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Return to Campus Policy

Updated Aug. 29, 2022


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

Separate requirements have been issued for students pertaining to their classes and academic coursework.

The University expects all staff and faculty to familiarize themselves with, and abide by, the terms of this policy while on campus, whether they visit campus regularly or intermittently, in alignment with their school or unit’s Return to Campus plan.

Policy Implementation

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

Reporting to Campus

  • Staff and faculty returning physically to campus should align with their school or unit’s Return to Campus plan and any superseding campus-wide guidance regarding the presence of faculty and staff on campus during specific periods such as during student move-in at the start of the academic year.
  • Leadership is expected to monitor their faculty and staff who return to campus and ensure compliance with the school or unit’s Return to Campus Plan.
  • As a condition of returning to campus, all staff, faculty and students returning to campus must be familiar with and adhere to the University's health and safety guidelines.
  • 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 Safety Rules

Public health guidance and campus measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 are dynamic and evolve in concert with changes in the pandemic’s trajectory. As a condition of returning to campus, faculty and staff must be aware of and follow the University’s current health guidance.

Reference the University’s COVID-19 website for the latest guidelines, which may address the following topics, among others:

Additionally, faculty and staff should practice the following community behaviors while on campus:

  • All staff and faculty should obtain a COVID-19 test prior to visiting campus or University facilities whenever they are sick or have symptoms of respiratory illness.
  • 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 Vaccine Requirement

COVID-19 vaccination is required for all faculty and staff. Subject to limited exceptions, faculty and staff who work on campus are expected to be fully vaccinated and attest to their vaccination status.

Any faculty or staff member who seeks an exception to the University’s vaccination requirement due to a personal health condition, a sincerely held religious belief or a lack of access to an FDA/WHO-authorized vaccine must submit a formal request.


Any staff member who is unvaccinated without an approved exception will be escalated internally within their school or unit leadership and Human Resources for appropriate action. If a staff member remains non-compliant with this requirement, they will be transitioned to an unpaid leave of absence and, ultimately, terminated in alignment with the Staff Handbook.

For all faculty, continued non-compliance may lead to disciplinary actions, up to and including temporary suspension and termination of employment. The sanctioning process will follow the steps outlined in the Faculty Handbook.

Faculty and staff who are not vaccinated do not qualify automatically for remote work under the policy on Alternative Work Strategies.

COVID-19 Specific Health Reporting Requirements

  • In the event of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, staff and faculty are required to cooperate fully with the University’s self-isolation and notification protocols, in alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
    • If staff or faculty test positive outside of a Northwestern testing site, they are required to report a positive result using the University’s online reporting portal.
    • Staff should then contact their manager and the Office of Human Resources to request leave. Faculty should contact their dean or department chair.
    • Additional information about reporting can be found on the Health Monitoring page.
  • Staff and faculty health information reported pursuant to this policy will be shared only with those who need to know to assist with COVID-19 Case Management requirements.

Personal Illness

  • Staff and faculty should obtain a COVID-19 test prior to returning to campus if 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 should obtain a COVID-19 test and self-isolate while awaiting the result. Staff should contact their manager and the Office of Human Resources. 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.
  • Beginning September 1, 2020, if an employee is asked to quarantine or isolate and the employee is unable to work from home, the employee will be paid for the quarantine or isolation time without having to use vacation or sick time.  In order to be eligible for this paid time, (1) the employee’s exposure must have been in the workplace, and (2) the employee must have followed all of the University’s COVID-19-related polices and processes.

School and Unit Return to Campus Plans and Alternative Work Strategies

  • Individual schools and units have created Return to Campus plans based on department/unit operational needs.
  • Staff and faculty should align with their school or unit’s Return to Campus plan, in terms of their on-campus presence, unless those plans are superseded by campus-wide guidelines during defined periods of the academic year, such as student move-in.
  • The University has created the Alternative Work Strategies Policy, which establishes a common, ongoing framework and definitions, within which school and unit leadership can implement various Alternative Work Strategies—including but not limited to remote work—in accordance with their operational needs.
  • 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. 

Staff and faculty knowingly violating any of the requirements of this policy may be removed from campus and required to work remotely and be subject to discipline as may be appropriate. In such cases, building access by their Wildcard may be restricted or suspended.


The following offices can address questions regarding this policy:

Luke Figora
Vice President for Operations
Phone: (847) 491-7696

Environmental Health and Safety, (847) 491-4936