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Update on Harvard’s Coronavirus Workplace Policies

Harvard Faculty, Staff, and Academic Personnel,

Thank you again for your continued commitment to Harvard’s academic and research mission in the face of the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, we have been able to limit the spread of the virus on our campus and in our workplace, which has required enormous effort and resourcefulness on the part of so many.

That said, COVID-19 cases are rising in the Commonwealth and across the country. Unfortunately, this means that the pandemic will continue to affect our lives, and how we do our work, for some time to come. It is with this reality in mind that I write today to share updates regarding our workplace policies and campus operations.

Remote Work

In recent weeks, many Schools have announced their Spring semester plans. While many will continue to remain fully remote, others will use a hybrid teaching approach which will include having a number of staff and faculty coming to campus to provide essential campus services, support residential life, and engage in research, instructional, and student support activities that cannot be performed remotely. However, unless otherwise advised by your local School or Department, all other staff, faculty, and academic personnel should plan to continue to work remotely through June 30, 2021. As the Spring semester unfolds, Schools or Departments may ask individuals to return to campus for certain activities, in which case adequate advance notice will be provided. The decision to maintain a reduced on-campus population reflects our continued commitment to the health and safety of our community, on campus and beyond.

Emergency Excused Absence Policy

As discussed during the recent release of the Annual Financial Report, while the University is well-resourced, the pandemic continues to present real financial challenges and uncertainty. Last spring, Harvard issued refunds of room and board, canceled continuing education and executive education programs, and closed research labs. These difficult, yet necessary decisions, among others, caused an expected surplus from operations for the fiscal year that ended in June to shift to a deficit for that year. Looking forward, as long as the pandemic continues to impact the University’s operations, we expect continued financial pressure as students defer admission, on-campus programming is canceled, financial aid needs increase, and new costs for campus testing, tracing, and safety must be absorbed. This combination of factors is expected to result in a larger deficit from operations for the current year, thus placing constraints on the University’s finances.

Despite these challenging realities, we have worked hard since March to sustain the regular salaries and benefits of our directly employed staff and certain on-campus contract workers whose work had been idled due to the pandemic. As most parts of the campus remain closed, and the financial impacts to the University continue, there are limits to our ability to do so indefinitely, and as such we must amend our emergency excused absence policy.

Effective January 15, 2021, idled Harvard employees whose work cannot be performed due to the COVID-19 public health emergency may use the emergency excused absence benefit to sustain up to 70% of their regular pay. The employers of idled contract workers normally on assignment at Harvard will, in general, be ineligible to use emergency excused absence to sustain pay. In those limited instances in which Schools or Units determine the need to maintain current service levels or increase them due to anticipated spring semester needs, excused emergency absence may be extended as necessary by their employers to sustain regular pay of contract workers.

Beyond these changes, Schools and Units will continue to assess their staffing needs and financial situations as the fiscal year unfolds. As we have done throughout these extraordinary times, we will work to ensure transparent and timely notifications of any additional changes.

Dependent Well Care Benefit

We will extend the new dependent well care benefit, initially provided this fall, to eligible staff members. This benefit will provide up to 10 days of paid time off, to be used as needed between January 1 and June 30, 2021, to care for well dependents whose schooling or care arrangements have been disrupted by COVID-19. This benefit is intended to reduce the stress that families are facing due to the competing demands of work, caring for dependents, and remote schooling during the pandemic. Previously amended policies related to the flexible use of sick time will remain in place until at least June 30, 2021.

Extended Winter Recess

Let me reiterate how grateful University leadership is for the dedication of our faculty, staff, and academic personnel throughout this unprecedented time. This year has been marked by unrelenting challenges for all of us, and you have responded with remarkable creativity, grit, and determination. In recognition of your efforts, the University’s 2020 winter recess will now begin on Monday, December 21 rather than at noon on Thursday, December 24. If you must work during this time to support essential operations, your efforts will be acknowledged with other paid time off. Please remain aware of the recently updated Harvard travel policy if relevant to your holiday season plans. We hope this time will provide a much-needed respite from work responsibilities, as well as more time with loved ones. Finally, please remember to take advantage of the University’s many health and wellbeing resources. I wish you a healthy, safe, and restorative holiday season.


Katie Lapp
Executive Vice President