Category Archives: COVID-19

What’s the Deal with Expanded Sick Time Usage?

Your child was sent home from school for two weeks, your husband was exposed to COVID and has symptoms, or you need to self-quarantine.  You can use your own sick time for any of these options.  In short, try to telecommute first.  If telecommuting is not an option, use sick time instead.

  1. Article 44 – Sick Leave of the URA-AFT Agreement is already strong.  Even pre-pandemic, you could use your own sick time to care for yourself if you were ill or injured.  The only requirement in Article 44 is to call out no less than 15 minutes before your work day starts.  Doctor’s notes can be requested by a supervisor but cannot be a requirement for using your earned sick days.
  • Article 44 always permitted 15 days to care for family or pick up a child from school. You might need to fill out the form in Appendix I or have the school nurse sign off.
  • Article 44 always permitted sick days for medical, dental and wellness visits.  COVID testing and vaccination visits count as medical visits too. You can use sick time for planned or unplanned visits for medical or dental reasons or for wellness visits. If unplanned, use the same 15 minute advanced call out rule (or inform your supervisor that you are ill and need to leave early for the day).
  • For remaining needs related to COVID, Sick Leave Expansion is in effect through December 31.  Refer to Vivian Fernandez’ memo announcing the temporary expansion of permissible use of accrued paid sick time.  10 days are allowed for quarantine even if you are not actually sick.  Unlimited sick time can be used for school closure or child care necessities.
  • If you have no remaining sick days, consider applying for an unpaid leave of absence or using remaining V, PH or AL days.  You might also be eligible for the New Jersey Temporary Disability Insurance, Family Leave Insurance or Unemployment Insurance programs while on unpaid leave status (check with the New Jersey Department of Labor directly). Article 22 of our union contract allows for requests for unpaid leave for personal reasons.
  • Having issues with using these benefits? If your supervisor is being unreasonable, contact union@ura-aft.org immediately.

Reference: 

Can I still telecommute?

In short, yes. 

Telecommuting Policy Relaxation Through December 31, 2021

Our union has pushed for this policy expansion since the pandemic began last year.  However, we’ve received concerns from union members recently about unreasonable supervisors who ignore the policy.  Some supervisors are reasonable but getting pressure from above to restrict your telecommuting or make unreasonable changes.  Here is our recommendation for utilizing the policy:

  1. Quote from Vivian Fernandezmemo: telecommuting “provides flexibility necessary to balance…operational and service needs…with employee well-being”. 
  2. Make a request in writing.  Request the continuation of your current arrangement or propose a new arrangement.  Make sure you say, “I need to telecommute to maintain my well-being.”  Your well-being might be impacted by how you arrange child care, school closures, and quarantining of yourself and household members.  Do not hesitate to request telecommuting if a potential exposure to COVID is suspected.
    Note: you are not making a medical accommodation request under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) which is a separate process that can be reserved for later.
  1. Was your request ignored, delayed or refused?  Ask tough questions in writing. “What is the operational and service reason for your denial?”  “Please explain how you balanced the operational needs against my personal well-being as required by the policy.”  “Do you need any further information from me about why telecommuting is critical to my well-being right now?”  “When will you be providing me with a response in writing?”  If a supervisor says, “we just need you on campus” or “because I said so”, continue asking the tough questions. Do not settle for an unreasonable response.
  1. Is the operational need legitimate? If your supervisor provides a reasonable explanation for why you cannot telecommute, consider: (1) requesting a medical accommodation, (2) requesting telecommuting the usual way—exempt staff always could request telecommuting according to Article 59 of our union contract, or (3) using your own sick time to stay home without working.
  1. Join colleagues to create collective pressure.  Telecommuting can be requested by anyone.  Colleagues can submit a request at the same time, ask the same questions and demand updates together.
  1. If all else fails, union representatives may be able to file a formal grievance on your behalf.  Send information to union@ura-aft.org.  Use Sick, AL or PH days if your situation at home is truly urgent. 

Telecommuting: What to Know (March Update)

Updated 3/8/2021

On Wednesday, March 3, Vivian Fernandez sent out a message that extends the relaxation of rules around telecommuting until April 30, 2021. This is a welcome respite, but it contradicts what she told us in January: that telecommuting would be extended to May 31.

We continue to expect telecommuting to be extended through May 31.  We will also advocate for a safe reopening and repopulation at the appropriate time.

If you currently have a telecommuting agreement, then there is no change. If your manager attempts to change to your work schedule, and there is a request for additional in-person work, ask your manager, “what has changed operationally?”. This is not the time to let our guard down, and we will continue to fight for to keep you healthy and safe.

Steps to protect your rights:

You do not need to reapply for a telecommuting arrangement that was already approved and on file.  Continue to work according to that plan.

  1. If you are told to return to in-person work ask your supervisor: “what is the operational need?”  Important: make sure you get a response in writing. Some managers try to avoid this question and instead explain to you all of the safety measures in place on campus. Continue to insist on a response to only this question.
  2. If there is no true critical operational need for in-person work, contact us immediately.  Your supervisor does not have total discretion to force you to return if your work truly can be performed remotely.
  3. If there is a critical need for in-person work, make sure the safety measures are appropriate.  If not, you should object to working under unsafe conditions.
  4. If you have a medical or family reason for not working in-person (and there is actually a critical need for in-person work), request a flexible work hours arrangement that includes telecommuting or a leave request.  Important: this should be your last option.  Attempt steps 1 through 4 first.

If you are requested to return to work in person and there is no operational need to do so, please contact us to help. This is particularly impactful as parents of school age students will require greater flexibility as K‑12 schools reopen.