GW should better accommodate employees who work on snow days

With all the excitement that came with the snow day last week, it’s easy to forget that it’s not a day off for everyone on campus. Many employees deemed “designated on-site,” which includes janitors, Key Depot and facilities staff and Student Access Monitors, did not receive a snow day. But there are steps the University can take to be more fair to the employees that must report to work even when classes and activities are cancelled.

Designated on-site staff are defined by the University website as “employees who are required to physically report to work or remain at work during an emergency or adjustment to the University’s operating status.” Since the nature of their job usually entails physical tasks, like cleaning, maintenance and residence hall security, there is no opportunity to work from home while allowing the University to run effectively. As a result of this fact, the University and students should be more accommodating to on-campus staff by offering them schedule flexibility or benefits when they require them to work during what is always defined as an “emergency.”

There are two other designations for staff. Essential and non-essential staff are typically allowed to work from home or not at all during an emergency such as a snow day, unless there is a special circumstance. This includes all staff that are not on-site, including administrative and student employees who work in academic buildings. This accommodation allows for some employees to be able to stay home with their kids if they receive a snow day, or avoid commuting when the roads are hazardous. But for the select number of employees classified as designated on-site staff, they must report to work regardless.

Other schools have policies for designated on-site staff that must report to work on snow days and during emergencies that allow more flexibility for employees. For example, essential staff at American University and designated employees at George Mason University can be determined by the individual supervisors in each department, who can then dictate specific instructions for when employees report to work. This structure is less rigid and more dependent on how severe the emergency is and how many workers are needed that day, rather than requiring all employees of the same classification to report to work.

The GW alert sent to all students, faculty and employees during the snow day specified that “employees classified as Designated On-Site are required to report to and/or remain at work.” If the University requires these employees to work a full shift on a snow day, they should consider providing benefits, including compensating workers for the costs of hiring a babysitter, reimbursing their travel costs or even allowing them to work a shortened shift. Officials could also adopt a rotation system, which selects a key number of employees who can come to work on an upcoming emergency cancellation, and then require a different group for the next closing. Additionally, if you’re a student employee working as a SAM or at the Key Depot, then you are still required to work. For those students, shortened shifts should be considered.

Students could also help these employees by limiting the demands of the job by recycling properly, monitoring trash production and postponing FixIt requests to another day if possible. And while this should be the case for everyday interactions, students should especially greet and thank the employees they see on campus during snow days.

For short-term, unforeseeable circumstances, the University should have measures in place that not only help the institution run smoothly during an emergency, but also help on-site staff work around these hazardous conditions without having to find someone to watch their children or risk their safety.

Rachel Armany, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.

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