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Return to Campus Policy


This policy applies to all staff and faculty who return to work physically on our campuses or are planning to do so. This policy also applies to graduate and undergraduate students upon their return to campus to work or research in laboratories.

Separate policy guidance will be issued for students as they return to campus for academic coursework. 

The University expects staff who currently work remotely to familiarize themselves with, and abide by, the terms of this policy during any subsequent visit or an eventual return to campus.

Policy Implementation

The following conditions shall apply to all staff, faculty, and students instructed to return to campus during the Phased Return to Campus and until otherwise deemed not applicable by the Provost and the Senior Vice President for Business and Finance.

Reporting to Campus

  • Staff and faculty may return physically to campus only if:
    • They meet the criteria outlined in the applicable period of the University’s phased return to campus plan; and
    • They are specifically instructed to return to campus, on a continuous or intermittent basis, by their school or unit leadership.
  • School and unit leadership are expected to monitor their faculty and staff who return to campus and ensure compliance with the Phased Return to Campus Plan.
  • As a condition of returning to campus, all staff, faculty, and students instructed to return to campus must complete the mandatory COVID-19 online training (available through myHR Learn).
  • Staff and faculty may be required to return to remote work at any time and are required to cooperate if directed to do so. In any such situations, unit and school leadership will take appropriate measures to ensure on-going participation of such staff and faculty in their core professional and teaching activities, respectively.

General Health and Hygiene Rules

  • All staff and faculty shall refrain from visiting campus or University facilities whenever they are sick or have symptoms of respiratory illness (see below).
  • When on campus and in the presence of others, staff and faculty must wear a face mask or face covering if social distancing (see below) cannot be achieved. All faculty and staff must wear masks when in elevators, common rooms, hallways, or other shared spaces.
  • Staff and faculty must follow these health guidelines as part of the phased return to campus:
    • Monitor temperature and health regularly at home. If experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 or other respiratory illness, do not report to work in person until such symptoms are no longer present and as directed by CDC guidance.
    • Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, particularly after coming into contact with high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, handrails, and commonly used equipment.
    • Cough/sneeze into sleeves, preferably into the elbow. When using a tissue, discard it properly and clean/sanitize hands immediately.
    • Avoid touching your face — particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth — with your hands to prevent infection.
    • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in personal workspaces.
    • Keep desk work surfaces clean of paper and other materials every night, to allow for proper cleaning.

COVID-19 Specific Health Reporting Requirements

  • All staff and faculty are required to report the following using the University’s online reporting portal:
    • Any positive tests for COVID-19
    • Voluntary self-isolation due to a suspected exposure to COVID-19, or the presence of symptoms of respiratory illness
  • Until and unless Northwestern develops its own testing capabilities onsite for faculty and staff, individuals will need to coordinate their own testing through their own health providers or through public health testing facilities
  • If diagnosed with COVID-19, a faculty or staff member must provide notification immediately by filing an online report or by contacting the University’s Director of Environmental Health and Safety. Staff should then contact their manager and the Office of Human Resources to request leave. Faculty should contact their dean or department chair.
  • In the event of a positive or suspected COVID-19 diagnosis, staff and faculty are required to cooperate fully with the University’s self-isolation, contact tracing, and notification protocols, in alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
  • Staff and faculty health information reported pursuant to this policy will be shared only with those who need to know to assist with contact tracing requirements.

Social Distancing Rules

  • Staff and faculty must maintain at least six feet of social distance from others wherever possible.
  • All managers and supervisors must develop a plan for facilitating and implementing the social distancing of staff and faculty, utilizing resources and guidance provided by the University.
  • Managers, supervisors, staff, and faculty are required to follow any capacity and space restrictions outlined by the Return to Campus Workgroup or Subgroups.
  • Staff and faculty are required to follow any signage or instruction regarding the use of common spaces, hallways, or pathways through campus.
  • Staff and faculty are expected to report locations or examples of social distancing congestion to assist with identifying potential problem areas.

Personal Illness

  • Staff and faculty may not report or return to campus while they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 (or other respiratory illnesses), such as cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, muscle pain or body aches, headache, or chills. The CDC maintains a current list of symptoms associated with COVID-19:
  • Staff or faculty who experience an onset of symptoms while at work must leave campus immediately. Staff should contact their manager and the Office of Human Resources to request leave. Faculty should contact their dean or department chair.
  • Employees who are unable to work due to personal illness should use available sick time. If an employee’s available sick time has already been exhausted, they should contact a Benefits Counselor at to discuss available leave options.

Remote Work

  • As noted above, this policy is subject to frequent change, with the introduction of additional governmental guidelines. Specifically, the processes and procedures set forth in this Remote Work section will be in effect through Fall Quarter 2020, at which time they will be re-evaluated and may be amended.
  • Managers should err on the side of flexibility with requests by staff and faculty to work remotely. When working remotely, employees are expected to work their regular number of work hours and complete their expected job tasks.
  • Managers must allow for the continuation of remote work when an employee (1) can perform the essential functions of the position remotely; and (2) satisfies one or more of the following conditions:
    • The employee is at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 (“High Risk”) because:
      • They are 65 years of age or older; or
      • They have a serious underlying medical condition (e.g., chronic lung disease, a serious heart condition, an immunocompromising condition, severe obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, liver disease). Employees seeking to work remotely due to a serious underlying medical condition must submit their request to the Office of Equity at (847) 467-6165 or Employees are not required or expected to disclose their personal medical conditions to their managers.
    • The employee has lost childcare coverage as a result of COVID-19 (e.g., due to a school or daycare closure or other temporary loss of childcare). Employees are expected to investigate reasonable alternative childcare options when they lose such coverage.
    • The employee co-habits with or serves as a primary caregiver for a high-risk individual.
  • Staff and faculty who do not meet the criteria above may still be permitted to work remotely, subject to the individual discretion of their manager (staff) or chair or dean’s office (faculty). In making such decisions, managers or chairs should partner and consult with the Office of Human Resources or the Office of the Provost. Again, flexibility is strongly encouraged in the current environment.
  • Staff who do not meet the criteria above and have not otherwise been permitted to work remotely, but who still wish not to return to campus, may elect to use accrued personal floating holidays or vacation to cover their time off. Such requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and may or may not be approved. In making such decisions, managers should partner and consult with the Office of Human Resources. Faculty who do not wish to return to campus must consult with their dean or department chair to discuss leave.
  • Individuals who are high risk because of a serious underlying medical condition, but are unable to work remotely due to the nature of their position, are encouraged to explore their accommodation options by contacting the Office of Equity. The University’s Policy on Non-Retaliation applies to requests for accommodation.
  • Commuting to campus is the responsibility of employees. Employees not wishing to utilize public transit may evaluate other mechanisms to travel to campus, such as driving and parking, or utilizing ride-share services.


For the latest information on community expectations around travel, please see Expectations for Travel.

Meetings, Events and Visitors


The following individuals can address questions regarding this policy:

Luke Figora
Senior Associate Vice President, Chief Risk and Compliance Officer
Phone: (847) 491-7696

Gwen Butler
Director, Environmental Health and Safety
Phone: (847) 491-4936


Policy Origination Date: June 1, 2020