COVID-19 Workplace Issues: Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What resources are available for hardship help?

If you are experiencing a hardship due to a furlough/layoff, financial struggles, or health problems, AFSCME members have access to many helpful resources.  Please visit our Hardship Help Page.

Are you currently open if I need the union?

In response to the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, AFSCME Council 13 and its district councils have restricted in-person visits to offices and will use phone/videoconferencing services to continue to serve members. Our MRC, District Councils and Council 13 staff have been working 24/7 to accommodate the thousands of employee representation requests. If you need help or have any questions, please reach out to us. AFSCME Council 13’s Member Resource Center can be reached at 1-800-5-AFSCME (1-800-523-7263).

If I have carryover leave, will I lose it as a result of the shutdown or be able to use it when I return to work?

AFSCME Council 13 entered a side agreement with the Office of Administration on March 24 to extend the 7-pay period for use of excess annual leave.  (Master Agreement Article 13: Section 8, Master Memorandum: Recommendation 13, Section 8)

I’m a new Commonwealth employee. Can I anticipate leave?

Through discussions with AFSCME Council 13, the Office of Administration will allow employees with less than 30 days of service to be able to utilize annual or sick leave as appropriate.  In addition, employees with less than one year of service will be permitted to anticipate leave as appropriate.

Is there a hiring freeze for state positions? If so, and I was approved for a promotion or transfer to a new position, can they now rescind the promotion/transfer due to the hiring freeze?

Yes and yes. The Governor announced the hiring freeze on March 23. If you have further questions, please call Council 13’s Member Resource Center at 1-800-5-AFSCME.

My non-state employer has declared a state of emergency. Does that give them the right to change our contract and working conditions?

Unless the contract specifically states otherwise, non-state public employers in Pennsylvania do not have the right to change the contract due to a state of emergency. Some changes can be made to working conditions in reaction to the health crisis, but they cannot violate the contract. Employers are still obligated to adhere to contracts and negotiate with the union over any changes. It is strongly encouraged that impact bargaining take place to proactively address concerns and discuss anticipated effects of this crisis on the workplace and employees. The goal of this kind of bargaining would be to reach a side letter or interim agreement to specifically address issues related to this crisis.

Why when my job was always non-essential is it now essential?

Normally paid office closures are for brief periods of time, like a snowstorm.  Because this closure is for an extended period of time, there will be some functions of the Commonwealth that will need to be carried out. Certain jobs have become more crucial than usual due to the extenuating circumstances we are currently under.

If I am mandated to work will I receive hazard pay?

AFSCME Council 13 plans to impact bargain with the Commonwealth as soon as we can.  This is something that will have to be negotiated with them. This should also be negotiated at the non-state level if it’s not already part of the contract.

Is our contract still valid during a state of emergency?

YES!

What are the chances of furloughs in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?

There is a chance of furloughs if the commonwealth remains closed for too long and revenue declines. Council 13 will do everything in its power to shield represented employees from furloughs, and if it comes to that, we will work to mitigate the impact on represented employees.

If I am furloughed can I receive unemployment compensation?

Yes and there is no longer a waiting period to do so.

When you are furloughed how does it impact my insurance benefits?

A Commonwealth employee’s health benefits end at 11:59 p.m. on the effective date of their furlough.  They would then be offered COBRA. COBRA allows for your health benefits to be retained at a cost to you for up to 18 months following your furlough.

Can management rescind my already approved vacation?

It is possible during this state of emergency that a previously approved vacation may be cancelled.

If someone is sent home due to a fever what kind of leave would they be able to take?

At this time, they would take available sick leave.

If I’m a Commonwealth employee teleworking and I become ill, do I have to use sick leave?

If you are unable to telework due to your illness, you would have to take available sick leave. For non-state employees, check with your staff representative or call the Member Resource Center at 1-800-5-AFSCME.

If I have an auto-immune disease, am I mandated to work or can I take some form of leave?

The Commonwealth agencies have been working with employees with underlying conditions who may be at a higher risk.

Should we have to provide our own supplies for personal protection?

No. Employers should provide personal protection supplies. However, if the employer has failed to do so, employees should take precautions to protect themselves and others. The employees should also contact their Staff Representative so that the union can investigate the situation.

How are our benefits (insurance, pension, seniority, etc.) treated while we are off?

If you are not reporting to a worksite nor teleworking and you are in a paid status, there will be no interruption to your benefits. If you are in an unpaid status, please check your union contract or call Council 13’s Member Resource Center at 1-800-5-AFSCME.

Agency Specific Questions – Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

PASSHE

Why are custodial and maintenance employees being made essential at this time?

Custodial and Maintenance employees on all campuses should be working skeleton crews. Employees should also be rotating shifts and days off.

Transportation

Shouldn’t our locations have proper stations to wash our hands properly?

Yes, if they do not, you should contact your local officer and/or staff representative or call the Member Resource Center at 1-800-5-AFSCME.

Why are we performing jobs where social distancing is impossible?

Please contact your local officer and/or staff representative with specifics or call the Member Resource Center at 1-800-5-AFSCME.

Should we rotate the skeleton crews to make it fair for all the workers that are on those rosters?

These types of agreements are being handled by each District Council. Please contact your staff representative if you have any questions or call the Member Resource Center at 1-800-5-AFSCME.

Corrections

If clerical have the ability to do their work from home, why are they mandated to work in the facility?

Corrections is looking to change employees’ shifts in an effort to practice better social distancing.  If you feel that you were inappropriately deemed essential, please call the Member Resource Center at 1-800-5-AFSCME.

Parole and Probation

Staff are being told they can no longer work in pairs. Why?

In an effort to maintain the health of agents in this current environment, social distancing is highly necessary. All agents are provided a vehicle. If agents need to work as a team, they should drive their own cars if possible. No planned arrest should occur without DD approval.

Staff are to check-in with Parolees in rehabilitation centers, but the centers’ directors won’t let them in. What should we do?

If an agent is not allowed to see the parolee at a rehabilitation center because they are denied by the center staff, they should immediately contact their supervisor.

Can we eliminate all non-essential home visits?

The Commonwealth has reduced all contacts in the first two phases or their COVID-19 plan to new releases, those they plan to arrest, sex offenders, mental health and AOD, and positive urine last 60 days to one face to face contact. This contact should be at the prescribed 6 to 10 feet. Staff should wear their personal protective equipment for all face to face contact. Medium, low, admin, and collateral are electronic contact only. Staff should make sure that they have a good phone number with the first group of offenders, also establish if the offender has Skype or FaceTime capability and to establish a reliable contact in the community. Management anticipates reducing contacts as this situation gets worse to electronic contacts and face to face only when necessary.

We do not have enough sanitizing supplies, what should we do?

Two weeks ago, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, masks and gloves were ordered. Many offices had ample supplies at the time the order was placed. They understand that supplies are running low. Recently staff have been provided a spray bottle with solution that disinfects against COVID-19. They are anticipating additional supplies this week.

DHS (Clerical)

DHS was deemed essential on 3/17/20. How was this possible?

Sec. Miller determined that her agency needed to be essential to help the state maintain essential services during this crisis. We were able to negotiate a 2×2 schedule in OIM offices with 50 employees or more. We continue to work on getting employers to allow employees to telework as well as looking at moving employees to other worksites to practice better social distancing.

Why is DHS “now” declaring our services essential when we’ve had crises in the past and stayed non-essential?

What is happening now is unprecedented and is taking place over an extended and unknown period of time.

How does Commonwealth of Pennsylvania expect workers to practice social distancing in such small spaces, especially during closing time and break periods?

You should practice social distancing in these situations the same as if you were out in the public.

DHS (Hospitals)

Do we have to be provided with the proper personal protection equipment?

Employees should be provided with the proper personal protection equipment and the employer should be following CDC and Department of Health guidelines with cleaning procedures. If these things are not being done, they should contact the local leadership and/or their staff representative or call the Member Resource Center at 1-800-5-AFSCME.

Can our employer not follow proper cleaning procedures at this time?

No.  If that’s happening, you should call your staff representative or the Member Resource Center at 1-800-5-AFSCME.

Should we have to provide our own personal protection?

No, but if the employer is failing to do so, employees should take every precaution, including providing their own protection until the employer corrects the situation. If this is happening at your workplace, call your staff representative or the Member Resource Center at 1-800-5-AFSCME.

If a room has a suspected case, can they mandate us to enter the room without proper personal protection?

No one should enter an infected area without proper equipment. If the area is infected and they don’t receive the proper equipment, they should just say they feel unsafe entering that area.

Could we be mandated to shelter in place at our job?

At this time, no 24-hour operation is requiring employees to stay on the property and not go home. The employer would have to notify the union if they were thinking of making that decision.