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OU Human Resources Department answers employee questions about COVID-19 Phase II Return Plan in webinar

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Empty campus

The empty OU campus on the first day of online classes after Spring Break on March 23.

OU’s Human Resources Department gave an in-depth look into their COVID-19 Phase II Return Plan for OU employees during a June 17 webinar and Q&A. 

The Phase II plan focuses on returning employees from July 6 to August 2, as July 2 marks the last day of paid administrative leave for COVID-19. Angela Church, senior associate vice president of Human Resources and chief human resources officer, said as employees come back to campus July 6, after the Fourth of July holiday, precautionary measures will be observed on campus. 

Before returning to campus, all OU employees will be required to complete the Screening and Reporting tool. Church said new hires will be required to undergo screening before reporting to their worksite, even if they have not received their 4 x 4 OU credentials. To access the tool beyond OU’s Human Resources website, Church said employees will have to reach out to talent acquisition for a fillable, PDF version. 

On-campus employees will be required to observe physical distancing of at least six feet and in-person meetings — although predominantly discouraged — will be limited to 10 people. The safety department on campus will continue to provide training in conjunction with Goddard Health Services on how to maintain proper precautions throughout the fall.

“We're not going to have a measuring tape that measures everybody as they walk by each other, but I think we all have a pretty good idea of what six feet looks like (and) those guidelines are going to apply on public or common areas,” Church said. “We'll continue to ask that meetings are done online, but if there is something that requires you to have people in the same room together, we would like for you to limit it to 10 people.” 

OU department employees will also receive welcome back bags upon their return. The bags will include two surgical-style fabric masks, five surgical-style disposable masks, one eight-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer for workspace use, one two-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer for personal use and 40 hand and surface sanitizing wipes. 

“We started procuring these products almost two months ago because, as you all know, it's kind of tough to get a hold of some of these supplies,” Eric Conrad, vice president for operations and chief operating officer, said. “We decided that we would get the bags out to everybody so they would have … (supplies).” 

In accordance with public health guidelines, all OU employees will be required to wear a surgical-style mask, whether it is cloth or disposable. Anything else will be unacceptable, Church said. 

If employees refrain from following guidelines, Church said to first assume positive intent as people are still learning. The guidelines, however, are still required, and Church said if employees continue to stray from them, disciplinary action will occur. 

“We've put together some conversation starters we developed in conjunction largely with Student Affairs … that can help to give … gentle reminders to people to be sure and wear their mask,” Church said. “If it continues to be a problem you can always talk to your supervisor about it. … We want to make sure people understand that masking is not optional during this period of time.” 

Amid on-campus requirements, Church is still encouraging telecommunication as she said this Phase II plan is not intended to be a mass return to campus. Whether employees return, however, is a decision department-level employees will be in charge of making. 

“We want supervisors to be … flexible (and) allow employees to continue to telecommute where it's feasible, and as business needs allow. But certainly those are decisions that need to be discussed at the department level,” Carrie Irwin, employee relations assistant director, said. “We want to make sure employees are treated equitably, and that (supervisors) go into this situation … understanding that once they approve one (request) … more may follow.”

Throughout the session, questions were posed regarding the full return of students and staff to campus for the fall semester. Church said OU’s Human Resources Department will address this topic in Phase III of its plan, as the department works with OU’s Chief COVID Officer Dr. David Bratzler and public health professionals to evaluate how to move forward. 

“(Phase III) is being developed now in conjunction with professionals, campus leadership, public health experts and all events being developed just as (Phase II) was,” Coordinator of Communications Marcy Fleming said. “You can expect to see details start to emerge for Phase III in July.” 

Ultimately, ADA and FMLA Administrator Shane Daniels said it is important for supervisors to find a balance between meeting the needs of their department while also addressing COVID-related requests of their employees. 

“People should keep the long game in mind … as we are in unprecedented times,” Daniels said. “The university continues to receive guidance daily, as we all do … (so) when you are making decisions … make sure you are still able to meet the business needs of your department.” 

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