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Seasonal mixed messages

As ias mentioned yesterday, we've been told that the University is going to be closed on Monday (the Highways Agency have nabbed our grit, so campus is likely to be pretty treacherous). The mail from the Registrar read as follows:

Please be aware that the University will be closed on Monday 11 January. This decision has been taken, due to safety concerns arising from a depleted supply of grit. [...] Please be assured staff will not lose any pay or leave as a result of this closure day.

On the other hand, the mail from my Head of School read:

The University is officially closed on Monday [...] the strong advice is to stay away on Monday and work from home.

The usual practice for University closure days, which are typically public holidays but also include the period between Xmas and New Year, is that there is no expectation that staff should be working (at home or otherwise). Why should this be different?

I also overheard some Estates staff talking outside the Nursery when I picked the garklet up yesterday - apparently, they were sent home on Wednesday. This clearly explains why many of the paths around campus (particularly the steep paths between Physics/Geography and the rest of campus) hadn't been gritted on Thursday morning when I was struggling to get across campus for a 0900 lecture.

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Why should this be different?

Seems perfectly fair to me. They're still paying you. Work seems a reasonable expectation if you can do it from home.

It isn't a holiday, so why should you expect a day off?

Ditto, I have to agree.

Provided there is a proviso that you aren't expected to be able to cover/ do everything you would normally be able to do if working in the office, I think it sounds perfectly reasonable to request that you work from home where feasible.

Equitable treatment, in short.

There will be a lot of people in the University who cannot work from home (issue desk staff in the Library, lab technicians and estates staff, for example), who cannot carry out large parts of their job (researchers in lab-based disciplines) or whose jobs rely on people who cannot work from home. They effectively have the day off.

The issue here is that the University not only cannot guarantee safe working conditions next week, but have also said that we will not be covered by the University's insurance if we decide to be foolhardy enough to go in and work (there is already provision for out of hours working, but we've been told that this provision will be heavily curtailed on Monday).

In these circumstances, why should the consequences of the closure not apply equally to all staff?

(I also note that we're paid for public holidays, so your point about being paid is irrelevant)

The equitable treatment line is silly. If workers insist on acting like children "he got a lolly, so I want a lolly too", then sadly the next step is that management has to treat them like children. Closed office door? Not any more, we have to come by and check you're actually working. Popping out to do something? You'll need permission in advance.

This is more a case of top boss saying "free lollies for all!" and immediate boss saying "no lollies for you!"

"It is in the contract" is quite a lot different from "Equitable treatment". If in fact your contract says you don't work closures (I don't recall this part of the UoS contract but it has been a long time) then sure, you are entitled to take the Registrar's choice of words as definitive.

I think we should save moaning about "equitable treatment" for cases where the inequality is a deliberate outcome of policy, rather than merely happenstance. A policy of paying women less to do a job is inequitable, the group difference caused by a larger proportion of women working part time with consequent reduction in earnings is not. Workers who can carry on some or all of their activities from home when snowed in find themselves in that situation only by happenstance - it would be different if the HoS required certain people to work from home, while requiring others to work only in an office as a matter of policy.

In the absence of the whole emails (or whatever documents the quotes are from) I can only speculate, but I must say I am inclined towards the interpretation that many academic staff /will/ work anyway, just as they may do on other days when outsiders would see the University as closed, and so it is strongly worded advice from HoS to do so from home, rather than attempting to get into a University building to use some equipment or meet for coffee. But it may be that a broader context refutes that, I don't have it.

Paid holidays are part of your contract.

Working on days that are not holidays is also part of your contract.

Stop whinging because other people are getting something you're not. You're not being asked to do anything that you didn't agree to when you applied for the job.

If we follow your line of logic, everyone might as well take the day off.

My husband works from home. He won't be getting any time off. We've never asked if the company's office staff are getting a holiday - he's just doing the job he agreed to do.

Gosh. Do you think you could possibly be a little more patronising?

I assume that you read the sentence "staff will not lose any pay or leave as a result of this closure day". This rather suggests that the University (as represented by the Registrar) is assuming that staff will *not* be working on Monday. This seems to have been contradicted by my Head of School - and it's this inconsistency in what we've been told that I find irritating.

As for the issue of paid holidays, this University has tried to have its cake and eat it before now. During the industrial action a couple of years back, the University decided to deduct 1/220th (and not 1/365th) of the pay of anyone taking part. This rather suggests that they believe that we're only actually paid for weekdays which are neither closure days or taken as annual leave.

Well, I read that as "if you can't work, don't worry, we won't dock your pay or leave allowance". It's a legit concern since some companies *are* doing exactly that.

That said, if you work in a job that is possible to do from home, there's no need to get behind on it just because you can't get to your office. I see no contradiction. If you get interrupted by the garklet and not by undergrads, it will feel all the more familiar.

If we had been busy the days I was stuck at home, I'd have been hard at it all day. As it was, I edited one piece, and got a lot of my home stuff dealt with. Nice for me, but actually, not the reason they sent me home.


The Uni's policy is clear that if staff can't get into work they have to work from home, if possible, or take a day's leave. That is completely different to being told not to come into work and the words 'closure day' being used.

Weekends are not closure days and in fact the library is staffed and open this weekend. However Closure Days are defined in everyone's contracts as paid holidays in addition to the annual leave allowance. If a member of staff has to work on a closure day (as can happen, e.g. feeding the animals in the animal house, backing up machines etc) then they can claim additional holiday in lieu.

Thus there is a huge discrepancy between the Registrar saying it is a closure day and thus staff can spend it how they like and Nick's Head of School telling people to work from home.

If there is an official definition of a "closure day" then that makes a difference.

I wonder if either the Registrar or the Head of School thought about the terminology used.


Actually Closure Days are defined as holiday in everyone's contracts as days on which the university is closed and they are not expected. They are in addition to annual leave allowance. If a member of staff has to work on a closure day, for example due to maintaining a critical system or feeding the animals in the animal house, then they can claim that time back as extra annual leave. However if a member of staff who does or have a critical role chooses to work on a closure day, they cannot claim that time back - it is the same as them choosing to work at the weekend or during their annual leave.

The Registrar chose to call Monday a Closure Day, I am sure he had not done this without thinking about the consequences. That Nick's Head of School seems fit to have contradicted the Registrar by telling staff to work at home (which most acdemics would do anyway but then they frequently work 'out of hours' by choice) does seem rather odd.

If Closure days are defined in the Contract, then I agree that changes the issue.

The other thing about working from home means that you won't have people coming to the office or phoning you so much, so you might actually get stuff done quicker. As long as the garklet doesn't try and help too much.

As long as the garklet doesn't try and help too much.

And therein lies the problem...

If you do decide to try and work from home, they can't reasonably expect you to get same done as you would in office, for various reasons not least of which is interruptions from others in the home.

So that, I wouldn't sweat. If you do in a whole day what might have taken only 2 hours in office, you've done what you can, and that's a reasonable request.

I feel that it is imperative to the knowledge sharing infrastructure of the United Kingdom that you test out a computational theory that can only be performed on a sled.

Best I can determine from the HoS mail is that he's following on from the usual "working even thought the University is closed" spiel about making sure you're not alone, etc.; "if you must work (because you've got a paper/marking/etc. deadline looming), do it from home".

(If I were cynical, which I'm clearly not, I'd also call it a pre-emptive strike against undergraduates complaining that they didn't get an extra day's extension to their coursework deadlines.)

They're extending the deadlines (or rather, they've said that Monday won't count as a working day for the usual 5%/day deduction).

Yes, but you're only being advised to work from home. Not told to.

Perhaps. The wording of the full mail is more of an expectation than a suggestion.

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