25 Mar FAQ on Work Conditions During COVID-19 Crisis
- After hundreds of conversations with faculty, we have an FAQ addressing some of the most common questions we’ve heard.
- This is our most up-to-date knowledge, but the situation remains fluid and we will try to update you as we learn more.
- We strongly recommend you reach out to the union at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com if you have any work-related concerns
UIC United Faculty has spoken with hundreds of faculty in the past week regarding the transition to remote instruction and will continue checking in over the weeks ahead. This documentation focuses on the questions we’ve heard the most, and reflects our most up-to-date knowledge of the situation, although we acknowledge the situation seems to change overnight. We will make every effort to keep our information up to date, and communicate to our members additional changes as they become clear.
Do I need to sign new forms or agreements to work remotely?
No, nor are such forms enforceable if you have already signed them. You do not need to sign any additional forms or agreements to work from home, as any such agreement represents changes to your working conditions which must be negotiated with the union. Furthermore, faculty cannot individually sign away rights granted through our collective bargaining agreement, such as exclusive intellectual property rights to course materials. To repeat, this means that even if you have already signed such a form or agreement, it cannot be enforced.
Examples of these forms that we are aware of include the UIC HR Telecommuting Agreement and any form of release or permission to record video and audio.
Does UIC or the Board of Trustees own the content I develop for remote classes?
No, except if the course is developed as part of an explicit work-for-hire agreement, separate from your regular duties. University statutes and our union contract stipulate that “faculty members shall retain ownership rights to traditional academic copyrightable work.” That includes any and all materials developed for use on-line or through alternative teaching methods. Faculty can expect to enter into a separate agreement, including compensation, if they are asked to create online content for the university’s use, and you cannot be compelled to do so.
Can I be ordered to deliver synchronous courses online?
No, faculty have explicit autonomy in how to prepare and deliver their courses. Per our contract and university statutes, faculty have broad discretion in how to deliver course content within the bounds of university policy. In-person classes, labs, etc. are currently suspended, but beyond that order you may choose what form of content delivery is most appropriate for you and your classes.
Can I choose to continue to hold in-person classes or work on-site?
No, you cannot choose to work in your office or classroom during the shelter-in-place order currently in effect state-wide. It is also our understanding that even once the shelter-in-place order is lifted, the suspension of in-person classes, labs, etc. will remain in effect for UIC through the end of the semester, and could be extended further if needed.
Can I be ordered to work under conditions that seem unsafe?
No, but you need to be able to show that unsafe conditions exist as described by OSHA or the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines. See also the US Department of Labor page on COVID-19. Essential personnel may be asked to continue working, but should be provided with necessary safeguards to reasonably ensure protection from exposure to COVID-19. Please contact UICUF at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com for help if you are being asked to continue working but have not been provided adequate protection for the continuation of your duties.
How do I find out if I am considered “Essential?”
At this time, the UIC Administration has not made any direct statements about what positions are considered essential. We have been advised that faculty can ask their supervisors for clarification if they are unsure of their status. If you feel you have been inappropriately designated as essential, contact the union at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com.
How will the university handle merit, reappointment, promotion, and tenure decisions considering disruptions from the current crisis?
As of 3/25/20, the Administration has announced an option will be made available to extend tenure clocks by up to a year. We are currently still discussing other holds and extensions for NTT faculty with the Administration. Specifically, we are strongly advocating that faculty be held harmless for any failures to meet anticipated milestones (such as classroom observations) in a timely manner due to COVID-19.
Can my supervisor perform class observations during an online class session?
Maybe, but this would be a significant shift in the conditions under which such an evaluation would normally be performed, and cannot be assumed to represent the same performance, either by faculty or students, as would be the case during an in-person class. We are bringing proposals to the Administration to hold faculty harmless if required observations, evaluations or other milestones are disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we recommend that faculty not agree to any alternative arrangements they do not feel comfortable with in the meantime.
We have had several instances of faculty successfully pushing back against online observations. If your supervisor insists on an online observation against your wishes, contact us ASAP at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com.
What is happening with professional development funds?
No decisions have been made regarding changes to reimbursements or timelines to use PD funds. We are strongly advocating for funds to be rolled over through the remainder of the contract period (August 2022), and that faculty be reimbursed promptly for conference and travel expenses they have already paid for in good faith, even if those conferences are postponed indefinitely.
Do I have to use leave time if I am sick with COVID-19?
No. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 provides special leave provisions for COVID-19 related illness and/or caring for ill family members. The UI System has published their policy related to the Family first Act here. This leave is good for 2 weeks up to 80 hours for full time workers. Per UIC’s Human Resources guidance on faculty leave in general, most faculty also have 13 days of sick leave per year, plus up to 12 additional days which are accrued throughout the year. Note that you only need to use leave if you are personally unable to work, not if your employer has not provided you the means to work remotely and/or safely. Under current orders from Governor Pritzker, workers will not be denied pay if they are ready to work but unable to do so due to safety concerns related to COVID-19.
We issue regular updates via email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and on our website. We encourage everyone to like and follow us on social media. If you want to contribute your story, pictures, video, or other content related to the activities of the union, email us at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com. With your support, we are making UIC an even better place to work and learn!