‘Essential’ Personnel

One of my all-time favorite Dilbert cartoons shows the evil Dogbert making a public announcement that, due to an impending weather event, all nonessential personnel are free to go home early. The final panel showed him looking out the window with binoculars and a clipboard, saying, “The next round of budget cuts will be a piece of cake” (or something like that).

Since we are in the season of weather events that sometimes include the rather infamous statement of “only essential personnel must report to work,” I thought I would throw this question out. Faculty members are essential to the institution but may work from home on these days. Some support staff members and administrators are in the same circumstance: They may telecommute on such days. Many other employees are unable to do that, however, including housekeeping and maintenance staffs who may work harder than ever on such days.

Over my decades of being a faculty member, I can relate that there is often resentment over being labeled “essential” on snow days and having to work all day while much of the campus stays home. When we realize that many of those “essential” personnel are also among the lowest-paid workers on the campus, the issue is even more troubling.

Does your campus have any guidelines that help to ease this issue? What suggestions might you offer that would avoid this kind of unhelpful distinction?

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