Academic and Administrative & Support Staff - June 2 2020

When can we expect to be returning to campus? Or do we need to plan on working remotely all summer long?

As always, our first priority is the health and safety of our community; we follow the public health authorities’ guidelines in our planning efforts. There is still a lot of uncertainty about the evaluation of the pandemic, in particular in the Montreal area; this uncertainty carries over to what public health authorities will prescribe over the coming weeks and months.

At this stage, we are still working with the basic principle that what be efficiently done from home should eb done from home; if this situation persists throughout the summer, which is likely, many of our staff members will continue working form home until then.

As we consider those activities that cannot efficiently be done from home, we will do so with the same principles in mind – health and safety remaining first and foremost. Any activities to be carried out on campus have to and will continue to have to respect all our safety directives, including 2-meter distancing as a guiding principle.

 

What rules are in place to govern remote teaching and learning for the Fall term? For example, must instructors do synchronous learning? Must students have their cameras on during classes?

  • Remote teaching and learning require us to rethink our ways of interacting
  • If students being on camera are used as a way for the instructor to validate understanding through nods and non-verbal acknowledgments, then (i) this is simply not as easy to do in a 200-student zoom class as in a physical classroom because taking a glance at a subset of the 200 students in Zoom is not very informative and (ii) there are ways to institute these regular understanding check ins through polling, which work well in both zoom and in-person settings.
  • TLS and their FAQ pages should be consulted
  • Some instructors will want to deliver some components of their course ‘live’, which may be reasonable and appropriate given the learning outcomes or type of course. However, we hope most instructors will be open and willing to record their lectures.
  • We cannot always assume students have the technology or bandwidth to have their cameras on, and there may be some concerns about their privacy. If participation is a graded component of a class, you may ask students to turn on cameras, but being accommodating is key, and back-up plans around using other methods for gauging participation would be important.
  • Essentially the same rules of teaching and learning continue to apply – we have created guidelines that adapt existing regulations and policies to the remote delivery context.
  • Some instructors have expressed concern about their lectures being recording. Please consult the Guidelines on remote T&L since these explain measures for protecting instructors’ IP and measures the university will take in the event of an infringement.

 

Remote work is advantageous for many people. Will the University consider allowing this situation to continue even after it is safe for everyone to return to campus?

As you know, the University launched a pilot programme earlier this year to facilitate working from home on an occasional basis. The arrival of COVID-19 catapulted us into a massive, full-time remote-work experiment, which is generally going very well. I think it is reasonable to expect that this experience will inform future decisions about working from home, but I do not think it is likely that we will see a switch to staff working remotely on a full-time basis.

 

When we go back to the office, how will McGill ensure that everyone is respecting social distancing requirements?

  • We have published last week a sense of how we currently manage building access, so that our community has a sense of what happens when significant activities resume on campus, such as through the research ramp-up.
  • An important part of this is the health and safety framework put in place; this includes presence of security personnel and rounds by EHS
  • The experience of the phase 1 of the research ramp up has shown that the system work and that the members of community are coming together to ensure a safe environment.

 

Will office layouts be reconfigured before we come back to campus, to make them safer for everyone (e.g., spacing, plexiglass)?

Our directives for reducing the spread of COVID-19 on-campus clearly refer to the potential need to rearrange workspaces, work schedules and work processes to allow for a safe work environment. This includes in particular de-densification, as a means to allow for the 2-meter distance; it also includes physical barriers for the rare specific cases in which the 2-meter distancing would not be possible.

 

How is the University recognizing that many people cannot be as productive as they normally would be during a pandemic, when many of us are taking care of our children?

  • For academic staff, we have aimed to reduced pressures principally through allowing pre-tenure professors to extend their time to reappointment and tenure by one year. This decision was made very early on, in recognition of the unique circumstances under which colleagues were having to work at this time. In addition, for the winter and summer 2020 semesters, all student evaluations of courses are deemed “to assist” only, meaning that these do not have to be included in an instructor’s dossiers for reappointment, tenure, promotion or merit. Finally, we beginning to consider how performance for the 2020 reference period ought to be assessed – we know this is an anomalous year with many people working under challenging conditions – both personal and professional – so we have begun a conversation on this front that will continue over the coming weeks. News on this front will be forthcoming in due course.
  • For administrative staff, we asked both supervisors and employees to be flexible in finding solutions to facilitate working from home for staff who are also caring for children. Solutions include flexible work schedules as well as changes and/or reductions in duties and responsibilities. We recognize that staff productivity may be impacted by this and other challenging circumstances during this period and will also look at ways to mitigate this for the 2020 performance assessment.

 

What is McGill’s contingency plan in place for a second wave?

For any application to resume an activity on campus, it is requested to demonstrate that activities can be suspended promptly if needed. If public health authorities order a second lock down, we will be able to react quickly.

 

How much notice will staff have before we’re expected to come back into work in-person?

This will vary, depending on the type of activity. There will be a minimum 48-hour notice period. However, in most cases, the approval process for a ramp-up of activities will be slower so employees could hear quite a bit earlier about plans for resumption. In cases where the notice period is shorter, supervisors are asked to show flexibility in situations where staff require a bit more time in order to make necessary arrangements, such as for childcare.

 

Will we be able to expense costs incurred for setting up our home offices (e.g., high-speed internet, additional equipment, etc.?

For academic staff: equipment can be expensed through the PDF, possibly through grants depending on the funding agency/institution rules. Purchases of items like: furniture, printers, paper, high-speed internet are not allowable expenses.

For administrative staff: Yes, some costs may be reimbursed. Permissible expenses include temporary mobile internet services (available through procurement) items such as mouses, headsets and office supplies. All purchases should be authorized in advance as the costs are born by the Faculty or unit. It is also possible to retrieve some portable equipment from your workspace, again with the authorization of your unit/Faculty.

 

How is the return to work being planned for staff in office towers not owned by McGill?

Several of our activities take place in rented spaces, and some of them are indeed in large office towers. We will be looking at these spaces on a case-by-case basis, through discussions with the landlord. The general concept behind these discussions is going to be to ensure that the same standards of safety as in McGill-owned buildings are available in the parts of the rental buildings that are under the landlord’s control.

 

If I am teaching a course with a small registration (under 25 students) should I aim to do more teaching on campus (with alternatives for people who are not in the city)? In other words, is the university encouraging, when possible, activities on campus?

Indeed, planning for the core components (e.g., Lectures) of a class for remote delivery is important given that some students will be unable to be in Montreal, but planning for some in-person components is appropriate – all Faculties are looking into doing this. This may work well for courses that might have multiple conferences (i.e., some could be planned in person, some virtually); or there could be smaller courses, perhaps with a lab group that is already active in Montreal, that could be done in person. All in-person academic activities will always be done with safety in mind, and with consideration of directives from public health.

If you do have ideas for in-person activities in relation to your course, feel free to connect with your Chair or your Associate Dean academic in your Faculty to determine what may be possible. Academic leadership in Departments and Faculties are aware of the protocol by which to make requests to allow in-person events/activities on campus this Fall.

 

Will staff be provided with the necessary PPE supplies and how can you guarantee that staff can use the washrooms safely?

  • The University is actively pursuing the procurement of appropriate PPE for the current ramping-up of activities;
  • As mentioned earlier, the combination of hand washing, cough etiquette and 2-meter distancing for our main lines of defense against contagion, as per public health authorities.
  • For cases where additional PPE is needed due to work processes, a condition for the resumption of the activities will be the ability for the University to procure the appropriate PPE to protect its employees.
  • It is also important to understand what the dynamic may look like after a return to campus; and to understand how significant contacts have to be before they are deemed risky. As an example, the Direction de la Santé Publique, when doing contact tracing, will only trace “significant contacts” with a person who tested positive – this means a contact within less than 2 meters, for 10 minutes or more, without any form of PPE.
  • In terms of usage of washrooms:
    • There is increased cleaning of high touch surfaces in each building with fully managed access
    • Different systems are being used to ensure that the capacity of each bathroom is not exceeded

 

How will McGill deal with staff who cannot come to campus because they are immuno-compromised? Or because they are 70 or older?

Members of the University community will return to campus under conditions that make it safe to do so. Health and Safety is our priority. Given that we are abiding strictly by requirements set by public health and safety authorities, as a general principle, employees 70+ will be expected to be on campus if that is necessary to carry out their duties. If, however, a person has a health-related condition or disability, which may or may not be related to age, that places them at enhanced risk to COVID-19, the University will take reasonable measures to accommodate them as much as possible so they can provide their services. This will include looking at alternative work arrangements to allow them to provide their services on campus or off campus as appropriate. But some jobs cannot be done off campus, and accommodating these employees will be challenge.

 

What is the policy on faculty members who live with and care for individuals at high risk of complication due to Covid-19?

The University’s obligations to accommodate employees who are at high risk of complication due to Covid-19 does not necessarily extend to an obligation to accommodate an employee who lives with or cares for individuals who are at high risk of such complications. Nonetheless, there may be situations where remote work will be possible for a certain period of time. Employees who are requested to return to campus are required to take preventive measures in order to limit the risk of contamination and transmission at work. Employees may also take various preventive measures at home to avoid the risk of transmission to a relative. In the event that an employee is unable to return to work, if possible, and available under the policies applicable to the employee, a temporary unpaid leave of absence may be granted.

 

Now that the Ministry has confirmed that our grant will be based on enrolments from 2019/20 (and that the 2020/21 year will be treated as anomalous), does this change the conditions and timing for when merit will be allocated?

Certain employees that are now forced to work from home due to COVID do not have appropriate laptops. Is there any plan to provide McGill laptops for those who need, particularly since we don't know when we will be back in the office?

Computer needs are managed locally. If your computer setup is preventing you from carrying out your work effectively, you should speak with your supervisor to discuss how this might be improved. Under certain circumstances, it may be possible to bring your desktop home.

 

How can we claim income tax deductions for work-from-home expenses incurred in 2020?

To date, staff who are working from home have not yet done so for a long enough period to qualify for the deduction, which requires that employees perform their duties principally (at least 50% of the time) from their home offices. We will revisit this issue later in the year.

 

Since teaching for the fall semester will be done remotely, why can't McGill assure professors it won't be mandatory for them to be available on campus?

Generally, it will be ill-advised for staff – whether academic or administrative – to be outside of Montreal during the fall term. Although most lecture courses will be taught through remote platforms, the University is actively planning in-person activities, both academic and extra-curricular, for students that will be held on campus provided that this can be done while respecting safety protocols. This will require both instructors and other staff to be present at the University. Moreover, living outside of the province could have important consequences for a staff member’s health insurance coverage, since it is conditional on RAMQ coverage. Staff who hold valid work permits as temporary foreign workers lose their RAMQ coverage if an intended stay outside of Canada exceeds 21 days outside of Quebec. Staff who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents would lose their RAMQ coverage if they spend longer than 183 days per year outside of the province.

Note further that performing services from outside of Canada could impact access to LTD benefits.

 

Do I have to be in Montreal for the Fall term?

Generally, it will be ill-advised for staff – whether academic or administrative – to be outside of Montreal during the fall term. Furthermore, an appointment can only begin once a person has valid permission to work in Canada.

Although most lecture courses will be taught through remote platforms, the University is actively planning in-person activities, both academic and extra-curricular, for students that will be held on campus provided that this can be done while respecting safety protocols. This will require both instructors and other staff to be present at the University. Moreover, living outside of the province could have important consequences for a staff member’s health insurance coverage, since it is conditional on RAMQ coverage. Staff who hold valid work permits as temporary foreign workers lose their RAMQ coverage if an intended stay outside of Canada exceeds 21 days outside of Quebec. Staff who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents would lose their RAMQ coverage if they spend longer than 183 days per year outside of the province.

Note further that performing services from outside of Canada could impact access to LTD benefits.

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