University discusses financial uncertainty and announces plan for workers’ salaries amid COVID-19
Given the financial uncertainty institutions are facing as a result of the coronavirus, the University is taking specific steps to respond to the emerging economic situation, according to a March 30 address from University President Ron Liebowitz.
The first step Liebowitz announced refers to the regular July 1 salary increase. “We will be deferring the regular July 1 salary increase program for all non-unionized faculty and staff until at least January 1, 2021. This will afford us time to better understand what our financial condition will be based on the upcoming fall enrollment, the state of the endowment, and what philanthropy will look like in such a steep financial downturn. During this period, senior administrators who report to me, and I, will take a 10 percent salary reduction.”
Other efforts to prepare the University for the financial “unknown” include conserving operating expenditures, approving new hires and replacements — along with salary adjustments — from Lynch and Uretsky, pausing the implementation of Springboard and expanding and extending the University’s continuing pay program.
The update about expanding and extending the continuing pay program elaborates on updates that were made on March 23. According to a March 23 email from Liebowitz, Provost Lisa Lynch and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stew Uretsky, the University is committed to ensuring that COVID-19 will not impact Brandeis employees’ pay and benefit.
“We will honor existing commitments for our faculty and staff for the foreseeable future. This will include staff paid from grants, in compliance with federal guidance. These policies will be revisited as the situation evolves,” the email said.
“We encourage managers to contact the Office of Human Resources for assistance in working through the impact of COVID-19 on non-benefits-eligible staff of the University, and for faculty, how they can satisfy the terms of their appointment,” Vice President of Human Resources Robin Switzer wrote in a March 23 email.
He noted that in some cases, employees may be eligible for statutory-provided benefits, and that these will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The University will also be taking into account any new legislation put in place by the federal government that may impact the benefits that employees receive in light of the coronavirus.
As the situation evolves, Switzer said that the commitment to such benefits may need to be reassessed. “The length of this crisis is difficult to predict at this point, as are the economic ramifications and the impact on our campus operations. There may come a point where we need to reassess these commitments considering the length of time of the crisis or significantly changing circumstances, but our hope and plan is to weather this crisis together as a united community,” Switzer wrote.
In light of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s March 24 order to close all non-essential businesses, the University reduced its operations to those services that are essential. This includes services that support distance learning, limited on-campus dining and “other essential student support functions,” Switzer’s email said. Other staff who do not have plans to work remotely were encouraged in the email to speak with their supervisor to develop that plan.
“Managers and staff should continue to review job assignments, department operations and work expectations so our staff can continue to stay productive, engaged and paid,” Switzer said.
Switzer said that to further support benefits-eligible employees impacted by the coronavirus, new time-off procedures were added to existing policies. For staff who are healthy and able to work, but for whom there are no assignments available or there is no alternative work, the University is providing emergency paid time off through April 17.
Staff who have been “directed by a doctor or state/federal agency to self-quarantine or self-isolate or are caring for a qualified dependent who is self-quarantining or self-isolating” will receive “10 work days of paid time.” The payment for this time will be provided to the employee up front before the use of any of the time off. For those who feel well enough and are able to work remotely and for whom telework is possible, this does not prohibit the staff member from working. The new policies also offer “eligible employees the option of using 10 additional work days of unaccrued (borrowed) sick time in cases where all other time has been exhausted.”
From the March 30 update, Liebowitz added that “we will be extending the continuing pay program to include non-benefits eligible staff, alongside benefits-eligible staff, through the spring semester. This means that the university will provide emergency paid time off through May 17 to any employee who is healthy and able to work, but for whom no alternative work or assignments are available.” The University will assess the situation as more information is known. In his address, Liebowitz also stated that Sodexo will be making sure employees are financially supported at this time.
“These are unprecedented times and we are grateful for the incredible work of our faculty and staff,” Switzer said. “Your resilience and support to ensure that Brandeis is successful in carrying out its mission, while protecting our students, faculty and staff, has been truly impressive and heartwarming.”
—Correction: An earlier version of the article incorrectly referred to Robin Switzer as a "she." The article was changed to use the correct pronoun.