As the coronavirus pandemic remains a threat, faculty and staff members of Elon University who are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 may apply for "reasonable accommodations" for the upcoming fall semester.
Associate Professor of Art and Environmental Studies Samantha DiRosa and Lecturer in English Margaret Chapman served as consultants to Elon's Task Force on Fall Semester 2020 in the working group on instruction and the classroom, lab and studio. They expressed concerns about the transparency of the process for deciding what reasonable accommodations might look like for different departments.
While Chapman said she understands there is a protocol in place for accommodating high-risk faculty and staff, she is still unclear on what those accommodations will be, and how they will be decided.
According to Elon's Human Resources website, the process for requesting accommodations in the fall is a seven-step process. It begins with a faculty or staff member submitting the COVID-19 Reasonable Accommodation Request Form to Human Resources and submitting proof of their medical condition to the Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator.
From there, the ADA coordinator will gather information from "individuals identified as having a need to know" and will identify "appropriate accommodation." The ADA coordinator will communicate this with "all necessary impacted stakeholders," such as the faculty or staff member and their supervisor, and will develop a timeline to "review the accommodation effectiveness."
Finally, if the request for accommodation is denied, the ADA coordinator will explain the decision and "explore options for leave usage with the faculty or staff member."
A reasonable accommodation is a modification to a faculty or staff members job, employment practice or work environment, according to the human resources website.
In order to apply for accommodations, faculty and staff must fall under one of the CDC high risk categories or must "have other special circumstances," according to the COVID-19 Reasonable Accommodation Request Form.
Associate Vice President for Human Resources Kelli Shuman and Human Resources Coordinator Donna Boggs did not respond to Elon News Network's requests for comment.
The COVID-19 Reasonable Accommodation Request Form includes a disclosure stating that accommodations are "determined, identified, and implemented" with collaboration between the employee, supervisor, and HR.
Director of Elon University’s News Bureau Owen Covington wrote in a statement that HR processes and acts upon accommodation requests, not individual supervisors. The specifics of each accommodation will be determined by a discussion between the employee, supervisor, and representatives from HR.
However, Associate Professor of English Barbara Gordon was approved to teach exclusively online in the fall, and said her experience obtaining approval for her accommodation request was somewhat different than the process laid out by HR.
According to Gordon, who has multiple conditions the Centers for Disease Control classifies as high-risk for serious illness related to COVID-19, there were no official negotiations or collaborations for her accommodation approval. Gordon said she was in contact with her department chair and a HR representative, submitted the COVID-19 Reasonable Accommodation Request Form and was approved just over three weeks later.
Both Gordon and Chapman said they were aware of peers who have submitted the accommodation request form but have not yet been approved or heard back about their approval.
"I think it's unfortunate that it's not more transparent," Gordon said of the accommodation approval process.
Program Assistant for Cultural Programs Wendy Bridges said she intends to submit an accommodation request form since she identifies as being in a group considered to be at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
According to Bridges, coming to her office part-time this summer has been stressful.
"I can't imagine being on that level of alert eight hours a day, five days a week, and being able to function," Bridges said.
Bridges added that she has observed flippant attitudes toward the pandemic, but her own personal experience with the disease made her more cautious about contracting the virus.
"It's different when you actually experience it and you see it," Bridges said, noting that her father died two months ago after being exposed to the coronavirus. "It's real for me."
According to Covington, Elon is using the same criteria for faculty and staff to determine accommodation approval, but said the process will take each employee's unique circumstance into account.
While there is no explicitly stated set of guidelines publicly available via HR or the Ready and Resilient plan, Covington said the process of collaboration between employee, supervisor and HR gives "uniformity" in each decision while "offering flexibility" based on the employee's individual situation.