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Update for Dal employees: What to expect for the fall term

Posted by Jasmine Walsh, Assistant Vice-President, Human Resources on September 10, 2020 in News

Updated September 21: Language under emergency interruptions has been updated to reflect subsequent developments related to academic continuity, as communicated to the Dal community on Sept. 21.

MEMORANDUM

To:          Dalhousie employees

From:     Jasmine Walsh, Assistant Vice-President, Human Resources

Date:      September 10, 2020

Re:         What to expect for the fall term

 

It has been nearly six months since Dalhousie came together in response to COVID-19 and successfully transitioned into a primarily virtual operation. It hasn’t been easy for any of us, but throughout these challenging times, I have been continually impressed by all of you and the ways you have demonstrated your commitment to our students, your peers and to Dalhousie at large; resilience in the face of uncertainty; and, above all, teamwork.

I personally recognize and thank everyone for ensuring the university’s continued operation, and offer a special thank you to our essential front-line workers who have been working on campus since March.

We have been receiving many questions from people about how our work life will look and feel in the fall and into the winter. To a large degree this is an evolving question, but we wanted to provide an update to answer as many questions as we can.

This message includes updates on:

  1. Return to Campus: Phase II; new resources website
  2. Working on campus
  3. Working from home
  4. Tax implications of working from home
  5. Procedures in the event of positive COVID cases
  6. Update on university emergency interruptions for the 2020-21 academic year
  7. Parking passes
  8. Collective bargaining

1. Return to Campus: Phase II; new resources website

We have just begun the fall term, and while most instruction will be delivered online, there are some students who have returned to campus. Decisions about who returns to work on campus and whose work continues remotely are being made by a Return to Campus committee (RTC) co-chaired by the Provost and Vice-President Academic (Acting), Frank Harvey, and the Vice-President Finance and Administration (Acting), Susan Robertson.

Phase II of our Return to Campus planning prioritizes academic continuitystudent supports, and the resumption of a wider range of research operations and carefully scheduled office access, with the goal of continuing a gradual and safe return to campus for those that need to be on campus. Employee accommodation is also a priority.

Our limit of on-campus personnel (employees and students) remains at 25% in Phase II, and the RTC is working with Deans and other leaders to allocate remaining space for those whose work is deemed critical and where a return to campus is safely possible. Early planning is also getting underway for Phase III, which will cover the winter term.

Dalhousie has launched a new Return to Campus internal website (NetID login required), which consolidates environmental health and safety resources, research forms and processes, Human resources protocols and more information all related to the Return to Campus planning process. Please bookmark the site as a resource going forward.   

2. Working on campus

The safety of our faculty and staff is a foremost concern. Our Occupational Health and Safety team under the leadership of Jerry Aguinaga has been working tirelessly to ensure that work at Dalhousie is as safe as possible in the circumstances.

We continue to be guided by the COVID-19 guidelines provided by our Environmental Health and Safety Office (the latest version of which can be found at the Return to Campus internal website). As was communicated in late July, these guidelines now include the required wearing of non-medical masks in common or shared indoor spaces, consistent with the approach being taken by all other universities in Nova Scotia.

Dalhousie has procured masks for all staff and faculty who will be working on campus and these are in the process of being distributed through your leaders. If you have not received a mask and require one, please contact Ivonne Paez or Justin Snow in Accessible Employment at accessible.employment@dal.ca.

3. Working from home

In order to support the return of our critical on-campus operations, employees who can work from home will continue to work virtually during Phase II. While Nova Scotia’s success in limiting the spread of COVID-19 thus far has been promising, we must continue to be vigilant as we expand on-campus activity. Even considering robust on-campus safety measures, the best approach to limiting the spread of the virus is to limit contact, which is why continuing to work from home, wherever possible, is the most effective way to keep our Dalhousie community safe.

We are continuing to update the Remote Working site (login required) with information and resources for employees who are working remotely.

Should new requirements arise for you while working from home in the fall (for example if you have emerging ergonomic requirements or require other accommodations), please contact your unit leader or Accessible Employment directly at accessible.employment@dal.ca.

4. Tax implications of working from home

For many Dalhousie employees, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted work from their on-campus office to their homes. Many of our employees working from home have asked if they will be able to deduct home office expenses from their income on their 2020 income tax return.

Based on CRA requirements, an employee can claim home office expenses if they were required to maintain a home office that they were not reimbursed for and that this home office is the place where the employee principally performed their employment duties (generally understood to mean more than 50% during the calendar year).

Dalhousie employees that meet the noted criteria on December 31, 2020 would be entitled to claim relevant home office expenses on their 2020 income tax return. Currently, to deduct home office expenses, the employee would need to have a Form T2200 completed by the employer. However, due to the rapidly shifting environment because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant impact on employers to produce T2200s, CRA is reviewing this requirement.   

We will continue to monitor the CRA decision on the requirement of a completed T2200 and will provide further updates on the process throughout the fall.

5. Procedures in the event of positive COVID cases

With more members of our community returning to campus in the weeks and months ahead, we have clear processes and procedures in place for reporting positive cases of COVID-19 while respecting the confidentiality of those involved. Nova Scotia Public Health leads the process and Dalhousie will ensure we adhere to all requirements and action steps, including when a student case is identified on campus. As a reminder, all of us have a responsibility to work together to mitigate risks and keep our community safe.

In the event of a confirmed COVID-19 positive case on or off-campus for an employee:

  • Employees should reach out to their direct supervisor to inform them. The supervisor will then contact Dalhousie Security Services to complete the reporting process and initiate any other required actions on the university’s part, including required Environmental Health and Safety recording/reporting.  
  • Security Services will immediately pass this information to Accessible Employment who will initiate contact with the supervisor and/or employee and see the case to conclusion. 
  • If it is an on-campus case, Accessible Employment is the contact unit with Nova Scotia Public Health for any employee-related cases. Student-related cases will be managed directly by Nova Scotia Public Health with support from Student Affairs. However, students who are also employees at Dal should follow these employee protocols.

In an effort to further support the health and safety of the Dalhousie community, the university will apply a Temporary COVID-19 Approach to Sick Leave, which provides paid sick days (for the remainder of the 2020 calendar year) to temporary, casual and student employees whose work requires them to be physically present on campus and who experience symptoms that may be associated with COVID-19. This approach will allow these employees sick leave while they take steps to confirm if they have contracted COVID-19, as well as additional paid sick days if they test positive for COVID-19, regardless of whether they are entitled to paid sick days in a collective agreement, handbook, employment contract or employment guide.

If any employee becomes ill due to COVID-19, their sick leave bank will not be impacted.

6. Update on university emergency interruptions for the 2020-21 academic year

As hurricane season and winter approach, remote instruction and remote work requires us to re-think how Dalhousie responds to major weather events and other similar situations where campus operations are affected.

As a university community, our top priority is our collective safety. The fact that many of our faculty and staff are currently equipped to work remotely means we can better maintain important operational functions through these weather events while still taking steps to ensure the safety of those who would normally work on campus.

You can review the full guidelines on how we will address these emergency interruption situations on the Remote Working site (login required).

In short, faculty and staff who are already working remotely should continue to work provided they are able to. Those faculty and staff who are working on campus at the time of an emergency interruption, but who can work remotely should continue their work remotely as well. Those faculty and staff who are working on campus at the time of an emergency interruption and who cannot work remotely will be permitted to go home, and those faculty and staff whose work is deemed essential and is required front-line work (including those referenced in the Policy on University Closure or Class/Examination Cancellation) will be expected to remain at work on campus.  

If circumstances prevent you from continuing your work remotely during an emergency interruption due to personal or other obligations, the university will support you, and please consult with your department head or supervisor to ensure those involved or impacted are aware of the circumstances.

7. Parking passes

Many of you who pay for parking on our Halifax campuses will have received a partial refund for last year’s parking fees with your August pay.   

New permits for September 1, 2020 to August 31, 2021 will be required for parking from September 1 onward and are now available online. Security Services will be monitoring campus lots and tickets and boots may be issued. As an exception to the usual requirement to pay a full year’s fee regardless of the renewal date, this year Security Services will prorate the renewal amount from the month of purchase.

For employees who have a reserved parking pass, if you are not going to be on campus at all, Security will hold your reserved parking permit for one year.

8. Collective Bargaining

Preliminary bargaining has begun with the Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA), NSGEU Local 77 and NSGEU Local 99. The university provided the unions with an opening proposal and constructive negotiations are underway.

The uncertainty created by COVID-19 is a major factor that the university needs to consider with how it approaches collective bargaining, as it navigates how to address a budget deficit. We are encouraged by the early enrolment figures and are hopeful that these trends will allow us to adapt the proposals which have been shared with unions. We are truly grateful to all of the faculty and staff whose hard work resulted in these higher than expected enrolment numbers. These numbers will introduce flexibility in the ways that we are dealing with the financial challenges presented by COVID-19.

Updates on bargaining are provided regularly on our Labour Relations website.

If you have questions or concerns on anything covered in this message or additional questions, please contact Human Resources at hr@dal.ca or reach out to a member of the HR team through our online staff directory.