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Support from the UCPath Center: Help is one colleague away

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Business is far from usual for almost all of us at UC. Whether you’re used to working in a classroom, lab, office building, farm or other setting, chances are that the coronavirus outbreak has created some unexpected situations that you’re still getting used to — on the job and at home.

Such is the case for UCPath Center staff. Through an online portal and fully staffed location in Riverside, the UCPath Center provides payroll, academic personnel, timekeeping and some human resources services for nearly all UC employees (with the exception of UC San Francisco and UC San Diego), as well as retirees.

On March 19, when California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a statewide shelter-in-place mandate, employees at the UCPath Center were among millions of workers statewide determining how to ensure business continuity and keep their teams functionally intact, while also practicing required social isolation guidelines.

Redefining business as usual

Marcos Padilla is a senior employee service associate (ESA) who was involved in creating the UCPath Center’s business continuity plans for emergency situations, like this one. When the shelter-in-place mandate took effect, he helped ensure that colleagues in his department could work remotely from home. And, he’s played a key role in ensuring that the UCPath Center’s employee support has continued without interruption.

“The essence of what we do is still there — we’re still answering questions, helping out employees, filtering out what needs to be processed now — the execution is just a little different,” he says.

ESAs who did not have the necessary equipment to work from home have transitioned to answering employee inquiries through UCPath’s live, online chat feature. Senior ESAs, like Marcos, who are equipped to work from home, are additionally taking phone calls for the Quality Care Unit department, handling urgent pay- or benefit-related requests to ensure that services are still met. 

In addition to serving employees through the UCPath Center’s chat functionality, Christian Nichols leads the three-person UCPath team who handles verification of employment (VOE) requests. Many of these requests are submitted via regular mail or fax, so twice a week, she returns to UCPath Center headquarters to check for and respond to them, ensuring that all are handled within 72 hours — even sooner when at all possible. Other essential on-site teams include garnishment and records and fulfillment.

Providing peace of mind in a challenging time

Payroll Supervisor Sara Kaplan leads the five-person on-site payroll processing team, which processes payroll for all UC employees. “Employees are, more than ever, nervous about making sure they’re getting paid on time and properly,” she says. “We’re here to make sure it goes smoothly.”

Since the pandemic has brought so many changes to employees’ lives, VOE inquiries to Christian’s team have risen. Many employees are trying to refinance homes, close home loans or get apartments. It’s a process she understands well, as she is among them. “I just closed a few days ago, so I truly understand the struggle,” Christian says. She sees her role and that of her colleagues as providing UC employees with reassurance along with information and assistance. “This is a stressful time for everyone. We want to make sure that they know we’re here to assist in any way possible.”

“Some of these things sound simple, but they are a big deal to the employees at a time when they are really stressed out,” Christian says. “I’m grateful that I’m able to help out and make things a little bit better for them.”                                  

Connecting a remote team

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges UCPath Center employees have experienced is translating their close in-person work style to a remote space. “We’ve had to really tighten up our communication style,” Sara says. “We’re so used to working in the office and seeing each other, or to quickly jump on a call with colleagues at a location, since they’re also in the office.”

But, she says, “Our leadership team knew this would happen, based on what was happening in other countries. We made sure that we had critical communication pillars in place before the UCPath Center went fully remote, and that has really made all the difference.” 

Marcos is quick to point out that while employees don’t see each other face-to-face every day, their sense of collaboration is intact. “We use Slack and Zoom to communicate with each other. We’re still doing Zoom sessions and coffee talks.” 

Sara has made a concerted effort to pass along positive feedback from senior leadership to her team. “I let them know that their hard work and the balance they’re trying to find with working from home while taking care of their families is being seen, and that it’s very much appreciated,” she says.

“I am very proud of how the UCPath Center team has continued to perform on behalf of their UC colleagues in this difficult situation,” says Dan Russi, executive director of the UCPath Center. “They continue to deliver payroll uninterrupted and provide essential payroll-related services to the UC campuses, UC Health system and other locations. I am proud to be a member of the team.”

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