignment with your institution’s plans and practices.)
  • Ensure all critical job roles have a succession plan in support of business continuity.
  • Recognize telework employees are attempting to complete their job duties while caring for their child’s home schooling needs and no available daycare. 
  • Address the tasks and associated tools and training needed for telework/remote employees.
  • Find ways to reward all your staff whether they are working on the campus front-line or remotely.
  • Find different ways to ensure collaboration continues to occur by keeping and creating connections intentionally.
  • Your employees are rightfully fearful in terms of their health and safety.
  • Expand the level of trust as we all attempt to work through the myriad issues people face.
  • Recognize that people need time to grieve the losses they are feeling personally and professionally.  This fear is real!  Ensure that you are providing access to resources to manage mental health and wellness for staff. 
  • Allow each other to make mistakes, learn from them, and give yourself (and your leadership) permission to not know all the answers. 
  • People most definitely matter, and thinking differently and operating differently are now our new norm.

The University of Arizona’s President aptly stated, “We are now adjusting from a sprint to a marathon.”  Although this is an ever-changing crisis, we need to focus time and attention on the implications and scenarios for operations this coming academic year.  Frankly, there is no guarantee that student enrollment nor state funding will be at the same level, understand investments and endowments will suffer ongoing volatility, and contributions from alumni and donors will be negatively impacted.  Therefore, we must embrace flexibility, a willingness to quickly adapt and re-adapt, and give each other some slack, some grace in light of it all.  Show compassion and agility.  Stay calm in the chaos.   

Yes, we are dealing with some very harsh realities.  And, yes, times are tough.  But, so are we!!  We have always demonstrated perseverance, tenacity, and resilience in the face of tough times.  The current realities and circumstances have forced us to focus on what’s going wrong, rather than what’s going right.  During these hardships, let’s remember to celebrate the positive things in life . . . no matter how small.  Remember, hope trumps fear. 

E. Lander Medlin
APPA Executive Vice President

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