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COVID-19 relief pay for student workers offered once again this semester

Relief pay can be issued retroactively for work time missed going back to the first day of this academic semester, August 22. (Photo by: Heike Trautmann)

Students who have missed work this semester because they had to quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19 may be able to receive relief pay, according to an email sent to the student body from Kaylie Ackerman, student employment coordinator for Human Resources (HR), on Sept. 6.

The email specified that only students who meet specific criteria are eligible for this financial assistance. The student must have been actively employed in a student worker position when they were isolated or quarantined, missed regularly scheduled work hours, been seen and placed in quarantine or isolation by the University Health Center (UHC) and signed a waiver authorizing the UHC office to confirm information for HR. 

The student needs to initiate the process by communicating with his or her supervisor to send an email to HR specifying the name of the student, his or her ID number and dates and hours for missed work. The email must also include a statement that the student missed work due to isolation or quarantine.

Brenda Flores-Lopez, associate vice president for HR, wrote in an email to the Accent that qualifying students receive their relief pay on regular pay dates. Timing depends on when documentation and communication are received. 

“It all starts with the student initiating this, so timing and unique circumstances of whatever else may be needed is a case-by-case,” Flores-Lopez wrote. “But, typically, our department has processed this in reasonable amounts of time and within our payroll schedule timeframes.”

Ackerman added in her email that relief pay can be issued retroactively for work time missed going back to the first day of this academic semester, August 22. However, retroactive pay cannot be requested later than December 9. This relief pay is for Fall 2022 semester only and will be reevaluated for Winter 2023 semester, according to the email.

Flores-Lopez stated that the university started offering this relief pay in the Fall 2021 semester. She explained that this aid is offered as part of an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on campus while simultaneously helping students.

“The spirit behind this aid, specifically with COVID, is so that it can reduce the risks associated with the spread, which would impact others,” Flores-Lopez added. “And additionally, in doing so, provides some assistance so that student employees experience the least amount of financial burdens as possible.”

Lilly Bennethum, sophomore psychology major, works as a RA in Thatcher Hall but missed work the first week of school due to COVID-19. She said she has been in communication with her work supervisor who informed her that she will receive relief pay.

“I think it’s a really good program that they have because that is one of the concerns I had when I got COVID,” said Bennethum, regarding the relief pay. “I [thought], ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to be out, and it’s the first week of school. I’m not going to get paid for this full week, and I’m only getting 25% of my pay anyway.’ So for that amount to be cut in half was just kind of discouraging for me because it’s not like I wanted to be out and not working. So, honestly, I was really relieved to hear that they did start the relief pay again this semester.”   

The relief pay was originally an expense that came out of government-issued funding, but that funding has since been exhausted, according to Flores-Lopez. Now, the university is using institutional funds to pay for it. 

“This pay is outside of anything that any student would be eligible to receive as student employees are not regularly employed or eligible for sick pay or any other benefit,” she added, “so this is something that may or may not be sustainable for [the] future. And those decisions are made administratively each year.” 

In her email, Ackerman encouraged students who have questions regarding relief pay to contact her by email at kaylieackerman@southern.edu or by phone at 423-236-2278. 

“We hope that this effort will be a blessing and that you will finish out this semester successfully,” Ackerman wrote. “Thank you for your attention and effective communication as it may apply to you.”

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