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May 6, 2020 – Update on remote work for staff

Posted by on Wednesday, May 6, 2020 in Community Messages.

Dear colleagues,

The university normally enters a time of transition at this time of year—Commencement on May 8 marks the end of the academic year and begins summer break for many staff who work a partial-year schedule. This is, of course, not a normal year—this week also marked the conclusion of the Voluntary Staff Departure Incentive Program application process, a step that the university took as part of its actions to address the extreme financial challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We know many of you have questions about returning to on-campus work. The university has continued to implement remote work practices as Nashville remains under a Safer at Home order until at least May 8. After Nashville lifts the Safer at Home order, Vanderbilt will resume specific on-campus activities in a strictly phased manner under new protocols dictated by COVID-19.

Unless you are required to be on campus at the explicit request of your manager, you should continue to work remotely beyond May 8. Because we will continue to need to reduce the density of people and enable physical distancing on campus, remote work is likely to continue for the foreseeable future for most staff whose role and workload enables them to be effective doing so.

However, we are now entering a period where we must make further difficult decisions. Both the COVID-19 crisis and the coincident global economic downturn are resulting in unanticipated revenue losses and increased operational expenses. As a result, activities and staffing levels will be impacted.

The workloads of staff also have changed significantly in ways that are distinct and dependent on their roles since we ramped down different university functions and on-campus operations and activities and moved to online courses for summer. In our current circumstances, in some areas, staff have a full workload and are able to productively work remotely for the foreseeable future. For others, they continue to have a potential full workload, but their work cannot be productively done remotely. Unfortunately, others no longer have a full workload whether working remotely or on campus.

Since March 15, we have continued full pay and benefits for all staff under their typical work schedules, regardless of role and workload.

Beginning May 15, managers will be evaluating the workload of staff, and their ability to work productively from home, alongside their individual school’s or unit’s specific financial constraints. In some cases, this will mean that full pay and benefits for those who cannot work productively from home or for those who have reduced workloads will no longer continue. Each school and unit will be responsible for determining if additional employment actions are necessary to reflect the financial realities and workloads of staff in their respective areas.

Actions that individual areas may take may include position eliminations (reductions in force), temporary layoffs, adjustments to hours worked and partial-year scheduling. Again, these are not across-the-board changes. Please be assured that your manager will communicate with you about your own role and any potential impacts.

Though these changes will not impact every area, all staff should be aware that:

  • Positions will be eliminated in certain areas as we transform how we support our mission activities under the current conditions and in the face of the economic impact of the pandemic.
  • Unit-based, temporary layoffs will be made to enable Vanderbilt to continue to extend benefits to staff who do not have productive work to do before or when we begin ramp-up. Temporary layoffs allow for these employees to be recalled when their services are required.
  • Schedules and hours will be adjusted to address situations where staff do not have as much productive work to do as a result of changes to operating levels.
  • Staff who have less-than-normal productive work to accomplish will be required to use Paid Time Off (PTO).
  • Managers will implement partial-year schedules to structure staff positions in ways that reflect the operating needs of the unit.

We encourage you to speak with your manager about any questions and concerns that you may have, and to continue to monitor the HR information page and the telecommuting and remote work resources on the university’s COVID-19 webpage.

Careful and detailed planning is underway for ramping up our most critical campus activities in a safe, phased manner. Prioritized campus activities will include any required on-campus work that directly fulfills Vanderbilt’s research, teaching and instruction, as well as residential living and learning functions. We will have more to share with you soon regarding these plans and the guidelines for anyone who will be returning to on-campus work.

Although this is not a position that any of us wish to be in, we remain committed to providing all of the information that we can to assist you with your planning and expectations for the future. During this unprecedented period of uncertainty, we sincerely appreciate your efforts, dedication and patience.


Eric Kopstain
Vice Chancellor for Administration

Laura Nairon
Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for People and Business Services