College rolls out new COVID leave policy for staff

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County’s largest employer on Friday announced a new staff leave policy, with the hope of minimizing the risk sick employees might pose to the campus community and to provide a financial cushion for those who may need to be quarantined or isolated because of COVID-19.
“One of the most important ways you can contribute to a safe work environment is to stay home if you’re sick,” wrote Middlebury College Vice President for Human Resources Karen Miller and Executive Vice President for Finance David Provost in a staff email Friday morning.
Roughly 1,200 people work locally for Middlebury College. Many of those employees are currently working remotely as the college tries to maintain a reduced population density on the Middlebury campus.
The new leave policy comes as the college prepares to conduct weekly “targeted dynamic testing” of at least 750 students and staff members.
Middlebury’s 2,285 residential students were tested twice for COVID-19 over the past couple of weeks. The new testing regime, which begins Sept. 8, will focus initially on employees who must work on campus.
“It’s important to note that when we begin testing healthy, asymptomatic individuals, even with a test that is 99 percent accurate … false positive test results are possible,” wrote Miller and Provost. “Anyone receiving a positive test, whether it appears to be a false positive or not, must be isolated, and contacts must be traced and quarantined.”
Staff who cannot perform their work remotely would qualify for paid leave under the following circumstances, according to an FAQ page on the college website:
• The individual tests positive for COVID-19 and is instructed to isolate.
• The individual is asked to quarantine by the Vermont Department of Health (DOH) or the college, as a result of contact tracing.
• The individual or a member of the individual’s household or an intimate partner is sick with COVID-related symptoms (this leave is available for up to seven calendar days).
COVID-19 leave is available for any exposure, not just work-related exposure, and may be used more than once if any of the above scenarios arise.
It does not apply to time off taken by parents to provide childcare or respond to COVID-19-related school issues. Middlebury’s established employee leave policies will apply in those situations, as well as to others that are unrelated to COVID-19.
Faculty and staff are required to complete a daily health check before they come to campus. Anyone who is feeling sick is asked to stay home and contact their healthcare provider for further guidance.
Employees who test positive for COVID-19 will be contacted by the DOH if the testing was conducted in the community, or by the college if it was conducted on campus. Contact tracing will be initiated. Employees who test positive, then recover from COVID-19 will need a written release from their health care provider before they can return to work.
According to the DOH, isolation is for people who are sick with COVID-19 or have tested positive for it. It involves staying home, often in a separate room, until recovery.
Quarantine is for people with no symptoms but who were in close contact with someone who is sick with COVID-19 — or for people returning to Vermont from out of state (except for select counties).
For more information about Vermont’s COVID-19 isolation and quarantine guidelines.
Middlebury’s new leave policy replaces the “COVID Pay Bank” program the college hastily created in March, just days after it closed the campus for in-person learning because of the pandemic.
At that time, the college was responding in part to workforce concerns about job security and wage continuity.
That focus has changed, now that the college has reopened its campus to students.
“As we shift into fall operations, we have more certainty about work,” wrote college officials in the COVID-19 Leave FAQ. “All departments and individuals are expected to be fully engaged in the fall … and we have shifted our focus to supporting the health and safety of our campuses, with more limited emphasis on wage continuity.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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