February 11, 2021 Employee Forum Vice Chancellor Representatives’ Meeting Minutes
Attending — Hallie Butler, Linc Butler, Phil Edwards, Shayla Evans-Hollingsworth, Jaci Field, Stephanie Forman, Joseph Jordan, Leah Hefner, Keith Hines, James Holman, Nate Knuffman, Haydée Marchese, Becci Menghini, Katie Musgrove, Jake Stallard, James Stamey, Rosemary Thorp, Anna Wu, Mandy Melton, Michael Williams
Katie Musgrove called the meeting to order at 10 a.m. in Shayna Hill’s absence. She noted that Hill has a standing Staff Assembly meeting set for these times and so she would convene these meetings for the time being as Forum Vice Chair. James Stamey asked if the University is looking to find ways to conduct administrative tasks in a more “paperless” way, and if so, what software will the University purchase to protect digital records in the future. Becci Menghini said that both OHR and Finance have done some transfer of paper records into digital for ConnectCarolina. During budget cuts, leaders are identifying which records need to be maintained digitally. She did not know of any software purchase planned for this purpose.
Linc Butler thought that units are using different platforms to digitize depending on their needs. He noted a years-long effort to digitize personnel files, for example. He noted the time involved to set up an infrastructure to make these records easily searchable by OHR and correctly labeled. In addition, a comparison is done between the print and scanned version of these documents to insure completeness and legibility. He did not think that there is any enterprise-wide singular approach given differing practices and needs across campus. He recalled the work on transforming paper forms into their digital equivalents to create online submission workflows.
It was noted that particular attention is paid to where these records would be stored and how it is kept secure. Butler said that the University wants to maximize use of its existing services and tools like ConnectCarolina for this purpose.
Katie Musgrove relayed James Holman’s question from housekeepers made to wait outside while standing in line for their weekly mandatory COVID testing. Holman said that making these employees stand outside in 20–40-degree weather after eight hours of physical work makes these employees susceptible to catching cold or flu. He suggested moving testing to the Great Hall in such weather. Anna Wu noted that testing is recommended weekly but not mandatory. Wu understood that current wait times at testing sites are five to ten minutes. She added that a previous request to use the Great Hall for this purpose faced scheduling and logistical conflicts with the Carolina Union.
Wu added that Facilities Services staff could help with paperwork to reduce wait time if needed. She noted a push for earlier start times at testing sites to allow those on third shift to test while they are working. Testing clinic leaders have offered to hold six o’clock starts one day a week at each of the three sites. She proposed to check back to help ease through obstacles.
Mandy Melton raised an employee question about people hired after January 1, 2021 who will no longer be eligible for Retiree Health Insurance. Becci Menghini recalled that in 2017 the Legislature passed a bill outlining a plan to phase out retiree benefits as other states across the country have done. This bill specified that any hires made after January 1, 2021 would not have this benefit available. This policy originated at the General Assembly based on actuarial research from the Office of State Budget and Management. The University is not planning to challenge this law as it was a statewide decision based on predictions about how the State could fund existing employee benefits as costs increase. People hired prior to January 1, 2021 are still eligible for the benefit.
Linc Butler said that prior to October 1, 2006 an employee needed five years of contributory service in the retirement system to become eligible for retiree health coverage. This requirement was increased to twenty years of retirement creditable service for employees hired after October 1, 2006. Thus, criteria for eligibility have evolved dependent on hiring date. An employee asked if an employee leaves the University, then returns, would their total State service grandfather them into retiree coverage, or would their new hire day supersede that?
Butler said that this move was rooted in the longer-term projection on affordability compared to other states. He thought that North Carolina has been generous, and in some ways exceptionally so, compared to other states in this area. Musgrove asked about employees moving from UNC-Chapel Hill to NC State or vice versa. She asked if consecutive service with the State would be maintained, even though there is a technical change between employers of one agency to the next. She noted that employees use moving between departments or universities to advance in their career. She thought that this consideration was not made clear in the provisional language, leading to employee anxiety.
Musgrove recalled that in conversations with a Fidelity advisor, her hire date was listed as of when she moved to the Law School from the Pharmacy School, not when she was first employed by the University. She noted concerns raised at the last representatives’ meeting in which employees are not shown as being vested in their supplemental retirement accounts despite adequate time worked. Menghini said that UNC has communicated with the System Office on this latter concern, but she did not have information as to whether the question would be resolved soon.
Michael Williams asked if the University has developed a policy with baseline provisions and guidelines enabling work from home as a permanent option for certain job responsibilities. He recalled the case of an employee whose supervisor is pushing them to return to campus sooner than they feel is safe. He observed that some managers are not willing to work out arrangements with their people. Musgrove added that a similar question asked about teleworking up to 90 days if departmental operational needs are met. This question asked about employees working outside the U.S.
Menghini said that the teleworking policy should be differentiated from the communicable disease policy, which currently directs that employees work from home. She said that there are major implications for people working out of state or out of country involving workers’ compensation, taxation, and other questions. She noted that the UNC System is working on an update to the long-term teleworking policy.
Menghini said that some jobs are better positioned for teleworking than others. Individuals who have some direct facing role with students are needed to work on campus. The Board of Governors also seeks to narrow teleworking to residents of North Carolina due to workers’ compensation taxation and other considerations. An employee working at UNC-Charlotte could live in South Carolina, for example, but not in Los Angeles. Menghini could not specify when the System Office would finalize its discussions about the policy. For now, the organizational emphasis is upon the communicable disease policy and protecting the safety of the University community. Thus, there is little current appetite to make long-term remote working arrangements.
An employee asked how positions are classified and their relations to teleworking options. Menghini said that this classification would have more to do with a position’s roles and responsibilities than the scheduling of the work. She granted that teleworking being used as an option when deferred maintenance or construction might also become part of the eventual new teleworking policy.
Menghini noted that the University has a global employment working group that reviews cases whether to maintain a position on payroll or make other arrangements. Linc Butler said that the infrastructure for out-of-country employment did not exist up to three years ago. Of course, exceptions to this general rule will exist but are subject to additional approvals.
Rose Thorp asked about the COVID voluntary shared leave bank. She said that employees were challenged by the requirement that they exhaust their own leave to become eligible for the shared leave bank, even if they meet all other stated criteria. Thorp proposed that the University allow employees to access the shared leave bank upon use of all their sick leave, not all accumulated leave altogether.
Butler noted that changing these rules would require Human Resources’ approval and then approval from the UNC System Office. These rules may require legislative relief as well. He noted the original purpose of the bank is to provide one more bucket of leave on top of others. Menghini added that the State granted only the University permission to establish a shared leave bank. The bank is governed by Office of State Human Resources (OSHR) policy. She was not optimistic about obtaining future amendments to this already extraordinary policy.
Thorp responded that if the University is going to make this program available, the hours involved should be easily accessible. She thought that there should be efforts to use these hours. She recalled employees who felt that this is a benefit that they had bargained for as part of their employment. She thought that the point was valid given the prospect of future layoffs. Menghini said that someone must pay for this leave, even though it is voluntary. She said that the purpose of the shared leave program as designed by OSHR is not to allow people to protect their own earned leave at any cost.
James Holman raised a question in the chat as to whether paid administrative leave could apply first before voluntary shared leave for COVID-related purposes. Menghini granted that the State is struggling for how long the employer should cover for K-12 schools being out. How much cost the State is willing to incur is a question beyond the University’s local authority.
A delegate specified that the current funding source that the recipient is on supports the voluntary shared leave. That employee’s supervisor may thus make an informed decision about the use of the shared leave. Menghini said that this statement may rely too much on supervisors’ knowledge of departmental fiscal circumstances in deciding whether to approve voluntary shared leave.
Phil Edwards asked for an update on full-time equivalent (FTE) for EHRA non-faculty and SHRA employees for the past year January 2020-2021, possibly broken down by number of people employed per month and with new hires and those leaving the University. He sought to know the number of voluntary reductions in FTE approved, the number of employees subject to reductions in FTE overall, the number of open searches for existing positions and the number of open searches for newly created positions. Also, he asked if there have been any new updates on whether remote faculty instructors or remote staff are eligible for COVID vaccines. Linc Butler offered to research these questions, noting that Phase 3 will likely begin on February 24th for K-12 educators, and March 10th for others.
Menghini hoped that the definition of front-line employees would be as broad as possible however she noted that the University does not make the decision on this matter. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services makes the final call on these definitions. She asked what Edwards hoped to learn from his extensive data request, noting the workloads of staff already committed to other projects. Edwards said that he would work with the Forum Personnel Issues committee to flesh out his request.
Katie Musgrove asked if a legislative update were available regarding early retirement authority for University employees. Menghini understood that the request was part of the overall priorities list the System Office put forward to the General Assembly.
In the absence of further discussion, the meeting adjourned at 11 a.m.
Matt Banks, Recording Secretary