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Harvard’s Covid-19 Paid Leave Benefits, Pay for Idled Workers Set to Expire April 1

University President Lawrence S. Bacow's offices are located in Massachusetts Hall.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow's offices are located in Massachusetts Hall. By Kai R. McNamee
By Cara J. Chang and Sophia C. Scott, Crimson Staff Writers

Two weeks after Harvard lifted indoor mask mandates, the University is set to end its Coronavirus Workplace Policies, which will eliminate emergency paid sick leave benefits and partial compensation for some employees who were involuntarily idled by the pandemic.

On Friday, the University will reinstate the 5-12 day yearly limit for time-off to care for ill dependents, immediate family, or household members who must isolate or quarantine due to Covid-19 exposure.

All directly hired and contracted workers at Harvard involuntarily idled by the pandemic will also no longer receive up to 70 percent of their pay and benefits.

From March 2020 until January 2021, Harvard provided full compensation for all employees before modifying its emergency excused absence pay policy, reducing pay for involuntarily idled direct hires to 70 percent and ending pay and benefits for idled contract employees. Most graduate schools individually moved to extend the 70 percent pay policy to idled contract employees.

The Coronavirus Workplace Policies also included four new or expanded paid leave benefits. The first allowed workers to accumulate negative sick leave balances — employees could use up to 14 days of paid sick leave not yet earned.

The second and third benefits set to expire centered around dependent care: Harvard broadened the reasons employees could use paid time off beyond caring for dependents who are quarantined, isolated, or sick. The University also introduced up to 10 days of paid time off for workers to take care of dependents “whose schooling or care arrangements have been disrupted.”

The last benefit ending Friday comes from the Massachusetts Covid-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave Law, which requires Harvard to provide up to one additional week of paid sick leave for Covid-19 related reasons until April 1.

In the week leading up to the policies’ expiration, University administrators have sent multiple emails reminding Harvard affiliates about the April 1 cutoff.

On Tuesday, Tiffany C. Jadotte, associate dean for Human Resources at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, summarized the changes in an email to FAS affiliates, noting that the policies were “temporarily put into place in response to the COVID-19 emergency.”

In a follow-up email to FAS affiliates — with the subject line “A Time for Connection and Community” — FAS Dean Claudine Gay and Administration and Finance Dean Scott A. Jordan wrote that the return to normalcy will mark a transition back to pre-pandemic workplace protocols.

“While it was no surprise that taking off the mask would be a relief, what has been most surprising is the sense of joy that has come from seeing each other’s faces in person again,” they wrote.

“As we shift to our regular processes, we have an opportunity to look at our work differently, to do things in a new and more intentional way,” Gay and Jordan added.

Citing the rise of the new BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, Gay and Jordan acknowledged “that we are not out of the woods yet” but affirmed that “we are no longer in emergency mode.”

After reading Gay and Jordan’s email, some graduate students voiced concerns over the impending termination of the policies.

“Remarkable stuff,” Mo Torres, a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology, wrote on Twitter. “Covid-19 rages on and Harvard eliminates pandemic sick leave and dependent care, announcing the news with the header ‘A Time for Connection and Community.’”

Tessa Green, a Ph.D. candidate in Biophysics, said she was concerned for the staff who were losing benefits, adding that the pandemic is not over.

“What just bothers me about all of it is that they’re making these changes as if the pandemic is over,” Green said.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton did not respond to a request for comment.

Although total case numbers at Harvard have remained fairly constant in the past three weeks, undergraduate cases have declined considerately after spring break.

National covid-19 case counts have fallen significantly since their peak in mid-January.

Correction: March 31, 2022

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Tessa Green’s field of study. Green is Ph.D. candidate in Biophysics.

—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.

—Sophia Scott can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ScottSophia_.

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