Although we are attempting to limit our update emails to once per week, we felt it was important to distribute these Q&A in as many ways as possible due to timing considerations.
IMPORTANT: The information provided here, like everything right now, is highly subject to change. We are doing our best to provide information that is not only timely but accurate, however, we simply cannot guarantee that this guidance is totally error-free.
For critical matters or specific circumstances, workers should first email your direct supervisor. Feel free to cc: the union on such emails (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you do not receive a response or are not confident in it, next, email payroll at email@example.com and cc: the union.
Q: I am not able to work because I’m sick with COVID-19/possible COVID-19 or I must stay home because I am high-risk, quarantined, have a cough, sneeze, or otherwise feel sick, or need to care for someone for coronavirus-related reasons. What are my options?
A: Howard Center has so far continued to pay everyone their regular hours who can’t work for coronavirus-related reasons (you don’t have to use CTO). That is the case so far for the weeks of 3/15, 3/22, and 3/29. Please take action (below) to push the state to continue to fund this.
Some supervisors have told people in this category that they must use CTO, this is incorrect according to Bob Bick, and is stated even more clearly in his email update today (4/1). Please forward it to supervisors if necessary.
You can also work from home if possible (paperwork, Relias trainings, calling clients, etc.).
Q: My kids are out of school or childcare. What are my options?
A: Howard Center workers who are working in programs that are still operating (regular or redeployed) are classified as “essential workers” and are eligible for childcare through local schools and childcare centers. Call this number to get connected 1-877-705-9008 or fill out this web form: https://webportalapp.com/webform/essentialworkers
You can also work from home if that’s an option. If not, Howard Center has so far continued to pay everyone their regular hours who can’t work for coronavirus-related reasons (you don’t have to use CTO). That is the case so far for the weeks of 3/15, 3/22, and 3/29. If your supervisors have told you otherwise, try sending them Bob’s email from today (4/1). Please take action (below) to push the state to continue to fund this.
Q: I am still working, what about hazard pay?
A: As of Sunday 3/22 the following staff will receive hazard pay (additional pay for putting our health and safety on the line by continuing to work when non-essential programs have been shut down):
All staff working face-to-face with clients will get time and a half (1.5 times their base pay).
All staff working with clients diagnosed with COVID-19 will get double time (2 times their base pay). —We are pushing for this to include clients who are presumed/likely to have COVID-19 or who were exposed to someone in that category.
Continued funding must come from the State, so please take action (below) to help push for this!
Q: I can work but my program is fully or partially shut down because of the coronavirus, what are my options?
A: If you can do work from home (paperwork, Relias trainings, calling clients), go for it. Alternatively, you can offer to redeploy to do other work at Howard Center. Talk to your supervisor and email firstname.lastname@example.org about options. If there isn’t work you can do from home and you don’t want to redeploy, you can use CTO/the HELP pool (see below).
Q: My program is shut down and I want to work but my supervisor says there are no redeployment options and no work I can do from home. Do I have to take CTO or unpaid time?
A: If you are able and willing to redeploy for your regular hours, Howard Center will still pay you even if there is no work (without using CTO). This is true so far for the weeks of 3/15, 3/22, and 3/29. This policy respects our contract (CTO is for holidays, sick time, vacation/personal time, not for when you are able and willing to work your regular hours). Please take action (below) to push the state to continue to fund this pay.
Q: How and when do I use CTO/the HELP pool?
A: If you can work but don’t want to at this time (for example, don’t want to be redeployed), you can use CTO and/or access the Howard Emergency Leave Pool (see link to form below).
If you would end up with fewer than 2 weeks’ worth of CTO, submit a HELP pool request. Howard Center has agreed to add hours to the HELP pool so that everyone can take off at least 2 weeks due to the COVID-19 crisis and not deplete their CTO below 2 weeks’ worth. You do have to apply for the HELP pool for this. Call the COVID emergency operations center to confirm the latest info. It may be reached at 802-488-7240, 802-488-7241, or 802-488-7242 or by email email@example.com from 8:30 am – 4:00 pm Monday – Friday)
If we succeed in getting the state to come through with funding, Howard Center will be able to continue the HELP pool payments and has said they intend to pay back the CTO people used for any COVID-19 reasons (including choosing not to redeploy).
Keep using CTO for non-coronavirus things as normal.
Q: How do I submit a HELP pool request?
A: Fill out this form https://drive.google.com/file/d/1wAGXtERtHEvhNEQsWL58TdSk7ZC8iFiD/view?usp=drivesdk and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sharepoint link to the same form (must be in VMWare): http://shareptsvr/sites/committees/ATS/COVID/General%20Information/HELP%20Pool%20Request%20Form%20COVID-19.pdf
Q: How can I take action to make sure we and everyone across Vermont get through this with economic security and healthcare?
A: Please send a message to Governor Scott and VT legislators to thank them for their actions so far and let them know we need additional funding!
Tell them we need more funding for COVID-19 hazard pay and paid leave at Howard Center, expanded unemployment insurance, free coronavirus testing & treatment, and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.
Connect with community efforts here: https://vtdigger.org/2020/03/14/guide-how-you-can-help-volunteer-or-donate-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/
Q: I don’t get CTO because I work fewer than 16 hrs/week or am a substitute. Can I get paid time off for coronavirus related reasons?
A: If you have regular hours, HC has so far continued to pay everyone their regular hours who can’t work for coronavirus-related reasons (you don’t need to have CTO). That is the case so far for the weeks of 3/15, 3/22, and 3/29.
If you can work but don’t want to at this time (don’t want to redeploy, etc.), you should try applying to the HELP pool (see above). Let us know how it goes.
Some workers (including subs) qualify for sick days under VT’s paid sick leave law and should be able to use these as well (try applying to the HELP pool first if you have less than 2 weeks’ worth (that’s 2 weeks’ worth of all your hours, both regular and substitute).
We have pushed Howard Center to include everyone (including subs) in paid leave and HELP pool coverage but have not gotten satisfactory answers back yet. Please let us know what you are told by your supervisor, the Howard Center COVID-19 info number, and/or HR.
Let us know anything else you learn that would be beneficial to other subs or people with fewer than 16 hrs/wk regular hours and we can help share it. Also let us know if you or others you know would like to talk more or organize around this.
Q: I’m a sub and my hours are cut because a program is shut down due to the coronavirus, or I can’t work for a coronavirus-related reason (sick, high-risk, have to care for kids or someone else at home, quarantined), am I eligible for unemployment?
A: Very possibly, it’s worth applying to find out. FYI part time workers are now eligible for unemployment in VT and other requirements are being relaxed as well. You can either call 1-877-214-3330 or fill out this form: https://appengine.egov.com/apps/vt/dol/unemploymentinsuranceclaim
Here is a link to info from VT Legal Aid on unemployment benefits in VT during COVID-19: https://vtlawhelp.org/vermont-unemployment-benefits-coronavirus
Q: What about unemployment benefits for others? If I take unpaid leave instead of CTO, could I get unemployment?
A: Unfortunately, unless the state changes the rule, unemployment benefits require all paid time off from an employer to be used up first. As long as government funding allows them to, Howard Center has told us they are committed to continuing to pay regular employees their regular pay. So far (the weeks of 3/15, 3/22, and 3/29) that has meant paying people “time worked” if they can’t work because of being high risk, sick, or caring for family, or are available to work but aren’t redeployed. And it has meant paying people through CTO or the HELP pool if people could work but chose not to redeploy. Howard Center has said they are pushing for government funding to pay back people’s CTO that was used in this situation.
Q: Is Howard Center covered under any federal or state coronavirus paid leave legislation?
A: The federal sick day legislation that was recently passed does not apply to Howard Center because it has more than 500 employees and is not a “public agency” in terms of not being a subdivision of the government. We will let you know if we find out differently, and please contact Senators Bernie Sanders and Pat Leahy, and Rep. Peter Welch to push them to get all employers included, including agencies like Howard Center.
If you have another job that’s for an employer with fewer than 500 employees or that’s part of the government (federal, state, or municipal), you may be eligible for COVID-19 paid sick days through that job, as well as paid FMLA leave to care for a family member.
It’s possible that future state or federal legislation might cover folks at Howard Center (including subs and people with fewer than 16 regular hrs/week). Please let us know any information you find out.
Q: Will Howard Center keep paying us indefinitely? What if they run out of money?
A: Howard Center management is committed to doing everything possible to continuing to pay people and not lay anybody off. They and the other DS and MH agencies across the state are advocating for more state and federal funding, and we are too (take action below!). That being said, if the government doesn’t come through with funding for agencies/paid coronavirus leave, we could face a situation where Howard Center can’t continue to pay folks who aren’t working due to COVID.
Unemployment benefits would (thankfully) come into play in that situation. But it would bring up serious and existential questions like how could we continue our health insurance and how can we protect our workforce, clients, and programs? We don’t mean to scare folks, this should not and hopefully won’t happen! But it’s also a reason why this is a time for us all to connect and organize with other impacted people to push state and federal representatives, senators, the governor, and the president for more funding. Please take two minutes to take action (links below) and get involved! We will keep you posted as things unfold in coming weeks and are prepared to fight with you for our programs, clients, and jobs.
Again the link to take action with the VT AFL-CIO is: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/take-acton-to-combat-both-covid-19-and-the-looming-income-crisis-for-working-people
Please also sign these three VT coronavirus petitions from the Burlington Tenants Union, VT Workers Center, and Community Voices for Immigrant Rights: