I write today with some encouraging news—as we look ahead at plans to begin a slow, cautious resumption of normal business operations. As mentioned in my previous message, we have extended on-site skeleton crew staffing recommendations until May 18. Following guidance from The Texas A&M University System, this communication further defines our plan for a phased return to on-site work beginning May 18.
Please know that the health and safety of our students, staff, and faculty is our primary concern. Any decision that we implement will only be made after we are satisfied that the risk to our worksite is being effectively managed. As this is a dynamic situation, it is also important to stress that the plan below is dependent upon local health conditions and guidance from The Texas A&M University System and state health authorities.
For now, all employees who can effectively work remotely should continue their current alternate work location status. Return to on-site work will be handled in a way that reopens the workplace in successive “waves” between May 18 and July 1. Employees will be notified by their supervisors of their expected return to work in a timely manner. Please note that county Extension personnel should follow guidance provided by county leadership or, if there is doubt, with the applicable District Extension Administrator.
While a few essential employees may be asked to return to work as early as May 18, most employees will not be asked to return until June 1 or July 1.
- Wave 1 (Beginning May 18): In this wave, a small number of additional employees identified by Department Heads, Research and Extension Center leadership and Center/Institute/Core Facility Directors can return to on-site work, either because they can most effectively do their jobs on site or because their presence is required on-site for management purposes. The goal is to return about 25 percent of the workforce in a given proximity (i.e. floor, building, lab, etc.) to on-site status on or soon after May 18, inclusive of those already working on-site.
- Wave 2 (June 1): Depending on the results of the preceding two weeks, we should seek to return a second wave of employees to on-site work to a level not exceeding half of full FTEs in a given proximity (i.e. floor, building, lab, etc.) on June 1.
- Wave 3 (July 1): All remaining employees who are needed based on managerial priorities or because they have limited work opportunities off-site can return to work, again presuming public health conditions do not change and do not reconsider this decision.
As individuals return to on-site work, face coverings are recommended when using common areas or attending in-person meetings. All employees should continue to follow social distancing and meeting size requirements provided by state health authorities. When feasible, we should minimize in-person meetings as much as possible. Should your local public health authority have implemented stricter guidance, please adhere to this guidance.
Additionally, throughout this waved reintegration, supervisors should fully consider the need to protect our employees and their families from cluster infection, particularly where highly vulnerable populations are involved and should continue to allow remote work for employees who have child care or elder care obligations or other overriding factors that might make an immediate return to work difficult or impossible. Similarly, employees should work with human resources to take leave, when applicable, under the recently implemented Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
The current, limited operations and essential research which has been approved by individual System members will continue throughout May. Six feet social distancing, wearing of face masks in lab settings, and all other CDC, State of Texas and other prevention recommendations which have enabled essential research to be conducted safely, should continue to be followed.
A phased approach will begin after June 1. A plan for gradually resuming full research staffing will be forthcoming. This will be informed by the results of earlier staffing waves. Additional factors could include, but are not limited to, availability of masks, and prevention measures are effectively managing risk of COVID-19 spread.
There are no changes to our current travel restrictions. Mission critical travel, both domestic and in-state, should continue to be reported through the Office of Ethics & Compliance with final approval by the Agency CEO or designee. Please note, this only relates to travel that is reimbursable by AgriLife or the college, not county Extension agents. Additional details can be found onagrilife.org/coronavirus.
External Visitors to Worksites for Meetings
External guests may be invited to physically attend face to face meetings no earlier than June 1 and should be expected to observe guidance related to social distancing, meeting size and face covering in place at the time of the visit. Invited external guests should be limited to mission critical functions such as interviews for positions. This guidance does not apply to face to face group educational programs. Limitations on invited external guests will be reevaluated regularly for consideration of adjustment in the standards and/or expansion of the purposes for which external guests may be invited.
In closing, our goal is to plan for a slow return to some semblance of normal operations, which we recognize could take months to be fully realized. We must reopen in a thoughtful way—one that protects our faculty, staff and students. Please continue to be vigilant and steadfast in maintaining your health and safety.
Supervisors will provide additional guidance in the coming days. We will also continue to keep you informed through email communications and on our Coronavirus resource webpage for employees.
If you have questions related to employees returning to work, please contact the AgriLife Human Resources Office at 979-845-2423. Other questions may be directed to the AgriLife Office of Ethics and Compliance at 979-845-4789.
Patrick J. Stover, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor, Texas A&M AgriLife
Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Director, Texas A&M AgriLife Research