Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Students make their way to class through the accumulated snow on the Arts Quad.

December 5, 2019

Who is ‘Essential Staff?’ Employee Assembly Mulls Designation After Snow Day Closure

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After Cornell’s most recent snow day, many employees express uncertainty about their responsibility to show up for work amid inclement weather conditions at Wednesday’s Employee Assembly meeting.

After receiving the university-wide email on Monday announcing that campus was closed due to the snowstorm but required essential staff to report, Carrie Sanzone, voting member and Vice Chair for Communications, questioned how employees are meant to interpret “essential staff.”

“My concern is that not everybody is on the same page as far as the definition of ‘essential staff,’” Sanzone said. “There was some inconsistency about how to interpret that message and whether we were supposed to be working or not.”

Sanzone added that, although emails are addressed directly to staff, employees often feel the need to receive permission from their supervisor to feel comfortable taking the day off.

“Can we do more to be a little firmer, and more direct, to the supervisor with guidance for what should be happening,” Sanzone asked.

The University first cancelled classes only, but ultimately closed its upstate campuses as snow and ice forecasts worsened.

Andrea Haenlin-Mott, voting member and Disability Representative At-Large, said that she recently spoke to a custodian who is considered an essential employee, but chose to take the day off Monday because he has a 45-minute commute.

“From a housing perspective, if would be interesting to see if there are any housing options for those of us that are considered essential to allow us to stay afterward if the weather is bad,” Haenlin-Mott said.

Considering the number of staff affected, Adam Howell, chair of the Employee Assembly, said that the issue concerning Monday’s snow day warrants further investigation.

“There will be more snow days,” Howell said. “I think it merits some investigation to see if there are ways to improve communication on the issue.”