Earlier this week the University announced a set of further measures it would take in order to ensure the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students at the U of A. Given that less than two weeks ago President Bill Flanagan was still insisting that there would be no masking mandate, vaccine requirements, or rapid testing on campus, this shift in direction by the Board of Governors can only be seen as a response to the strong mobilization and advocacy of our members and the University community as a whole.
While we are happy to see the University finally respond to the expressed concerns of our members, we are aware that the true value of these measures will depend entirely on the mechanisms put in place for tracking, enforcement, monitoring, and reporting. We will be watching closely over the coming days and weeks as the University develops these mechanisms and protocols and fills out the details of their plans. We will pay special attention to the following questions:
- How will the masking, vaccination, and testing protocols be enforced?
- Will determination of vaccination status be based exclusively on self-declaration, or will proof of vaccination be required?
- What protocols will be in place for addressing those students, faculty, and staff who refuse disclosure, vaccination, testing, and/or masking?
- Will instructors be able to refuse admittance to unmasked students?
- Will staff be able to refuse service to unmasked individuals?
- What protocols will exist for staff who do not feel safe teaching in person to shift their courses online for reasons other than protected grounds?
- How will these protocols be enforced for members of the public visiting our campuses for sporting events, performances, or to access services at HUB or SUB?
- What kind of monitoring and reporting will there be about vaccination rates, cases, and outbreaks at the University?
Accommodation and Options
For those members who cannot be vaccinated and/or carry out their jobs in person based on a medical condition, they can request a medical accommodation. The University will also consider non-medical accommodation for members concerned about transmitting COVID-19 to unvaccinated children or vulnerable adults in their household. In both cases, the first step is to contact the supervisor/chair. Depending on the outcome of that conversation, members may also want to seek advice from an AASUA Labour Relations Officer.
Members who are uncomfortable teaching in person, but do not have a protected ground in order to request accommodation, are encouraged to approach their supervisor/chair to discuss concerns and determine if there are any workable options available for them. Depending on the outcome of that conversation, members may also want to seek advice from an AASUA Labour Relations Officer.
The University is also making it possible for non-instructional members who wish to continue working from home to do so, subject to operational requirements. Administration has indicated that a formal work-from-home program will be announced by the University in the near future, but for now members seeking to continue remote work should contact their supervisor about whether this is an option for them.
Occupational Health and Safety
Many members have reached out to the AASUA over the past couple months to inquire about the right to refuse unsafe work. Although the implementation of the new measures may result in this being less of an issue for members, this is an important right to know of and understand.
Under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, there is an obligation on the University to ensure a safe working environment. If at any point an employee reasonably believes that their work environment is not safe, they have the right to refuse that particular work. In refusing, the new OHS legislation that comes into effect sometime this fall states that the worker must specify what particular work is being refused, and demonstrate that the work presents “an undue hazard to the worker’s health or safety or to the health or safety of another worker or another person.” It is worth noting that the determination of what constitutes an “undue hazard” will take into consideration any public health orders or alerts in place at the time. In the case of any refusal, the employer’s duty to mitigate hazards is limited only to demonstrating that they have implemented those controls that are “reasonably practicable”.
Occupational Health and Safety is also addressed by the Collective Agreement in Article 13.01 which states, “The Employer shall at all times take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of employees, including but not limited to compliance with all provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, any Code or Regulations under that Act, and any successor legislation.” Furthermore, Article 13.03 states, “A Staff Member has a right to refuse to perform particular work if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the performance of that work would expose them to danger to their health, safety or physical well-being, or would expose another person to a similar danger.” We strongly suggest that any member who is considering refusing unsafe work pursuant to Article 13.03 first get in touch with an AASUA Labour Relations Officer for advice and guidance.
Blended and Asynchronous Teaching
A few weeks ago the University circulated a set of recommendations for instructors, ostensibly meant to “provide tips and advice to help navigate the start of the fall term.” The document provides some important and valuable information about IT, teaching, and pedagogical resources available to instructors on campus and explains how to access them. The document also provides some recommendations and advice about hybrid or blended teaching, asynchronous instruction, recording and posting lectures, and marking and assessment.
Although we are aware that most members will go out of their way to provide the most positive and supportive experience possible to their students, it is important that all members understand that these are only recommendations, and should only be taken as advice or guidance. Under the provisions of the Collective Agreement, Faculty Members and ATS Members have the sole authority respecting instructional methodology.
The Collective Agreement and the Copyright Regulations both clearly stipulate that any recorded lectures or other content created by instructors is entirely the intellectual property of the member, and that the employer has no authority to record or post members’ lectures without their prior authorization.We also want to clarify that, although members are free to make any arrangements they want for students in a different time zone or facing other pandemic related factors, there is no formal requirement for instructors to do so other than arrangements required on the basis of protected grounds arising from an accommodation.
This is a very stressful and trying time for all our members, as we all try to balance the anticipation of being back on campus and face-to-face with students and colleagues with concerns about our health and safety and that of our students and families. The AASUA will continue to advocate to the University leadership for the safety and well-being of our members, and for a return to campus that respects our rights and a healthy work-life balance. As always, please do not hesitate to contact any member of our Executive should you have any questions or concerns, or one of our Labour Relations Officers should you have a potential grievance.