December 2, 2010 — New practices that clarify the roles of University of Virginia employees during weather-related schedule changes are being rolled out this month as a joint effort between U.Va.'s Academic Division and its Health System.
The purpose of the new approach is to ensure that each employee understands his or her responsibilities when inclement weather – such as last winter's record-breaking snowstorms – forces changes in shifts, cancellation of classes and other schedule changes. The new system also provides for coordinated messaging to the both academic and Health System employees.
Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer, will send an explanatory email to faculty and staff on Monday.
Leonard W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said that keeping the University open and safely functioning is always a priority. At the same time, he said, the University relies on significant numbers of employees who need to be working no matter the circumstances – for example, Medical Center personnel, University Police, Facilities Management and Student Dining and Housing.
"The University never really closes," he said. "About 4,000 employees have to be here to fulfill our responsibilities to patients, researchers, students, faculty and staff."
Each employee will be assigned an "emergency event status," based on discussions with supervisors and department heads about critical functions. Employees will either be "designated" and need to report to work in all events, or "non-designated" and should remain at home as instructed. The status will be listed in Employee Self-Service in the Integrated System for Academic Division employees and in PeopleSoft for Health System employees.
During a major emergency or weather-related event, non-designated employees should not come to work – even if they think they are able, Carkeek said. "We are designating the fewest possible number of employees needed to perform critical functions, such as caring for patients, feeding students and removing snow," she said. "If non-designated employees report, that may interfere with our efforts to return to normal operations."
Designated employees who can telecommute may do so if they are unable to get to their workplace. When designated employees are ordered to report in a major emergency, they will receive compensatory time for the hours they work. An update to the Inclement Weather/Emergency policy, which will reflect the new emergency status designations, will be posted soon.
In minor weather events – such as light snowfall or icy roads in the morning –¬ the University is asking supervisors to be flexible in granting appropriate leave and consideration to employees and students who feel that it is not safe to travel in bad weather.
"Inclement weather affects each person differently, and our employees come from a wide geographic area in which conditions can vary substantially," Carkeek said. "We should be especially sensitive to the child care and family problems that result from school closings and other weather-related changes." Employees who are able to telecommute will be encouraged to do so in those situations.
Sandridge emphasized that, with support from the Office of Emergency Preparedness, only his office has the authority to change the University's schedule. "To ensure consistency across the University, other vice presidents, deans, directors, faculty members and employees are not authorized to make changes in the University's academic or work schedule due to inclement weather," he said.
Decisions about weather-related schedule changes are not made lightly, Sandridge said. Information is gathered from areas on- and off-Grounds from those who are experiencing conditions first-hand, such as police, Parking and Transportation staff and snow-removal crews. If changes in class schedules are warranted, he coordinates with the provost's office, Sandridge said.
"We do our best to make decisions based on good, timely and relevant information," he said.
Employees, students and patients will learn about schedule modifications in a number of ways:
• The U.Va. home page and the University's closings-and-delays information lines at 434-243-7669 (-SNOW) and 434-924-7669 (-SNOW) will be the most quickly updated sources.
• In the event the University's Internet system is down, the emergency page can be accessed directly here.
• Announcements will also appear on the University's social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter.
• Standardized announcements will be made on local radio and TV stations, consistent with the messages on the home page and elsewhere. These messages are available now so that employees can review them and know what to expect in case of inclement weather.
A new protocol for decision-making and media notifications will ensure updated information in time for news broadcasts at 6 a.m., noon and 5 or 6 p.m. Only the Office of Public Affairs will be authorized to contact radio and television stations with University schedule information.
Representatives of schools and departments who wish to cancel or alter schedules for school- or department-based events should notify Emergency Preparedness and Public Affairs through a special email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, or they may call 434-982-0565. Those offices will work with departments and schools to include announcements about special events on the University's home page as appropriate.
Sandridge advised schools and departments to put systems in place to communicate with their students, faculty and staff about individual classes and special events.