Universities extend employee emergency leave for COVID-19

The University of Alabama is allowing its staff, faculty and student workers to receive benefits beyond the expiration of the national program that ended in December.

Trying to cover gaps in benefits that ended with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the University of Alabama on Monday unveiled a new policy that allows its faculty and staff members to take up to two weeks of leave time if they have been affected by COVID-19.

The 2021 COVID Leave allowance from Alabama, which replaces benefits that terminated at the end of last year (but not the university’s own leave benefits), covers all “full-time, part-time, temporary or contingent on-call faculty, staff and student workers who are unable to work or telework because of a qualifying reason related to COVID-19.”

The benefit coverage includes 80 hours of leave for qualifying conditions, including those who have been diagnosed with coronavirus, those who must isolate or quarantine and those who must care for children where help from schools or daycare is not available.

“We have implemented this program to protect the campus community from the spread of the coronavirus while acknowledging that balancing work and our personal lives is an important part of the University’s mission,” said Dr. Stuart Bell, the university’s president. “We want to assist our outstanding faculty, staff and student workers when they need time for illness or to care for their children during this unprecedented pandemic.”

Help is on the way

In addition to strict campus measures to try to prevent and quell any outbreaks of the virus, the university acquired 3,500 doses of vaccines that it is preparing to give to its community, starting with healthcare providers and first responders, along with those most vulnerable. Alabama said it is not requiring vaccinations for employment.

University of Alabama students returning to campus are being requiring to attend COVID-19 training classes as well as being testing for the virus before they arrive. The university says students must complete tests within seven days of returning to campus and no later than Jan. 19.

However, Alabama is not requiring reentry testing for its employees, though they can be tested if they like. They would have to go through health insurance plans and cover any co-pays or balances.

Prior to its Thanksgiving release, 27 faculty, staff and employees at the University of Alabama tested positive for COVID-19, according to the system’s dashboard. It was the most since mid-August and followed two consecutive weeks with more than 20 positive cases. The number of students who tested positive were 115, the most since mid-September but far few than the huge outbreak the university saw back in late August, when 846 positive cases were confirmed.

The goal of the university upon return is to keep numbers consistently low as it works toward trying to get most of its community vaccinated. In the meantime, those employees who are diagnosed will be eligible for two-thirds of their regular rate but can  supplement any remaining balances through accrued sick time or other leave. The university says the turnaround time for eligibility is typically five days.

Other colleges and universities are considering or have implemented similar policies.

  • In mid-December, the University of Nebraska announced its employees would be able to take up to 160 hours of administrative leave, through June 30, for similar reasons that the University of Alabama noted.
  • The University of South Florida said it has extended emergency sick leave through March 31, provided those employees “have not exhausted their sick leave benefits under the FFRCA”. Like Alabama, it includes 80 hours of time off.
  • The University of Arizona also said it is supplementing its sick leave, and “employees may claim FFRCA provisions until March 31.”
Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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