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Weather Closing Guidelines

Endorsed by Executive Council, 17 June 2009; revised 5 November 2013; revised 30 April 2014, revised January 6 2016; revised 7 December 2016

The University of Waterloo (UW) (and the Affiliated and Federated Institutions of Waterloo [AFIW]) will "close" because of severe weather when normal operation would pose a significant danger to students and employees, or would prevent large numbers of them from coming to campus or returning safely to their homes. Such a decision will be made by the Provost in consultation with: the Director of Police Services, the Associate Vice-President, Communications, and the Director of Custodial & Grounds Services. Information will also be monitored from the municipal and provincial police, Grand River Transit, Environment Canada, and other relevant agencies and institutions, including Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Guelph.

A decision to close a satellite campus (Stratford, Kitchener, Cambridge) is to be taken by the UW administrator responsible for that campus, taking into account local conditions in that area, the principles articulated in this document and the need to notify those affected by the "closure." Information on weather-related issues for the satellite campuses is available on the University of Waterloo's Weather Statement page (https://uwaterloo.ca/news/weather-statement).]

Notice of a campus closing or remaining open in severe weather will be posted on UW's homepage, normally by 6:00 a.m., remaining in effect until 6:00 a.m. the next day.

"Closed" means: classes are not held; meetings and other scheduled events are cancelled; scheduled examinations are cancelled, to be rescheduled; deadlines for assignments and other submissions are postponed until the same hour on the next business day on which UW is not "closed"; staff, other than those providing "essential services," are not expected to be at work, but are paid for a normal day.

"Essential services" are defined to be: food service in the residences; policing; the central plant; residence life staff; snow removal; emergency repair and maintenance; animal care. Staff providing "essential services" will be so designated by their Department Heads, who are responsible for assigning duties to be carried out and making reasonable arrangements for the protection of such staff. Department Heads are expected to show flexibility and, so far as possible, sensitivity to individuals' needs when assigning "essential" duties. No department can designate any other services as "essential" or require employees to work during a "closed" period without approval from the Provost.

Procedures and clarifying notes (in more detail)

A decision to "close” will be conveyed by the Provost to the Associate Vice-President, Communications, who will arrange to amend UW's automated telephone greeting and communicate to the university community. The Provost, with assistance from University Relations, or others as required, will notify Executive Council, the Faculty and Staff Association Presidents and the student Presidents (Federation of Students, Graduate Student Association) who, in turn, will notify others under their jurisdiction.

In severe weather, all members of the university community are to consult UW's homepage and the @uwaterloo Twitter channel, check the WatSAFE app, tune in to a local radio station, check local media websites or call UW's Infoline (1-866-470-0910) to learn whether UW is closed. The University maintains a dedicated weather statement page with weather notices for Kitchener-Waterloo from Environment Canada (https://uwaterloo.ca/news/weather-statement) that will be updated to reflect the latest guidance for campus.

Classes will not be held during "closed" periods;faculty members and academic departments do not have the authority to make exceptions. An instructor may elect to reschedule a missed class. The instructor should consult with the class, where practical, and with their local room scheduler to find available dates, rooms and times. But ultimately, an instructor has the authority to reschedule the missed class on the next day on which classes are not scheduled (normally Saturday) at the same time as the missed class. When the "closure" occurs in the last week of classes, the make-up class can be scheduled on the first day in the period between the last day of classes and the start of examinations. Instructors should notify students as soon as possible regarding rescheduled classes.

Employer information sessions, CCA Workshops and other events,  and coop interviews are considered scheduled events and as such will be cancelled.  CECA will make every attempt to reschedule all interviews.  Students are advised to check the WaterlooWorks home page for further details. 

Staff members providing "essential services" during a "closed" period are entitled to equivalent time off at a later date, but not to overtime pay. A staff member on vacation, sick leave or unpaid leave, or who is not scheduled to work on a day when UW is "closed" is not entitled to equivalent time off later. Staff members who come to work and find out on arrival that UW is "closed" may leave if they wish.

When a decision to "close" is made by the Provost, such a decision will specify whether the closing is "immediate" or at a stated hour and will be conveyed to departmental offices, as well as being posted to UW's homepage. Local broadcast, web and social media can be expected to carry the announcement. Unless otherwise specified, the closing continues from that hour until 6:00 a.m. the next day. At the hour designated for closing, employees (except those providing "essential services") are entitled to leave, without loss of pay. As seems reasonable, a Department Head may give permission, for employees to leave sooner. A class or examination that starts before the specified closing hour can continue no later than the specified closing time.

A decision to "close" on a Saturday (when no classes are scheduled), Sunday or holiday may be made by the Director of Police Services, who will notify the Provost and Director of Custodial and Grounds Services, as well as the Associate Vice-President, Communications, who will make announcements, as appropriate. Any department (e.g., the Library) that has scheduled activities, or staff scheduled to work, overnight or on a weekend day or holiday is responsible for notifying Police Services of an emergency contact person. Such departments are also responsible for maintaining their own plan for cancelling activities, notifying staff of a "closing", or sending staff home, as appropriate, when the Director of Police Services decides to "close" the campus. The principles set out in this document regarding payment of staff will apply.

When UW stays open in severe weather

When UW does not close in severe weather, the University will strive to ensure the safety and accessibility of the campus. Entranceways to all buildings and all accessibility paths will be cleared, on a priority basis, by 8 am. Please refer to https://uwaterloo.ca/plant-operations/winter-weather-information for priority snow clearance paths. Individual circumstances vary widely and, when UW remains open in severe weather, those who judge that it may be unsafe to come to campus should discuss alternate work and study arrangements with their instructor or supervisor.

Faculty (instructors) who are not able to reach the campus to conduct their classes should inform their students as soon as possible by whatever means is appropriate (announcement on course homepage, email, etc.). In the event that severe weather results in students missing examinations or graded coursework, faculty may elect to reschedule or provide accommodations.

Teaching assistants who are not able to reach the campus for their scheduled work must notify their course instructor and endeavor, where possible, to find a suitable replacement and determine how to make up missed hours.

Staff members will inform their Department Heads/Managers as soon as possible if they will not be present at work that day.  Department Heads/Managers, at their discretion, are entitled to allow individual staff members to:

  • work at home, if possible;
  • take time off without pay;
  • have time made up either through working overtime or through a reduction in vacation time.

Cancellation of classes without closure of the university

There may be occasions when weather conditions are such that UW stays open, but it is deemed appropriate to cancel classes as well as other scheduled meetings with students (laboratories, tutorials, tests, exams, etc.). In this situation no student will be academically penalized for being unable to attend campus.  

When classes are cancelled but the university stays open, scheduled examinations are cancelled, to be rescheduled; deadlines for assignments and other submissions are postponed until the same hour on the next business day on which classes resume. An instructor may elect to reschedule a missed class. The instructor should consult with the class, where practical, and with their local room scheduler to find available dates, rooms and times. But ultimately, an instructor has the authority to reschedule the missed class on the next day on which classes are not scheduled (normally Saturday) at the same time as the missed class. When the "closure" occurs in the last week of classes, the make-up class can be scheduled on the first day in the period between the last day of classes and the start of examinations. Instructors should notify students as soon as possible regarding rescheduled classes.

CECA will assess if employer information sessions and interviews will be cancelled based on potential impact on employer travel. Please check the WaterlooWorks login page for clarification during severe weather.

A decision to remain open but cancel classes will be made by the Provost, with the same consultation and announcement procedures as described above.  A decision to cancel classes but stay open on a satellite campus (Stratford, Kitchener, Cambridge) is to be taken by the UW administrator responsible for that campus, taking into account local conditions in that area, the principles articulated in this document and the need to notify those affected by the "cancellation of classes."]

Such a decision will specify whether the class cancellation is "immediate" or at a stated hour and will be conveyed to departmental offices, as well as communicated to the university community as described above. Unless otherwise specified, the decision to cancel classes continues from that hour until 6:00 a.m. the next day.

Various interpretations

Responsible authorities mentioned in this document may name a delegate or alternate to take action. University Relations will maintain a current list of individuals to be consulted or notified about "closings," with email contact information and telephone numbers. When a decision by the Provost is required and the Provost is not available, the decision shall be made by the President or Acting President.

By arrangement between UW and the AFIW, a UW "closing" or remaining open but cancelling classes also applies at these institutions. AFIW Heads will designate those staff responsible for providing "essential services" at those institutions.

Some departments may provide services to parties other than students and employees, who would also be impacted in the event of a Waterloo closure. Department Heads are responsible for applying the principles set out in this document in an equitable way, bearing in mind the immense variations between departments with respect to services provided, as well as the needs of an individual. When applicable, Department Heads should draft guidelines specific to their departments and stakeholders, consistent with these principles, and ensure the guidelines are available to the appropriate parties for reference. Difficulties should be reported to Human Resources, so that a record of decisions made is maintained in one place.

Other possible situations

All other campus closures, including when only part of the campus is closed, are governed by Policy 60, Emergency Response.

Additional information for faculty, staff and students

Faculty members who are covered by the terms of the Memorandum of Agreement between the Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo  and the University of Waterloo and who believe they have been treated unfairly or contrary to the spirit of these guidelines may have grounds for initiating a grievance.  Members should read Section 9 of the Agreement. If faculty members have any questions, they should contact FAUW representatives for advice at fauw@uwaterloo.ca .

Students who believe they have been treated unfairly or contrary to the spirit of these guidelines may have grounds for initiating a grievance.  Students should read Policy #70, Student Petitions and Grievances, Section 4. The departmental/school administrative assistant may provide further assistance regarding procedures related to filing a grievance. A decision on the grievance may be appealed, if students believe they have grounds for an appeal. Students should refer to Policy #72, Student Appeals.

Staff who believe they have been treated unfairly or contrary to the spirit of these guidelines may have grounds for initiating a grievance.  Staff should read Policy #36, Dispute Resolution for University Support Staff. The Department of Human Resources may provide further assistance regarding procedures related to filing a grievance. CUPE staff should follow the grievance procedures described in their collective agreement.