by Hope Anderson ’22
A lot of people don’t want to work, because they might get their parents and loved ones sick,” said Mark Brown, a Dining Services employee, in an anonymous social media message to a student.
Brown highlights a common dilemma among essential workers during the pandemic, who continue to work in-person despite risks to themselves and others. Director of Human Resources Dr. Kim Ball explained the college’s protections for employees immediately vulnerable to COVID-19 via email: “all regular employees who cannot work because of illness, being in a high risk category, or having no work available” will continue to receive pay and benefits until May 17th, typically a time of transition for employees who work 9 or 10 months of the year.
According to Dr. Ball, employees who do not fall into these three categories, but “who are asked to work in critical roles on campus […] have the option of using vacation and/or an unpaid furlough,” in order to stay home while maintaining their benefits.
Nonetheless, uncertainty around job security for those who cannot work remotely has become a common sentiment across the nation. In March alone, the country’s unemployment rate increased by almost one percent, with layoffs primarily in food service. However, according to Dr. Ball, the college has experienced no new layoffs in the wake of COVID-19.
Over 400 Davidson staff members are able to work remotely, according to Dr. Ball. There are currently around 100 staff members working on campus each day, primarily in Dining Services, Physical Plant, and Public Safety. “No one is working on campus whose work is not critical to the function of the college and support of our students,” Dr. Ball said.
However, for employees whose shifts vary week-to-week, simply being on payroll doesn’t mean that they are scheduled to work the same number of hours as before campus shut down. Dining Services now only operates one of the three dining halls, and fewer than 200 students are still on active meal plans. “We have a lot of workers, but they schedule people [only] two or three times a week, and some just one,” said Brown.
Employees whose hours are now reduced fall into the “no work available” category and still receive full pay, but they are reporting hours they don’t work as sick time. This time is allowed to run into arrears, meaning that even if employees run out of sick time, the college will pay them through May 17th.
This choice allows all employees to keep their jobs and a stable income for now, likely valuable during the uncertainty of the pandemic. However, Brown explained that the tradeoff is that employees will still feel the effects of COVID-19 after the dust settles: “I have 120 hours of sick time […] If we come back to work and I get sick, I will have zero pay.” Full-time hourly employees earn 80 hours of sick leave per calendar year, and may accumulate up to 1,040 hours. Dr. Ball also said the college is working on providing everyone with additional sick leave once in-person work returns to normal, but that the college hasn’t “committed to any number; we’ll need to see what we can afford when that time comes.”
Another chief concern for employees and the college is safety. At a minimum, employees are following recommended social distancing practices. “Those who are needed on campus are asked to follow physical distancing and handwashing, and managers are making work assignments to keep people physically distanced from each other,” Dr. Ball said.
However, these practices are evolving with the pandemic; as of April 3rd, the CDC recommends using cloth face coverings while in public to slow the spread of COVD-19. Dr. Ball explained that the college is “working now on figuring out the new guidance […] while reserving medical masks for health care workers.” Currently, Davidson is providing masks to employees in Dining Services, whose job involves interacting with others, and is working on providing masks to all on-campus staff.
Director of Facilities and Engineering David Holthouser detailed the steps Physical Plant takes to limit contact between employees via email: “I have people spread out on different floors and in different buildings. We staggered clock-in and clock-out times, and employees are finding separate spaces outside for breaks and lunch.”
Holthouser emphasized that personal safety has always been a priority given the nature of Physical Plant’s work. “Our typical daily work (before COVID-19) involves hygienic practice around a multitude of evils,” said Holthouser. “Staff are well trained and utilize PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] routinely. However, the COVID-19 pandemic heightened our diligence.” After students left campus, vacated dorm rooms were left dormant for four days before performing maintenance or cleaning.
In addition, Holthouser said that many of his employees acknowledge the inherent risk of in-person work and have therefore “altered their routines outside of work, limiting interactions with others.”
SGA President Brandon Harris ‘22 reiterated the importance of considering staff needs during the pandemic. “In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, it is important that we continue to take care of members of the Davidson community, and this includes the staff that do so much to keep the college functioning at a high standard,” Harris noted via email. “I am proud to know that Davidson is taking the steps to best accommodate workers during these challenging times.”