Q and A with Mark Coldren on COVID-19 and Employment

Published April 6, 2021

Recently the PSS Chair, Tim Tryjankowski, presented several questions to UB Human Resources Associate Vice President Mark Coldren surrounding COVID/employment matters. 

As we know during this pandemic things change quickly. Since Mark’s replies, the vaccinations are now open to any New Yorker over the age of 16 and the work-from-home agreement has been extended by the Governor. Below are Mark’s candid answers on a variety of topics - some more timely now than others. We again thank Mark for sharing this information.

Q: There is confusion over the Governor’s addition of – “all government employees and those college staff that interact with students” in his list of vaccine eligibility. Some staff feel this is the green light to try and get vaccinated, as they will eventually “face students”. Others take it as…well I am working remote and don’t face students right now – eventually this might include me, once the remote work agreements expire.

A: The Governor set forth the phrase of “essential in-person staff” as being eligible.  This can be interpreted pretty broadly.  We have advised folks that if they are coming to campus on a regular basis to work – they are eligible under the guidance.  It lines up with those who are participating in surveillance testing.  Our suggestion has been that when you get an appointment, bring your UB ID card – no letter is required – and they probably will not ask for the ID – that is what many have shared with us to date – that was my personal experience as well.

Q: The unions are saying employees cannot be called back individually once vaccinated, rather we will all be called back at once…so then of course some staff ask “if called back but not yet vaccinated, can I work remote until I get my shots?”

A: Vaccination would not be a condition for employees to return to campus.  At this time, the main focus for remote work has been our health and safety guidelines focused on social distancing and keeping our campus employee density low – our goal has been 50%.  If those guidelines change, we could expect more people to return to work on campus.  At any time, we could ask individuals to return to work on campus – it would not be directly attributed to someone’s vaccine status.  Returning to in-person work on campus could be done by a unit/department – it would not have to be an across-the-board application.

Q: If there is a decision on your end to explore a trial run at continuing a remote work environment for some, I can easily find you some interested participants for those conversations- myself included.  This may be a way to keep services that students enjoy, increase job satisfaction for staff, allow office spaces to be repurposed for better student uses, and really what better place to experiment with a new way of doing things than at a university.  I could see this being publishable research out of health and human behavior or management academic/research departments.

A: Flexible work arrangements were a part of the UB work environment before COVID-19.  Individuals made a request to their supervisor – there was a discussion – an agreement was put in place.  All of these arrangements were/are subject to review and assessment – and could end if the supervisor/department determined that it should conclude.  HR often provided assistance with groups – we have a sample form and provide consultation.  Most of these arrangements were about different stop/start times or a schedule with certain hours/days working remotely and other times in the office.  The key to remember is that not all roles are candidates for flexible work – that is based on the nature of the work/role.

I would see flexible work arrangements continuing – what I would like to see is that they are all tracked and measured across the institution – in central HR.  This way we could review for consistency and equity across all units.  Again, not every role – nor every individual can be part of a flexible work arrangement.

Q: I was told that some have asked the President for some individual appointments in HR for faculty or staff that are contemplating retirement.  Not sure what that would look like on your end, but I have heard that many want to be able to consult “one on one” with an HR retirement specialist soon if any early retirement incentives come up – or just that the pandemic has convinced some it is time for them to retire.  So just a head’s up that this was expressed to President Tripathi and I was told he was in agreement that such services should exist if they do not already... maybe this already exists and just needs to be advertised more to all.

A: Individuals that wish to explore retirement can do so in several ways: (1) the HR web site outlines topics, web sites, questions, etc. for individuals to look into to help with a decision to retire, (2) HR offers a monthly workshop (we did not have one for several months last year – but they are scheduled now) where folks can attend and gain general information and knowledge, (3) HR will set up 1-1 meetings with individuals – after they set a specific date to retire – this helps drive the key things that need to be accomplished and discussed prior to their actual retirement date.

If there ever was a retirement incentive – we would need to provide a set of actions and strategies to support a specific time period for people to explore all of their options to meet the window of time communicated.  HR would provide those services necessary for all those eligible for the specific program to be able to make an informed decision.