Illustration by Béla Cunningham.

By law, OPS employees are excluded from any form of paid leave—but Santa Fe is making an exception for their employees, while UF is not. 

As Other Personnel Services employees at the University of Florida were returning to work last Thursday, some learned they would not be compensated for the four-day emergency closure due to Hurricane Irma.

Some learned via text message from their supervisor or an email from the Human Resources listserv; others received no mention of compensation at all.

According to UF’s Human Resources Services policy, in cases in which the university closes due to threatening weather, administrative leave is granted only to eligible employees who were scheduled to work during the closure. This includes include graduate assistants, postdoctoral scholars and adjunct faculty.

Any OPS staff who is considered “non-exempt” will not be compensated.

However, 51 percent of OPS employees work full time; for them, this job is their primary source of income.

Hurricane Irma downed trees, flooded homes and left many in Gainesville without power, imposing financial burdens that will only be worsened by the loss of income. OPS employees will be eligible for UF’s micro-grant program, Aid-a-Gator, but it will only provide limited assistance, according to the program’s website.

One OPS employee, who preferred to remain anonymous, said they were expecting to be paid for those days.

“My paycheck will be significantly lower due to missing three days of income,” the employee wrote in a text message. “I also spent a lot of money preparing for the storm, something I hadn’t budgeted for. My finances are very tight as it is, so I may struggle to pay bills with a lower paycheck.”

Furthermore, OPS employees are in a vulnerable position to seek recourse for the loss of income. OPS employees are considered at-will and can be fired for any reason, or without a reason at all.

Another OPS employee wrote they will make half as much as usual at the end of this pay period. Though they were able to sufficiently prepare for the hurricane due to a side job, they wrote that the loss of income will still be a hardship for them.

“I wish I could donate to relief efforts since I came out pretty well from the storm,” they wrote. “But without a week’s worth of pay, that’s not going to happen.”

The employee said the problem lies with UF’s human resources classification system.

“If my boss had the option to pay for me for the time missed, I’m sure she would do so,” they wrote. “But the job classification system prevents her from making that decision.”

An OPS employee at UF Health, who also preferred to remain anonymous, was among those who received an email from Human Resources informing them OPS employees in their lab would not receive compensation for the time lost.

This employee wrote they were paid when the university closed last year for Hurricane Matthew, but they think it was a “gray move” on the part of their supervisor.

UF spokesperson Janine Sikes did not confirm via email if UF compensated non-exempt OPS employees for the emergency closures. Sikes also did not comment on why UF is choosing not to compensate OPS employees.

“If my boss had the option to pay for me for the time missed, I’m sure she would do so,” they wrote. “But the job classification system prevents her from making that decision.”

Meanwhile, Santa Fe College is compensating its equivalent of OPS for the hours they were scheduled to work during the emergency closure.

Lela Frye, the director of Human Resources at Santa Fe, said that all part-time, temporary and students positions at the college will be compensated for the hours they were scheduled to work.

“We were going to make sure all of our employees received the compensation they were expecting, because it’s a disaster and it’s out of their control,” she said.

Frye said the college was originally unsure if it would be able to pay students who receive Federal Work Study but that it was looking for a way to cover those students themselves if the federal government would not—even though Santa Fe has a small budget.

“We don’t have nearly as many resources as the University of Florida,” Frye said.

Frye attributes this completely to the actions of Santa Fe’s president, Jackson Sasser, and his concern for the students and the staff.

“For them to go without pay, during that time of the disaster, was something he absolutely would not have done,” she said. “It’s not really generosity, because these are people’s livelihoods. It’s not like we’re being charitable.”