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Catawba to furlough some part-time employees during summer

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Catawba College will furlough some staff for the summer so they can collect more money from unemployment supplemented by the recently passed CARES Act than if they continued to work at the college.

The college declined to provide the exact number of affected employees because it is still notifying staff. Dean of Students Jared Tice said the furloughs are in the best interest of the staff and the college.

“This action is wholly driven by the economic impact of COVID-19, and Catawba College is implementing measures to help ensure its financial stability for the 2020/2021 budget year,” a memo from Catawba’s human resources department states. ” The current pandemic situation has impacted Catawba’s business significantly, and as a result we are implementing a temporary furlough of certain positions.”

Furloughed employees will keep their benefits. Employees are not to perform “any work whatsoever” for the college while they are furloughed, according to the memo.

“If you provide direct student services over the summer, we don’t have students on campus, they’re not here,” Tice said. “It’s hard to justify the 40-hour work week or even a 20-hour work week in some cases.”

Tice said no employee’s contract will be terminated if it was not already due to expire. And he said the furlough decision was only on the table for the college’s board of trustees after the CARES Act, a sweeping $2.2 trillion stimulus package, gave the college a way to save on employment expenses for at least a couple of months while making staff whole.

The package includes a number of unemployment insurance relief measures including 100% federal reimbursement of certain states, temporary full federal funding for the first week of unemployment and unemployment relief for a number of entities, including state and local government, some nonprofits and Indian tribes.

The package also includes $14 billion for distribution to higher education institutions, half of which must be used to provide students with emergency financial aid due cover expenses due to the pandemic. The college maintains an emergency support fund to help students who are currently enrolled and in good academic standing cover emergency expenses.

“As of now, no furlough goes beyond July 31,” Tice said. “Some are shorter than that, for a variety of reasons, and our plan and commitment is that all employees are returned to on-campus work and full employment at the college on Aug. 1 if not sooner.”

Tice added that, if things began to reopen sooner, the college will bring staff back sooner.

The college has not been able to host spring and summer events, including its own donor luncheon, which make up a significant part of the revenue it takes in this time of year by charging for the use of its facilities while there are fewer people on campus.

A number of local events were voluntarily cancelled en masse in mid-March in response to the pandemic and state-mandated gathering limits forced other events to close.

Catawba is not the only institution suffering setbacks due to the pandemic. Livingstone College and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College have had to cancel their donor luncheons, suspend other programing and delay graduation ceremonies as well.

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