Statement from Members of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Advisory Board on Remote Working, Caring and Equity

Friday, July 10, 2020 - 02:42 PM

COVID-19 has laid bare existing social, economic and racial inequities and injustices in the United States, and in our institutions of Higher Education. Grave gender disparities in the average distribution of caregiving work have been documented, while job security and the right to work remotely, ensuring safety and convenience, are opportunities afforded only to the most privileged. FSU’s recent announcement that “effective August 7, 2020, the University will return to normal policy and no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely” presents a threat to the physical, emotional and job security of the university’s employees. This threat is felt most urgently by the lowest-paid members of staff, who are disproportionately female-identifying and/or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color).

We acknowledge that an HR Town Hall on Wednesday July 1 and an announcement Thursday July 2 apologized for the timing of the initial announcement, which coincided with an on-going surge in Coronavirus cases locally and state-wide, and for any confusion and distress arising as a result of that. At the Town Hall Kyle Clark clarified that if Leon County schools do not reopen physically or open later than the planned start date of August 10, then the remote working whilst caring for children policy will continue until they do reopen. The July 2 announcement stated that “We want to be clear – our policy does allow employees to work from home while caring for children;” however, the policy itself is problematic and iniquitous.

To be clear, the policy of verifying childcare whilst working remotely has not been rescinded or revised, only the date of the return to normal has shifted. Though the university response and the press coverage suggests that this policy does not affect faculty members, indeed it does: faculty members who are on twelve-month contracts did have to sign the “temporary remote work guidelines acknowledgement” when the campus closed in March. Separating out nine-month faculty in the July 1 defense of the policy is part of a divide-and-conquer strategy to make employees feel as though they have divided interests. The onus is still on 40% of faculty and all non-faculty staff to apply to their line-managers for approval to (continue) to work remotely and care for children. We hope that all managers and supervisors will respond humanely and compassionately in the current public health and care-giving crisis by granting permission to work remotely whilst caring for children regardless of whether schools reopen physically or are virtual during the global pandemic, and regardless of whether employees and their children meet the criteria for high-risk dispensation. As we know, children can and do contract COVID-19, and they can also pass it to their families and others. Employers should not oblige employees who are parents to make choices they feel are counter to the health of their children, their immediate families, and their communities in the midst of a local wave of Covid-19 cases, which are disproportionately impacting BIPOC in Tallahassee and Leon County as well as world-wide. We urge HR to work with employees and managers to ensure that employees are not left with impossible choices of unpaid FMLA, a reduction in hours (FTE) or personal leave, none of which are viable options for many, especially not for the lowest-paid employees.

We encourage the university to review and rewrite both the “Repopulation” policy and the “Temporary Remote Work” policy to reflect the interests of the working people at FSU as well as the health of the public and to authorize working remotely without verification of childcare.

FSU must now do the right thing and maintain the right to work remotely whilst caring for dependents (children or otherwise) for all FSU employees, staff, faculty and graduate students, regardless of their job duties and responsibilities until the end of global pandemic. In a university, where we are guided by science, medicine, and expertise, we must acknowledge that the pandemic is not under control, and act with both wisdom and humanity.

When classes resume in the Fall, many students will also find themselves in caregiving roles, whether tending to younger siblings, to children of their own, or to relatives. In order to provide a good model for our students, to maintain employee morale, and to act justly, the university must develop a coherent and humane policy regarding childcare and dependent care and remote work. The university has had no cause, up until now, to doubt the loyalty or effectiveness of its employees, and it must continue to accord those members of the community who are parents and caretakers the bare respect they deserve by trusting that they will continue their admirable contributions to the mission of the university while parenting.

The Advisory Board of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies