The University of Toronto community has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with outstanding courage, creativity and generosity. As we approach the fall, our faculty, librarians and staff are working diligently to continue our teaching, research, and operations – in most cases remotely, while balancing other important responsibilities.
We are continuing our preparations for a gradual and safe return to on-campus operations against the backdrop of the recent announcement by the Ontario government to move to Stage 3 of its COVID-19 Framework for Reopening for some regions in the province. We expect the Toronto area will follow in the weeks ahead.
Stage 3 will allow more businesses to open, but we anticipate that the majority of our employees will continue to work remotely for the rest of the summer and into the fall. This is in keeping with the University’s commitment to collaborate with the City of Toronto to help ease the burden on public transit and other infrastructure during a gradual reopening. Continuing to work from home will also enable our Facilities & Services staff, and Health & Safety offices, to focus on return-to-campus plans for those who will be working on-site to carry out or support our core teaching and research mission, or to deliver necessary on-site services to our students and other members of the U of T community. Furthermore, minimizing the numbers of people working on campus allows us to preserve critical supplies where they are most needed.
Minimizing the number of individuals on campus, even as we begin to contemplate returning to on-campus operations, will require leaders to create long-term flexible work arrangements that address the needs of individual employees and the operations of each unit. We expect that many of these long-term arrangements will have employees working from home wherever feasible.
A Gradual Return to Campus
The health and safety of our entire community informs our planning for the return to campus. We are following the advice of public health authorities as we focus on three guiding principles:
- Promoting health and safety
- Advancing academic excellence
- Meeting the needs of our community
Based on these principles, leaders in each unit have been asked to prepare workplace re-entry plans that abide by the University’s legal and health & safety obligations. All workplace re-entry plans are being prepared in accordance with the University of Toronto Guide to a Safe Return to Work.
To support these leaders in their planning, various teams throughout the University have partnered to:
- Develop tools and assessments to evaluate our workspaces so that we can safely work in the space while still being physically distanced.
- Provide two non-medical masks for every faculty, librarian, staff and student returning to campus.
- Increase the cleaning of public spaces and high touch surfaces.
- Provide guidance on scheduling tasks and workflows to reduce the need for in-person contact.
- Provide guidance on flexible work arrangements to ensure people can minimize the amount of time spent in the physical workspace during the gradual re-entry period.
- Develop wellness tools that prioritize physical and mental well-being during this time.
Once a re-entry plan is complete, and approved where required, employees who will be returning to campus will be notified via email from their manager, supervisor, or unit head. We are encouraging units to provide as much notice as possible to employees returning to campus.
The University is committed to addressing any potential barriers to accessibility during the return-to-campus process. As individuals begin return to our campuses, we anticipate that some employees may require accommodation for a variety of matters. Any employees seeking workplace accommodations who wish to explore what options might be available to them should contact Health & Well-Being Programs & Services.
Mask Usage on Campus
Individuals who are in a space in a University building that is normally publicly accessible must wear a non-medical mask or face covering when measures such as physical barriers are not available, unless they are exempted due to factors such as an underlying medical condition which inhibits their ability to wear a mask.
Absences and Vacation during COVID-19
COVID-specific processes around sick leave and self-isolation will remain in place. Members of the community who need to self-isolate in accordance with public health recommendations must not come to campus.
At this time, individuals are required to continue submitting the COVID-19 Self-Declaration Form if:
- They are confirmed to have or are displaying COVID-19 related symptoms
- They are required to be on-site to conduct necessary activities and functions of their role, but are unable to do so because they must self-isolate based on public health guidelines
Please note that employees who are working from home and who are not ill and/or required to be on-site do not have to submit this form.
In the meantime, even though opportunities for travel are limited at present, we encourage staff to use their vacation and lieu time, particularly during the summer season. Now more than ever, it is important to make sure we all take time off to reset and recharge. Managers may work with staff to ensure that they are taking accrued vacation in accordance with the relevant policy or collective agreement.
Employees with Childcare & Caregiving Responsibilities
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, many employees are facing the challenge of balancing caregiving (whether for children, elderly parents, or others) with working from home. We are committed to supporting our faculty, librarians and staff during this difficult time.
We encourage all employees to review the resources on the HR & Equity website about supporting staff and faculty who are balancing caregiving responsibilities. These resources include the process for seeking accommodation based on an employee’s individual circumstances where applicable.
Looking to the Fall
We understand some employees are concerned about the future. Several weeks ago, the University launched pulse surveys of all employees to gauge what additional supports you need as we navigate the coming months together. We will continue to administer these surveys throughout the summer. We encourage you to provide your feedback through these surveys so we can develop a more accurate and up-to-date picture of our institutional needs.
In September, as we welcome new and returning students on campus or online, we look forward to resuming the rich, vibrant, and stimulating academic life for which the University of Toronto is so widely recognized. There may be setbacks along the way to resuming our on-campus operations, but at every step, we will prioritize the health & safety of our University community. Thank you for your patience, resilience, and making our continued academic excellence possible.