Florida State University has informed its employees that as of Aug. 7 they will no longer be allowed to care for their children while working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, according to reports.
“In March 2020, the University communicated a temporary exception to policy which allowed employees to care for children at home while on the Temporary Remote Work agreement,” the FSU administration’s email to staff read, The Lily reported.
“Effective Aug. 7, 2020, the University will return to normal policy and will no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely,” added the memo, which was sent Friday.
Jenny Root, an assistant professor of special education at FSU who has a 7-month-old daughter and 4-year-old son, told The Lily that she was puzzled by the “bizarre” missive from the school, particularly since her boss had been very supportive as she juggled child care and work.
“My initial thought was, ‘Well, what am I supposed to do with [my kids]?” Root, who has been pumping breast milk, told the outlet.
Her boy’s day care center had opened up for a few weeks, but was shut down again after one of the providers came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, according to The Lily.
With the contagion spreading across the Sunshine State, Root said she wasn’t sure she’d want to put her kids in day care even if she could.
“None of us are enjoying this,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’m failing at everything I do.” The university, she said, is “acting like they gave us this privilege to watch our children while we worked — when that’s literally what I had to do.”
Renisha Gibbs, FSU’s associate vice president for human resources told The Lily in a statement: “As FSU looks toward resuming normal campus operations — as conditions allow — we felt a responsibility to provide our employees notice of our intention to return to our standard telecommuting agreement that requires dependent or child-care arrangements while working remotely.”
She added: “If employees do not have day care options or choose not to send their children to school in the fall, they should work with their supervisors to identify a flexible work schedule that allows them to fulfill their work duties and their family responsibilities.”
The university faced a backlash in social media by users who slammed it for the sexist nature of the new policy since it will almost certainly affect women more than men.
“Even in the most egalitarian-meaning households, the domestic sphere will still fall primarily on women’s shoulders,” Caitlyn Collins, a sociologist who studies gender and families at Washington University in St. Louis, told the outlet.
On Monday, Gibbs sent out a new email that specifies that the telecommuting policy “generally applies to employees whose job duties require them to be on campus full-time during normal business hours … and is intended to create flexible work arrangements that serve both the needs of the employee and their work unit,” WCTV reported.
“We have not typically required employees who are already regularly performing their job remotely, or a combination of on-campus and remote work (e.g. faculty) to enter into a Telecommuting Agreement, nor were those employees required to complete the Temporary Remote Work Agreement at the beginning of the COVID-19 emergency,” she wrote.
“Therefore, the University reverting back to normal policy does not affect their regular work arrangement,” Gibbs added.
“Now that our local public schools are planning to resume in-person instruction next month and local daycare centers are open throughout the county, FSU is also shifting back to normal policy,” the message said, adding that staffers can request “a temporary modification to any on-campus work assignment.”
Some workers said the policy targets only those who don’t have the job security of tenured professors.
“Due, I imagine to the way this has gone viral on social media … a slight retraction was issued today, which actually only compounds the initial problem,” Cathy McClive, a history professor, told The Lily in an email.
“The policy now applies to staff not faculty — so those without tenure are in the most precarious positions,” she added.
Miranda Waggoner, a sociology professor at FSU who is untenured, said the local school district is giving families the option of either virtual or in-person learning.
“Now that cases are surging, many parents might choose a digital learning experience,” Waggoner, who has a 6-year-old son, told The Lily, adding that she hasn’t decided whether to send her son back to school.
But even tenured professors, who won’t be directly affected by the policy, are deeply worried about the message Friday’s email sends about the school’s priorities.
“As a mother, it’s difficult to know that the university really doesn’t understand what it takes to be a mother,” Katrinell Davis, a tenured sociology and African-American studies professor, told the outlet.
She said she doubted that any women “working a split shift between work and home” were involved in working on the new policy because they would have called it out as “unrealistic” — something that “works on Mars, but not on planet Earth.”