Florida State University notified employees Thursday that they will be allowed to care for their children while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, attempting to calm a furor among staff after an earlier e-mail indicated the opposite.
The university acknowledged that the timing of the original memo describing a shift back to its usual policy -- an announcement interpreted as barring employees from taking care of their children while working remotely -- had "caused confusion and anxiety for many."
That message was "the opposite of what we want to communicate to our dedicated faculty and staff," especially at a time when COVID-19 cases are spiking around the state, officials said in Thursday's follow-up message.
"We recognize the need for sensitivity, flexibility, and deference to the personal and public health imperatives of this moment," administrators said in the email obtained by FOX Business. Employees should coordinate with their supervisors on a schedule that allows "them to meet their parental responsibilities in addition to work obligations," they said.
Arrangements may vary depending on an employee's situation, the school said, and managers should work with human resources to develop solutions if necessary.
The earlier memo, sent to faculty last Friday, said the university would be reverting to its standard telecommuting policy next month in anticipation of local public schools and daycare centers reopening as well as staff returning to campus.
"In March 2020, the university communicated a temporary exception to policy, which allowed employees to care for children at home while on the Temporary Remote Work agreement," the original e-mail, obtained by WCTV, said. "Effective August 7, 2020, the university will return to normal policy and will no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely."
The move dismayed faculty members, who were caught off guard.
"My uni (in FLORIDA) just announced that effective August 7th the University will no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely. I can’t even process that -- the pandemic is not over and will not be over then," tweeted Dr. Jenny Root, assistant professor of special education.
“As long as parents can accomplish their duties from home, it shouldn’t matter if their children are under the same roof or not,” Professor Matthew Lata, president of the union that represents faculty, told the outlet.
“For whatever reason, they might want the children to stay home," he added. "There might be an elderly parent who lives there. There might be other health issues they don’t wish to reveal.”
Under the university's normal telecommuting policy, “if a child or dependent is present during scheduled work hours, arrangements must be made for the care of the child or dependent by someone other than the employee," according to the memo obtained by WCTV.
To date, there are more than 169,000 COVID-19 cases in the Sunshine State, with more than 3,600 deaths, the Florida Department of Health reported.