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Florida State Clarifies Parent Work-at-home Communication

— July 17, 2020

FSU forced to follow up with telecommute note after the university receives backlash from employees.

Florida State University sent an email to its employees in late June indicating they would no longer be able to care for their children while working at home beginning in August.  The announcement received a slew of backlash, especially since many care centers are still closed and with travel and social distancing restrictions, parents have been left without options.  The university has since clarified its remote work policy.

“We want to be clear – our policy does allow employees to work from home while caring for children,” the university indicated in an email sent to its staff.  Since the original communication read that staff would “no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely as of Aug. 7,” the follow up was met with more questions than answers.

The original announcement was an attempt to reinstate a policy that had existed before the coronavirus pandemic, when the world was different, and parents could more readily find care.

Florida State Clarifies Parent Work-at-home Communication
Photo by Marta Filipczyk on Unsplash

“Initial responses over the weekend were of despair, shock, and feeling disempowered,” said one professor, who wished to remain anonymous. “We’ve all been doing our jobs and performing our caregiving roles.  And it’s been really hard, but everybody has been pulling their weight, and that could have just carried on.”

The decision to disallow employees to care for their children quickly went from an internal email to a feverish online debate.  It was especially disconcerting coming from an institution in a state that has witnessed a surge in COVID-19 cases following a scale back on stay at home policies.  There have been more than 169,000 cases of coronavirus in Florida overall with more than 3,600 fatalities.  The state’s cases were up fivefold just in the past couple of weeks.  Even if a parent’s go-to center has reopened, they may not feel comfortable dropping their kids off with those numbers.

Most of the criticism the latest communication received centered around the conception that faculty would not be affected but lower paid workers may be.  The memo had been initially posted online but was removed amid the backlash.

“We are requesting that employees coordinate with their supervisors on a schedule that allows them to meet their parental responsibilities in addition to work obligations,” it said. “This may be different for each employee based on the specifics of their situation.”  The university said it regretted that its initial communication “caused any unnecessary worry and concern or oversimplified a very nuanced issue.”

Matthew Lata, the FSU chapter president of the United Faculty of Florida, said, “I’m glad that the university has taken a step back and looked at this situation and realized that the old normal cannot be the new normal.”

The school’s superintendent plans to ask the board to make August 19 the first day of classes for students but he said he would be open to a later start date after the Labor Day holiday, too.  Many schools are pre-planning for reopening in the fall with social distancing measures in place.


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