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Work-related Topics

Updated 5/11/2020

Northwestern employees can find answers to common work-related coronavirus/COVID-19 questions. Additional information can be found on the Human Resources Coronavirus FAQs page, which includes well-being resources.

Exposure to COVID-19

1. If I am diagnosed with COVID-19, who should I notify and what are my leave benefits?

In such an event, you should notify your school or unit’s top operational lead (such as an Associate Dean, Associate Vice President, Assistant VP or VP) and the University’s Director of Environmental Health and Safety, Gwen Butler (gwen.butler@northwestern.edu). When you provide notice that you have been confirmed positive, please also provide a list of any members of the Northwestern community that you recall being in direct contact with and close proximity to during the last 14 days.

The unit leader should ask the employee the following:

  • Are you now off campus self-isolating?
  • Did you complete a University self-isolation report, prior to receiving a COVID-19 diagnosis?
  • If no, when did you begin self-isolating?
  • What is your work location, including: campus, building, location (office number, and floor)?
  • Have you been in direct contact with the President, Provost, or Senior Vice President?

Then, the unit leader will direct you to the University’s Coronavirus/COVID-19 website and  use the same link to Report Self-Isolation, and check the box indicating you have a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Upon notice of a confirmed diagnosis, Environmental Health and Safety will:

  1. Forward a notice to all potentially impacted individuals
  2. Track any self-isolation
  3. Work with the operational lead to map the impacted area/and spaces for cleaning
  4. Work with Facilities and outside contractors to clean the impacted areas

An email will be sent to anyone working in your workspace, as well as those individuals you identified, notifying them that they are required to self-isolate for 14 days. Those individuals should log their self-isolation as noted in our Self-Isolation Policy. Your personal information will be confidential unless you give permission otherwise

Incidental Sick Time can be used for the first five (5) days of absence due to illness, after which, Extended Sick Time may be an available option. You should contact the Hartford (the University’s leave administrator) or benefits@northwestern.edu or 847-491-7513 for additional leave coordination.

2. What should I do if I believe I may have been exposed to COVID-19?

If you have a legitimate reason to believe you have been exposed to COVID-19 either directly (i.e., you have had close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19) or secondarily (e.g., your co-habiting partner had direct contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19), you should immediately contact your health care provider for further instructions. You are further required to self-isolate for 14 days and be free from symptoms of COVID-19 to be permitted on campus.  You should log your self-isolation as noted in our Self-Isolation Policy.

If you have the ability to complete your job functions remotely, you should coordinate remote work with your manager.

If you believe you have had a tertiary exposure to COVID-19 (e.g., your co-habiting spouse had direct contact with someone who, in turn, had direct contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19), and you are not exhibiting symptoms of the illness, you are not required to self-isolate.

3. What should I do if I am experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath)?

You are encouraged to seek immediate medical attention from your healthcare provider. As in all cases when you are experiencing symptoms of a contagious illness, you should not report to work.  In such circumstances, provided you are able to perform your duties, you should coordinate a remote work arrangement with your manager.  If you are unable to work due to illness, you should use Incidental Sick Time or Extended Sick Time as appropriate, until you have recovered. 

Upon returning to work following an absence due to a personal illness, you may be required to provide a return-to-work clearance from your healthcare provider to the Human Resources Benefits team. You may contact benefits@northwestern.edu or 847-491-7513 if you have any questions regarding the return to work process.

4. I was diagnosed with COVID-19 (or my health care provider advised me that I likely had COVID-19, even though I was never tested) and was instructed to self-isolate. When am I permitted to return to campus?

If you are not an essential employee, you may not come onto campus at this time. If you are an essential employee and believe you are ready to return to work, you should contact the Benefits Team at benefits@northwestern.edu or 847-491-7513 and the University’s Director of Environmental Health and Safety, Gwen Butler (gwen.butler@northwestern.edu) to discuss the process for your return. (Added 4/3/2020)

5. What should I do if I believe I was exposed to COVID-19 while working on campus?

 You should immediately contact your health care provider for further instructions. You are further required to self-isolate for 14 days and are not permitted on campus. You should log your self-isolation as noted in our Self-Isolation Policy.

If you have the ability to complete your job functions remotely, you should coordinate remote work with your manager. You should also contact the University's Environmental Health and Safety department or 847-491-4936 to explain why you believe you may have been exposed while working on campus. Environmental Health and Safety will provide further guidance.

Travel Questions

1. What is the status of University-related travel?

Beginning March 15, 2020 and effective until further notice, Northwestern has prohibited all University-related travel without exception. This includes both domestic and international travel, as well as restricting all visitors coming to campus. Per Northwestern’s announcement on April 23, all University-sponsored international travel is restricted until at least July 12, 2020. This means travel that is funded by the University or in support of University work, research or education. No travel occurring on or prior to this date should be organized, planned or booked at this time. (Updated 4/23/20)

Working Remotely

1. Per CDC guidance, I am considered at “higher risk of getting very sick” from COVID-19.  Am I required to come to work on campus?

If you are not an essential employee, you may not come onto campus at this time. To date, the CDC has identified 2 categories of individuals who have a “higher risk of getting very sick” if they contract COVID-19: (1) Older adults (i.e., 65 years of age or older) and (2) people who have serious chronic medical conditions (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease). If you are an older adult, essential employee and wish to work remotely, you should discuss the possibility of a flexible work arrangement with your manager. If you are an essential employee, have a serious chronic medical condition, and as a result, wish to work remotely, you should submit your request to the Office of Equity at 847-467-6165 or equity@northwestern.edu

Separately and as always, if you are in need of an accommodation related to any disability, you should contact the Office of Equity to discuss your options. 

(Updated 3/30/2020)

2. What do I do if I cannot come onto campus (either because I am not considered an essential employee or I am stuck abroad), but my role is not suitable for remote work?

Aside from the health and safety of our students, and faculty, one of the University's priorities during this crisis is to minimize the possibility of income disruption to our workforce, especially those most vulnerable.

To that end, if you are not considered an essential employee or are stuck abroad and your job is not suitable for remote work, you should explore the remote learning solution recently introduced by the Office of Human Resources: Learn From Where You Are. For non-essential hourly employees, subject to manager approval, time spent on this learning can replace or supplement remote work activity and will be treated as regular work time.  If, for whatever reason, you are unable to perform your duties or access the Learn From Where You Are curriculum remotely, you may use your accrued, unused vacation and personal floating holidays to continue receiving pay while you are unable to work. Finally, due to the unique nature of the COVID-19 threat, Northwestern is allowing you to use your available Sick Time to prevent income interruption.

(Updated 3/20/2020)

3. My manager has approved me for a remote work arrangement, but my computer and accessories are in the office? What can I do?

If you are an essential employee, you are expected to come to your office or workspace to pick up your Northwestern laptop and accessories so you can start working from home immediately thereafter.  If you are not an essential employee, you should discuss options for acquiring necessary work materials with your manager. (Updated 3/20/2020)

4. While the University is requiring “essential staff only” to be onsite, what are the implications for building access? Do I need to do something to ensure I still have access when needed?

All buildings on both the Evanston and Chicago campuses will be secured, either with mechanical locks or the card access system. Wildcards and mechanical keys will continue to function during this time, and there are no changes to interior locking schedules.

 For the following science buildings with multiple primary entrances, please use the following door locations:  

  • Technological Institute, E-Wing ground floor
  • Cook Hall, South entrance into the main building lobby
  • Please refer to the attached campus map for Tech and Cook reader locations. 

No changes are being made to Wildcard access and Wildcards programmed for access to identified buildings will remain active until further notice. Please do not provide access to anyone following you into a building.  All must use their own Wildcard for access.

Students requiring access to buildings other than residence halls and student support buildings must obtain permission from their dean’s office.

This protocol will remain in place through at least May 31, 2020.

(Updated 4/28/2020)

5. What if I am working remotely and my equipment malfunctions, how do I get IT support?

You should contact local IT support within your department. In the absence of dedicated IT support in your department, contact the IT Helpdesk.

6. What services are available for conducting online meetings? What should I do if I experience issues with them?

Please leverage technology solutions like phone calls, Zoom, WebEx, Teams, and BlueJeans.

Users who are experiencing issues are encouraged to try the options below or connect through each service provider's app.

Please visit the Status of University IT Services for updates on any issues.

7. What resources does the University provide for working remotely?

The Northwestern University Information Technology website provides information on how to stay connected to the Northwestern network and University resources when working remotely. Focal areas include: 

  • Getting connected (VPN, available software, etc.)
  • Collaboration tools and resources
  • How to get support

(Updated 4/14/2020)

8. How is the University protecting hourly workers?

Food service workers and other hourly employees are essential to Northwestern and are the backbone of our campuses. We understand that the impacts of COVID-19 could be felt disproportionately by these critical team members, and many are experiencing stress and anxiety as we all navigate uncertain times.

We have partnered with Compass Group to leverage the federal relief package so that all hourly food service workers will continue to receive benefits and compensation equal to their current full-time status for the entire Spring Quarter.

All hourly workers have access to their entire year's allocation of sick pay and vacation pay. They also have the ability to use sick days, vacation days or unpaid days as they choose.

Although we do not have all the answers yet on how these workers will be impacted by operational challenges presented by COVID-19, we are working to develop solutions that prioritize their health, their well-being and their financial stability.

We will provide further updates as soon as they are available.

Student Workers

1. What happens to departments relying on student support for normal operations? Can funding be deployed in other ways, such as hiring temps?

If student workers are no longer available to work, you may consider hiring temporary workers, subject to budget capability and approval from the Position Approval Committee (PAC).

Contact Talent Acquisition if you have need and approval to hire a temporary worker.

2. Can student workers work on campus while most regular staff are working remotely?

Student workers who are in roles that are deemed essential are permitted to work for your department if they are available and willing, and as long as operations remain open. Supervisors, staff and student workers should be mindful of practicing social distancing while working on campus. See our resources section for information about social distancing. See our resources section for information about social distancing.

3. I am a student who planned to earn wages during Spring Quarter as a Federal Work-Study employee. Can I work remotely? If not, will I still earn wages?

To learn more about how Federal Work Study might be impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, visit the Undergraduate Financial Aid's Coronavirus FAQs(Added 3/19/2020)

Business Operations and Purchasing

1. Have any changes been implemented to Procurement and Payment Services related operations, such as mail delivery, receiving, check printing, etc.?

Yes. In support of our staff members and following the University's guidance on limiting non-essential staff on campus, we are implementing several changes beginning Monday, March 23. Details are included on the Procurement related operational changes page on the Procurement website. We hope that these changes will allow you to adjust your own staff required to be onsite, and we ask for your patience during this transition. (Added 3/19/2020)

2. Should departments and schools place orders for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and supplies from vendors that are reaching out to them?

Procurement and Payment Services is warning Northwestern departments and schools to proceed with extreme caution when approached by a vendor claiming to have access to much needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and supplies. Many of these offers are either from fraudulent vendors looking to take advantage of the scarcity of COVID-19 related supplies, or the product being offered does not meet current regulatory compliance standards. The items most often being marketed are respirators and masks.

Our recommendation is to first continue working with Northwestern Preferred Vendors (especially those with catalogs in iBuyNU that show real time inventory levels). They are receiving new shipments of many products every day. (Added 4/1/20)

3. Are there any special requirements for respiratory protection equipment?

All respiratory protection (N95's, etc.) must be NIOSH approved. For guidance on the selection of PPE, contact the Office of Research Safety and the Office of Risk Management. Below is a link to a list of all approved respiratory protection published by the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/disp_part/N95list1.html  (Added 4/1/20)

4. Once we know the vendor is legitimate, how should we proceed?

If it is determined that the vendor and the item being marketed are legitimate, submit a request to Vendor File Management to have them added to the vendor table in NUFinancials so a formal Purchase Order can be issued. We recommend that you NOT use your Corporate Card to make purchases from these vendors.

If you need any other assistance, contact Procurement and Payment Services at procurement@northwesern.edu (Added 4/1/20)

Staff Furloughs and Financial Response

For more information about the furloughs, visit the Staff Furlough FAQs on the Human Resources website. Log-in with a Northwestern NetID is required.

1. Why is Northwestern conducting furloughs?

We did not come to this decision lightly. Northwestern anticipates a shortfall of roughly $90 million for the 2020 fiscal year due to the pandemic and potentially a significant shortfall next fiscal year as well. Previous efforts to reduce the deficit, including hiring restrictions and salary freezes, must now be paired with additional actions including a temporary increase in endowment payout, leadership pay reductions, suspension of the University’s contribution to retirement benefits, and furloughs. (Added 5/11/20)

2. How long will the furlough last?

Unless earlier recalled to work (or later extended), the current furlough is intended to begin on Monday, June 1 (with a last workday on Friday, May 29) and end during the second week of September. Note, however, that these dates may vary due to different operational needs across academic and administrative units. (Added 5/11/20)

3. What will happen to my health and life insurance while I am on furlough?

If you are currently enrolled and participating in a Northwestern health insurance plan, the University will pay 100% of the employer and employee portion of health insurance premiums for the duration of the furlough. You will continue to be responsible for any deductibles associated with your plan. We do not anticipate any disruption or pause in your ability to use your health insurance or prescription drug benefits for yourself or eligible dependents on your health plan.

Additionally, Northwestern will continue to pay for your basic life insurance premiums during your furlough period. (Added 5/11/20)

4. Is the University taking other measures?

Northwestern will suspend the University’s contributions to the 403(b) retirement plan through December 2020. This includes both the 5% automatic and 5% matching contributions. The University also has implemented hiring restrictions and salary freezes; it is making a temporary increase in the percentage it takes from its endowment; and senior leadership is taking pay reductions. (Added 5/11/20)

5. Who is taking pay reductions and how much are those reductions?

President Morton Schapiro, Interim Provost Kathleen Hagerty and Senior Vice for Business and Finance Craig Johnson will be taking at least a 20% pay cut effective immediately. Northwestern’s deans will take a 10% pay reduction. Other University leaders and members of President Schapiro’s senior staff will take similar reductions. (Added 5/11/20)

6. How much extra will be taken from the endowment?

The vast majority of our endowment, which is the fiscal foundation for our University, is restricted or illiquid. We are charged with keeping our annual draw from it at a sustainable level, so that it can provide as much support for future generations as for this one. However, given the endowment’s recent drop in value, holding to that rate would result in even greater pressure on our budget. Accordingly, we will temporarily increase the percentage of the payout, acknowledging the need to return soon to a more sustainable rate. (Added 5/11/20)

7. Why did the University make the decision to temporarily suspend the 5% automatic and 5% matching contributions to the Retirement Plan?

The decision was the direct result of the financial toll of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the University’s finances. We expect this action alone will save the University tens of millions of dollars and considerably reduce the possibility of further actions. (Added 5/11/20)

8. When will the University’s contributions to the Retirement Plan be reinstated?

It is anticipated the suspension will remain in effect through December 2020. (Added 5/11/20)