University’s chief HR officer answers questions about COVID-19

University’s chief HR officer answers questions about COVID-19

Art by Lorena Lopez
By Life@TheU

Art by Lorena Lopez

University’s chief HR officer answers questions about COVID-19

By Life@TheU

COVID-19 has thrust the globe into a real-time experiment on adapting to change. One of the biggest changes is the monumental shift in the way people work. Millions across the United States have moved their offices to their homes, and others are trying to adapt their work in response to this new reality. As the situation evolves, HR professionals will have to continue to move quickly to support workers.

We spoke with Mary Harper Hagan, vice president of human resources and chief human resources officer for the University, about the impact some of these changes were having at the University.

Q: First, how are you doing?

Harper Hagan: I am healthy, so feeling blessed. My heart goes out to all those directly affected by this illness. No one knew we’d be here, but yet here we are. I am immensely grateful for our community’s urgency and commitment during this unprecedented period. We’ve used the words “grit” and “resilience” often to describe our University of Miami family, and those qualities are certainly evident as we navigate this crisis. I am so proud to be a member of this community.

Q: How has HR had to shift to respond to the coronavirus crisis?

Harper Hagan: As you know, this situation changes rapidly, sometimes hour by hour, and every day we are learning something new. We’ve had to move fast in making sweeping changes to our operations in a very short time period. I am in awe of the HR team and of others from across the University who have collaborated to make thoughtful, strategic changes to meet the needs of our employees and the institution.

At this point, our focus in HR is to move swiftly to keep all of us safe and healthy while avoiding overwhelming our health system, which would threaten our patients and our community. My colleague, Dorinda Carolina, is working tirelessly for the medical campus with her HR team to keep pace with all of the challenges.

Q: What actions has HR taken to address COVID-19?  

Harper Hagan: All decisions are driven by two main goals: First, protecting the health and well-being of our University community; and second, ensuring the continuity of our operations. We’ve made several temporary exceptions to our policies to meet those two objectives.

We are moving quickly in response to national, state, and local guidance. Given this rate of change, our policies remain fluid. To support staff through these challenging times, we have communicated temporary policies in effect through April 17. They  outline pay continuity provisions for those affected by COVID-19,suspension of parking rules, a freeze on transit fees from payroll deductions, and enhanced sick pay options. These updates also include guidance on telecommuting from home and are outlined in the FAQs.

Similar to the functions of working remotely, HR has adjusted its operations in various ways. We have moved our new hire orientations completely online and are guiding managers on tips for conducting candidate interviews virtually. We’ve also adjusted our systems, such as Workday and payroll, to adapt to the temporary policies.

Caring for our employees also means supporting their families. The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program is offering virtual services to those feeling anxious or in need of support. We’ve partnered with facilities to enhance cleaning and ensure that our onsite child care centers remain open for faculty and staff members who continue to work in critical  operations. We also worked with Government Relations and UHealth Communications to offer full-day programming for children of clinical and patient support staff in partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the YMCA.

Q: What can you say to those employees who are worried about job security?

Harper Hagan: We are committed to treating our employees with respect and compassion. Our priority is to adapt as much as possible to the shifts caused by the coronavirus, so that our staff can continue to work—whether remotely or on campus. We have teams working day and night to keep this University running. I am grateful to all the patient care employees on the frontlines, as well as all employees who have shifted how, where, and when they work to keep us going. These rapidly changing dynamics present long term opportunities for transforming the way we work together. The University’s senior leadership is assessing the financial impact of COVID-19 and will be recommending short and midterm strategies to mitigate the impact.

Q: What can employees do to help?

Harper Hagan: Remember that we’re in this together. Everyone is facing change and uncertainty, and stress levels are high. So, the best way for us to help one another is to remember that anxiety during such times is normal, and that we’re all doing the best that we can. Try to laugh when you can and be forgiving of others.

I am asking our managers to lead with empathy, courage, and flexibility. I think we should all stay closely connected to our teams using the amazing technology that we have available, and learn from this experience.

This situation is evolving rapidly, and we are working hard to keep you informed. Please read correspondence from Human Resources and University Communications, News@TheU, and the coronavirus website. Last night, Miami Dade County issued a Safer at Home guidance, following local municipalities, and we urge you to follow those directives.

Q: If an employee feels sick, what should they do?

Harper Hagan: If you are sick, please stay home to take care of yourself and avoid spreading illness. If you are elderly or have an underlying medical condition as defined by the CDC (and most recently by Miami Dade County) you are eligible to use your sick time if you are unable to perform your work from home. This guidance is outlined in the FAQs. Any employee who is experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms should contact their health care provider and also notify the UHealth hotline at 305-243-8378. The hotline is available weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is staffed by UHealth nurses who can provide guidance. Employees who are required to self-isolate for a period of up to 14 days must contact their HR partner. We have specific information on the coronavirus website about our sick time policies, which have been expanded in response to COVID-19. There is also telemedicine information for our UM/Aetna plan members.

Q: What happens next?

Harper Hagan: We keep going. We do our best. We use good judgment. This crisis has been disruptive and challenging, but it has also been a tremendous learning opportunity and a real-time example of our teams working together toward administrative excellence.