By: Temmi Lattin  | 

YU Employee Statuses During COVID-19 Crisis: An Analysis

Following the cancellation of all Yeshiva University undergraduate courses on March 8, the subsequent decision to move all YU classes online on March 11, and in accordance with the New York State Executive Order on March 20 to close schools and places of employment, all YU employees, barring essential-workers, were ordered to remain home and work remotely as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following these developments, YU released a page of frequently asked questions (FAQ) regarding the university’s response to the health crisis for students, faculty and staff on its website. A non-updated version of these questions that was online until April 23 stated, “Administrative offices and non-classroom functions will remain open, and (unless you are specifically notified to the contrary) the expectation is that staff report to work.” According to the revised website, that is no longer the case: “only employees who have been designated as essential may come to campus,” most of YU’s staff can work remotely, and the university is “providing training and resources for individuals whose jobs can be performed in this manner.” However, no specific policy was mentioned for employees who cannot do their jobs remotely and have not been designated by the state government as essential employees. These “employees should discuss options for redeployment or alternate tasks with their supervisors,” the website stated. 

In terms of employees who are sick or under a doctor/government-ordered quarantine due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the YU website delineates that they “will be entitled to paid leave in accordance with New York State’s Executive Order.” After that time, and for those who do not fall under this category, employees are told that they “may use vacation time and sick time to remain on payroll as long as possible. Once paid vacation time and sick time are exhausted, employees who cannot work remotely will be furloughed and will be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.”

When further asked about the status of employees who can’t continue their position remotely, a YU spokesperson explained, “We have been working with employees individually to try to reassign them if possible. Unfortunately, like many organizations coping with the COVID-19 crisis, there are some employees that can’t work remotely due to the nature of their jobs. We are working with them to keep them on payroll as long as we can, and the University will continue to cover furloughed non-union employees who are on the YU Aetna or Oxford plans, subject to the terms of such plans. Union members should be in touch with the union leadership about their benefits.”

As of the time of publication, the 1199 Union that represents many YU employees could not be reached for comment.  

Student employees have expressed concern about serious financial hardships that they have been facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. A YU spokesperson communicated that “all student employees, including teaching assistants, should be in contact directly with their supervisor on how to conduct their jobs and enter their hours, if applicable. Student workers who continue to perform the functions associated with their jobs remotely may continue to work and get paid.”

Some student employees have been able to conduct their jobs remotely, including resident advisors, madrichot, madrichim, peer tutors and Writing Center tutors, such as Sara Verschleisser (SCW ‘21). An employee in the Beren Writing Center, she relayed, “The writing center responded promptly to the movement online, and consistently kept their tutors informed through the transition process.” While Verschleisser acknowledged some difficulties with online tutoring sessions, she expressed appreciation with “how the Writing Center management quickly organized an online method to meet student needs and [gave] tutors the ability to keep working and helping their peers.” She noted that their “swift organization was also appreciated in dispelling the financial concerns of tutors, who may have uncertain income during this time.”

Student employees can work up to 15 hours a week, making them part-time employees and potentially eligible for part-time unemployment benefits if they cannot continue working remotely. Additionally, YU’s sick leave policy states that “all Yeshiva University employees who work in New York City, and who work more than 80 hours in a calendar year” will “accrue sick leave time at the rate of 1 hour for every 30 hours worked.” Sick leave can be used during the closure of an employee’s place of business during a public health emergency. 

This policy includes student employees, but not those participating in Federal Work-Study programs. No broader YU communication has been sent to students regarding the status of this program, but a YU spokesperson confirmed that “students who are participating in the Federal Work Study program can get paid through the Federal program even if they cannot continue to perform their jobs.”  

Regarding the Work-Study payments, a source from the Wilf Campus waiting staff remarked, “There was never an official email that went out from HR to all student employees about compensation … A few weeks ago, the Shabbat coordinator sent out an email to YU waitstaff students, saying that Federal Law allows YU to pay out Federal Work Study funds during limited disaster circumstances.” They continued, “Work-study eligible students were told they would be paid for the estimated time they would have worked as a Shabbat waiter during the period of 3/4/2020 - 4/7/2020. Non-work study students received no such compensation, and whether or not the work study students actually received this compensation is beyond me.”

The YU spokesperson asserted that all student employees were directed to reach out to supervisors and given information about unemployment benefits, and then later added that it was actually unclear if they were informed or not. However, YU’s FAQs for students were updated at some point during the week of April 20 to reflect these directives. The Commentator spoke to 13 student employees who are currently out of work, including teacher’s assistants, research assistants, mashgichot, package center employees and cafeteria workers, all of whom confirmed, as of the time of publication, that they have not received any information about how to proceed if their job cannot be done remotely nor if they would be eligible for these benefits. 

Adina Bruce (SCW ‘22), a student assistant mashgicha in the Schottenstein kitchen, was one of these students. “Having a job on campus gave me a steady reliable income that allowed me to be partially financially independent,” she said. “Losing that source of income added to the worries of financial instability in my future.” Bruce has still not heard any information from the university regarding her employment status and whether she should apply for unemployment benefits.

No earlier than April 23, the FAQ website for students was updated, stating that student employees “would have to apply through the New York unemployment portal to find out their eligibility and receive instructions on how and where to apply.”

According to the NY State Department of Labor, to be eligible for unemployment benefits a worker must have “been paid at least $2,600 in one calendar quarter” and “worked in New York State within the last 18 months.” Those who cannot work remotely and are therefore not receiving a salary, including student employees, would seem to fall under the eligibility clause of having “lost employment through no fault of their own.” 

This is a developing story.

Photo Caption: The employment status of employees who cannot do their job remotely is currently uncertain. 
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University