University provides critical information on employee telecommuting

March 12, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Following Penn State’s decision to temporarily move to remote instruction in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, there have been questions regarding the University’s guidelines for staff on telecommuting. 

The University remains open for business during the remote-learning period. In the interest of the health and safety of the community, University leadership is allowing telecommuting on a temporary basis as an option to increase social distancing, while recognizing that each unit has unique circumstances. Some positions require that individuals come to work in order to fulfill their responsibilities. Other positions can reasonably be performed from home. Others are a combination of both.

Unit leaders and managers are encouraged to examine all jobs, and determine which jobs can be performed remotely while maintaining business continuity. In those cases, arrangements can be made, as appropriate, for employees to telecommute. Employees who are needed in the workplace are still expected to report to work. For example, a unit may choose to implement an alternating day schedule for different groups of employees if the business operation can be maintained with that structure as a means of promoting social distancing. Ultimately, decisions about who telecommutes, and based on what schedule, must be made with the supervisor or manager of the unit. Decisions about telecommuting are not individual employee decisions. 

It is important to reiterate that University business continues, and meetings will take place despite the need to curtail large group activities. In those meetings, maintaining appropriate social distancing practices is an important consideration; if that isn’t possible, Zoom sessions can be scheduled.

Employees should talk to their supervisor and unit HR strategic partner to discuss their telecommuting needs and options if personal circumstances would require working from home. To facilitate these arrangements, the University will make a short-form telecommuting agreement available for supervisors to use. This agreement will waive the current University requirement that the Workers' Compensation and Environmental Health Offices be contacted to work with the telecommuter and their supervisor in setting up physical telecommuting arrangements.

For staff members whose position does not lend itself to full telecommuting, the University encourages supervisors to be creative and flexible with the available workload to make sure staff are able to work.

Faculty members are expected to meet their faculty obligations during this period, including conducting remote instruction for classes. All courses should be taught synchronously at the time that they are scheduled. This is important for three reasons. First, it will avoid time conflicts that will otherwise arise for students if faculty are independently moving the time of their classes. Second, students who receive financial aid through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) state grant program will potentially lose access to this aid if courses are not delivered synchronously. Finally, this will enable our technology to function well and support course delivery.

For additional answers to frequently asked questions regarding telecommuting, visit https://sites.psu.edu/virusinfo/faqs/#staff.

Last Updated March 12, 2020