With the ever-changing status of COVID-19 and its impact to George Mason University and the world around us, telecommuting has become a new reality for most of us at Mason. In order for Mason to continue to provide critical services and functionally operate under these uncertain times, we must embrace flexible, creative, and strategic plans that utilize the tools available to us. This means revisiting what it means to be a productive employee and embracing telecommuting as a viable option towards employment, even if it wasn’t previously a telecommuting position. Below are scenario-based answers that Mason Human Resources and Payroll hopes will assist in answering some of the most frequently asked questions.
Should we begin a recruitment process for an opening within our department?
At the present time, this depends on the timing and nature of the position. With the uncertainty of when life at GMU will go back to an on-campus setting, Talent Acquisition’s recommendations are case by case.
If the position requires an in-person presence in order to obtain the most benefit, or the department has flexibility with postponing the search for a replacement or new hire, we suggest deferring the search process until a later date when we have more clarity regarding returning to campus.
If the position is an urgent need and allows for training to be done via telecommuting and work from home, then our recommendation is to move forward with the search process.
We have several searches in varying parts of the recruitment cycle. Should we continue with the search process?
If the search committee finds themselves towards the end of the selection process in which they are beginning to evaluate or narrow down the candidate pool to finalists, we encourage letting final and/or selected candidates know that the start date may be postponed until a later date if they cannot begin the candidate remotely. We do not suggest extending job offers unless the Hiring Authority and department are capable of starting the candidate remotely in the event that they are not able to come to campus.
For search committees that have recently begun the search process, this may depend on several factors. If minimal resources have been allocated to the search so far and the position would be best served if started at a later date once more clarity is provided, we suggest closing the search and beginning the process again at a later date. However, if the position is flexible and is not significantly impacted by a remote start, the search process may move forward.
Please also take into consideration the nature of the search. For faculty searches where the job must be posted for at least a month, coupled with the interview timeframe and notice that the selected candidate may need to provide to their current job, beginning the search process may not have a significant impact based on the current state of events. While we face an uncertain timeline as we move forward with social distancing and telecommuting practices, a realistic timeline from start to finish will most likely be at least two months before a candidate can realistically start. In addition, with open communication with candidates regarding fluctuating timelines and its impact on start dates, you may be able to continue the process while being transparent with candidates through the search process.
For quicker turnaround positions, especially with the two-week minimum requirement for classified positions, this may require the department to evaluate whether or not the position can be postponed or if they can remotely train and start a selected candidate.
If we move forward with our in-person interviews being conducted via Zoom, what would a start date look like?
Communication and transparency between the candidate and department is an absolute necessity. If the position can be started remotely, then a start date may be coordinated and a hiring proposal submitted. Please be sure to ensure that equipment and processes are in place prior to the candidate’s first date of employment.
Communicate as early as possible if the position is not flexible with telecommuting options, so that candidates may take this into consideration during their interview and decision-making process. In many instances, candidates are also experiencing uncertainty and having to go through with flexibility and changing timelines in their own lives and current jobs. Many will be receptive to atypical timelines and postponed start dates.
Regardless of whether the position can start during telecommuting and social distancing practices at Mason, please ensure that a start date and offer are not given unless absolutely certain that your department can honor that date. In many instances, people that are accepting positions and coordinating start dates are doing so with zero anticipated gaps between leaving their current job and joining Mason. Often, this is by design, as they cannot afford to have a break in pay and benefits. A start date and offer letter are a commitment from Mason to future employees. While sometimes circumstances are unavoidable, with planning and communication, we can minimize this impact and ensure that a candidate’s hiring process and first day as a part of the Mason community are successful, even in these uncertain times.
If an offer was extended and a start date was already agreed upon, can a candidate remotely onboard, or do we have to postpone their start date?
In most instances, candidates can remotely onboard. Supervisors will need to coordinate with the employee prior to their start date regarding the necessary equipment for their first day. Human Resources & Payroll has put together tools to ensure smooth and seamless onboarding along with tools from Organizational Development and Learning (ODL) for training purposes. If you need further guidance, please reach out to HR Onboarding or ODL for guidance.
An employee that has a confirmed start date has reached out to us and let us know that they have tested positive for the Coronavirus. Can they begin employment with Mason?
The ability of the employee to begin will be contingent on several factors such as when they tested positive for Coronavirus, their healthcare provider’s guidance, their ability to work without harm to themselves, whether they must report to campus in-person in any capacity, and whether or not they are asymptomatic at that time.
Per CDC’s guidelines, the employee should stay at home until instructed to leave. Patients with confirmed COVID-19 should remain under home isolation precautions until the risk of secondary transmission to others is thought to be low. They should talk to their healthcare provider. The decision to discontinue home isolation precautions should be made on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
How do we conduct I-9’s if an employee is remotely beginning employment?
Per USCIS and DHRM’s current guidance, the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification is still required within 3 days of an employee’s start date through remote onboarding. However, the physical review of the employee’s documentation may be delayed during the declared Federal State of Emergency. Please set a reminder to check on I-9 status of onboarded employees to ensure that their I-9’s are collected at a later date when physically possible.
Are completed background checks through TrueScreen still required prior to a candidate’s first day of employment?
Candidates are still expected to submit all required forms for background processing prior to employment. In most cases, candidates will be allowed to begin their first day of employment at the agreed upon start date without a completed background check by TrueScreen. Due to prolonged and/or delayed background processing based on the unavailability of courts to process and verify requests, background checks will be completed by TrueScreen as resources become available. If an employee has already begun employment and TrueScreen later comes back with a negative background check, they may be immediately terminated from their position as a contingency of employment with George Mason.
Is my department’s position eligible for a remote/telepresence start?
Mason is committed to moving forward with teleworking and utilizing creative and flexible solutions to ensure its implementation and success throughout the university. In most instances, we believe that teleworking options are absolutely possible. Please refer to the Telework Toolkit: Successful Teleworking for additional guidance and resources regarding best practices on how to adapt your position to a telework opportunity.
Our department is committed to creativity and flexibility in starting and allowing telework options for new employees. However, we are unfamiliar with how to go about doing this. Are there resources available to help us utilize available tools at Mason?
Yes! In an effort to encourage and promote safety and distancing best practices while navigating the current COVID-19 crisis, Mason is here to help. Human Resources and Payroll is available to discuss processes available to potentially discover new ways to continue and explore teleworking options that allow for continuity of operations at Mason. Feel free to reach out to Employee Relations today to discuss.
As a department, ensure that appropriate equipment to complete work on time and properly is available for incoming employees from day one. Supervisors and employees should have discussions regarding hardware and software that are necessary to ensure training and successful onboarding are in place. These tools may include:
- • Computer/laptop – VPN Access – Microsoft Outlook – Microsoft Teams – Phone –Zoom
- • Other tools specific to the position that is needed to perform the function remotely.
We have provided resources from HR, ITS, DHRM, and various industry resources that can make a difference in successfully implementing a department’s telework policy.
- • For help using Zoom for interviews, training, meetings, and many other flexible uses of a teleconference option, please feel free to use resources provided by ITS.
- • Virginia’s DHRM has provided a wealth of resources during the COVID-19 crisis and how your department can successfully implement telework practices as well as the most current guidance from the Commonwealth of Virginia.
- • LinkedIn has also provided many resources that can be utilized successfully for Mason employees and supervisors.
- • Please refer to the Telework Toolkit: Successful Teleworking for additional guidance and resources regarding best practices on how to adapt your position to a telework opportunity.
George Mason University and the HR team are here to help make this new reality a smooth and productive transition!