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Coronavirus FAQ

Northwestern employees can find answers to specific work-related coronavirus/COVID-19 questions. More general information can be found on the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Updates site.

Furlough-related questions can be found on the Staff Furlough FAQ page. (Please note, this page requires a NetID login)

Working Remotely

1. Now that the University has restricted campus access to essential staff only and directed everyone who can work remotely to do so, how do we track time for non-exempt employees?

Non-exempt employees and their managers should follow these guidelines for the duration of this period of remote work:

  • Duration: Typically, flexible work arrangements are not indefinite. Managers will remain in regular communication with all their direct reports to inform them when they are expected to resume regular on-campus activity. Employees who are deemed “essential” will be notified in writing, as described in the Remote Work and Travel Update for Faculty and Staff.
  • Time tracking: The employee must track all time worked. No untracked work should be performed.
  • Meal/rest periods: Whether engaged in remote work or on campus as an “essential employee,” the employee is expected to take standard meal and rest breaks.
  • Overtime: The employee may not work overtime (more than 8 hours in a day or more than 40 hours in a week) without express, written approval from the manager. 
  • Disciplinary action: Any unauthorized overtime work may result in disciplinary action.
  • Log in/Log out: Non-exempt employees working remotely are expected to log into their computers/NU network at the beginning of their work day and log out at the end of their work day. 

Note that the guidelines above assume that the employee is able to work. If the employee is unable to work due to illness, they should use Incidental Sick Time or Extended Sick Time as appropriate, until they have recovered. 

Upon returning to work following an absence due to a personal illness, they may be required to provide a return-to-work clearance from their healthcare provider to the Human Resources Benefits team. If there are any questions regarding the return to work process, employees may contact benefits@northwestern.edu or 847-491-7513.

2. Conditions at home do not allow me to work remotely; can I come to work in my office building?

Although The University remains open and its core operations will continue, as of 5 p.m. Friday, March 20, and through at least Thursday, April 30, only individuals who are essential to Northwestern's ongoing operations can remain physically on site. Accordingly, if you are an essential employee, you may work in one or more of our facilities. You are expected to coordinate and finalize arrangements with your immediate supervisor. You and your supervisor should be mindful of practicing social distancing while working on campus. See our resources section for information about social distancing.

If you are not an essential employee, you may not come onto campus at this time.  If severe home conditions do not permit you to work remotely, you may contact one or more of the following resources:

Northwestern University Police Department in Evanston at 847-491-3456 (or dial 456 from any campus phone) or 847-467-7883 (TDD), or in Chicago at 312-503-3456 (or dial 456 from any campus phone) or 312-503-3999 (TDD) or visit the Reporting Crimes webpage; the Employee Assistant Program at 855-547-1851; the National Domestic Violence Hotline at https://www.thehotline.org/help/or your HR Business Partner at HRBP@northwestern.edu.

Remote Learning & Performance for Managers and Staff

1. What resources does the University provide for learning remotely?

The Office of Human Resources has introduced a new remote learning solution: Learn From Where You Are. Learn From Where You Are is here to provide you access to on-demand and live virtual learning, and offer you ways to grow professionally, build your skills, and stay engaged and connected.

2. How will the Performance Excellence process be impacted?

All schools and units are expected to complete Performance Excellence reviews and ratings in 2020. Goals and priorities may have shifted recently and performance reviews should take these shifts into account. Supervisors and staff engaged in remote work are advised to define performance according to successful outcomes rather than “time in seat.” 

In all times, it is a manager's responsibility to provide a candid performance rating and let staff members know where they stand. Ideally, performance ratings promote honest conversations between staff and supervisors that lead to strong planning for the year ahead.

Benefits

1. Am I entitled to additional paid sick leave as a result of the recently-enacted Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)?

The paid sick leave provisions of the FFCRA do not apply to University employees. If you are ill, you should use Incidental Sick Time or Extended Sick Time as appropriate, until you have recovered. Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to a job-protected leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Placement on an Unpaid Personal Leave for a specified period of time may also be an available option. If you have any questions regarding benefits continuation options you may contact the benefits department at 847-491-7513 or benefits@northwestern.edu.

2. What happens if I am sick, but I have already exhausted my Incidental Sick Time and all other forms of paid time off?

Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to a job-protected leave of absence under the University's Extended Sick Time program, the Family and Medical Leave Act, or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Placement on an Unpaid Personal Leave for a specified period of time may also be an available option. Contact benefits@northwestern.edu or 847-491-7513 if you have any questions regarding benefits continuation options.

3. Due to the nature of my job I am unable to work from home and have been designated as an “essential employee.” Can I bring to campus my children or homebound relatives?

Employees may not bring children, elders or other family members to work with them even if they are well.

4. Since I cannot bring my children and or other homebound relatives to work, does Northwestern offer any emergency or “backup” child or elder care benefits?

Yes. Currently, the University offers a small reimbursement program for those using at home providers or other centers. That program provides eligible faculty, staff and students $25 per day for up to 6 days a year (regardless of how many children receive care) and the reimbursement applies to care for children 6 weeks-13 years old. Backup child care is available through our partner centers, when spots are available, for children 6 weeks-6 years old. Since some of these places may not be operating, effective immediately, we are increasing the reimbursement to up to $100 per day for a total of 14 days for employees who are required to come on campus to work during this period.

Benefits eligible faculty and staff, as well as students, can use their premium Care.com membership to find in home backup care providers across the U.S. Our dedicated Action for Children referral specialist, Kanella Maniatis, can help find in-home and other available child care providers with confirmed openings throughout Illinois.

For those navigating adult and senior care in the United States, the University provides subsidized backup care support and free telephonic consultations through Care.com.

5. If I see my physician for a COVID-19 test, will it be covered under my Blue Cross Blue Shield coverage?

Effective immediately, testing to diagnose COVID-19 when medically necessary and consistent with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance will be covered with no member co-payments or deductibles. This applies to the HMO plan as well as the three PPO medical plans, including the Value PPO.

6. If my doctor’s office or mental health provider has tele-medicine/virtual appointments, would this be covered under my BCBS coverage?

To give our faculty and staff flexible options to access care, which can help reduce the spread of serious infections, BCBS is expanding their telehealth coverage in Illinois.

BCBSIL will cover telehealth "virtual" visits with in-network Illinois providers for our BCBSIL PPO members. This means that covered faculty, staff and their eligible dependents whose own provider (including mental health providers) offers telehealth service will now have that service covered as a regular office visit. Note HMO members participate in Medical Groups that may already provide telehealth services.

7. I have some Benefits-related questions. Is the Benefits office open?

Our Benefits team is fully operational, but the staff is working 100% remotely. Please email benefits@northwestern.edu or call 847-491-7513.

8. I’m working remotely and do not need my Commuter Benefit. What do I need to do?

To make changes or cancel your June commuter order you must take action by May 5 in the Payflex portal. Any questions regarding logging in to or navigating the Payflex portal should be directed to Payflex at (800) 284-4885.

May passes can only be refunded if the CTA, METRA, or South Shore transit agencies will accept a return.  Contact Payflex for more information on how to request a return with the appropriate transit agency. 

Updated May 1, 2020

Retirement Plan

1. 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 May 11, 2020

2. Can I continue to make contributions of up to 5% of my salary to the Retirement Plan?

Unless you are on furlough, you may still contribute up to 5% of your salary to the Retirement Plan, and unless you opt to make a change to your current election, your Retirement Plan contribution election will remain the same.

Added May 11, 2020

3. 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 May 11, 2020

4. Should I verify or update my contribution elections?

No action is required following the temporary suspension of the University’s contributions; however, we recognize the University’s retirement plans are an important part of your retirement readiness and thus encourage you to review your current elections and investment goals.

Contribution amount changes can be made at any time through NetBenefits, administered by Fidelity. All contribution amount changes, even if you contribute to TIAA, are made using this system. There are two ways to access NetBenefits:

  • Call NetBenefits at 800-343-0860 to speak with a representative;
  • Verify or update your contribution amount yourself via myHR. See this user’s guide on how to navigate the system.
  • Find additional information on the University’s website, including IRS individual contribution limits for 2020.

Added May 11, 2020

5. Who should I contact for help with investment questions and planning?

Personalized investment assistance is available from Fidelity and TIAA, which can provide educational information to help you make the right decisions. Fidelity and TIAA representatives will work with you to review your account and help you stay on track to meet your goals.

To speak with a representative or schedule an appointment:

Added May 11, 2020

6. Who should I contact with questions about the University’s benefit offerings or if I am considering retirement?

Questions specific to participation in the plans or deductions from your paycheck should be directed to the Benefits Office at 847-491-7513 or benefits@northwestern.edu, or if you are considering retirement, we encourage you to contact your Benefits Counselor or make an appointment.

Added May 11, 2020

Well-being

1. What resources are available for employee well-being?

Staff and faculty can contact the Employee Assistance Program to schedule free, confidential 24/7 telephonic and video counseling with a licensed counselor for themselves or for their household family members.

The Faculty Wellness Program is also available for Faculty including international locations. Download a printable Faculty Wellness brochure.

Nutrition consultations will be hosted online via BlueJeans for the month of April and Chicago weekly drop-in meditation will be hosted online via Zoom, tentatively scheduled to begin on 3/24.

The YourLife mailing list will provide weekly up-to-date communications about resources and online programs.

The Well-Being team works in collaboration with the HR Business Partner team to provide individual and team consultations and training regarding flexible arrangements, including telecommuting. Both managers and employees may schedule a flex consultation or request resources on best practices by emailing worklife@northwestern.edu.

The NU Cares emergency fund supports benefits-eligible staff and faculty experiencing a severe, temporary, and unforeseen financial hardship. Applications are strictly confidential and are reviewed by a committee of staff and faculty. The fund is administered by the Well-being team within the Office of Human Resources. Assistance granted is not a loan and is not required to be repaid.

The Well-being team continues to offer individual, tailored well-being consultations telephonically or via video chat. Email worklife@northwestern.edu to schedule an appointment.

Payroll and Tax

1. My new employee is scheduled to begin work and needs to complete the Section 2 of their I-9. Where can they complete that? Can it be done remotely?

Walk-in hours on the Evanston and Chicago campuses have been discontinued during this working from home period. Because Central Human Resources is closed to walk-ins, we are unable to provide I-9 services at this time. However, Department of Homeland Security requirements do still mandate that Form I-9 Sections 2 and 3 be completed in-person, either with traditional remote agents (staff from other universities, banks, notaries public) or non-traditional agents (family, friends, roommates).

Updated May 1, 2020

2. I am a current employee who needs to provide I-9 reverification (Section 3) documentation for my continued employment. Where can I complete that? Can it be done remotely?

Walk-in hours on the Evanston and Chicago campuses have been discontinued during this working from home period. Because Central Human Resources is closed to walk-ins, we are unable to provide I-9 services at this time. However, Department of Homeland Security requirements do still mandate that Form I-9 Sections 2 and 3 be completed in-person, either with traditional remote agents (staff from other universities, banks, notaries public) or non-traditional agents (family, friends, roommates).

Added May 1, 2020

3. My employee is outside the United States during this stay-at-home period and scheduled to start or to continue working. Can they do so?

Consistent with existing University policy, employees residing outside of the United States are not permitted to start working for the University, absent prior approval from central Human Resources.  If an employee on your team already resides in and works from a location outside of the United States, you must contact central Human Resources to review the arrangement.  If an employee on your team is currently abroad, but they typically reside and work in the United States (and are authorized to do so), they may continue working while abroad on a temporary basis.

Added May 1, 2020

4. I need to pay an employee or student right away. Are urgent payments or online checks still available?

There are two options for departments to request urgent payments during this time of working from home:

  1. Paper checks are still being issued when requested. Checks still cost $100 and will be mailed to the employee's home address via US mail. Checks will only be processed on Tuesday mornings, and the request must be received by 5pm on Monday.
  2. Recommended option: As an alternative, if the payment can wait until the next available payroll date (any payroll run - bi-weekly, monthly or adjustment), it’s recommended that the payment be deposited via Direct Deposit – if the employee has it -– and there will be no charge for the payment. Please note that this option is being offered only during this emergency time, as a means of assisting departments and employees with urgent pay issues.

Added May 1, 2020

Staff Hiring

1. I need to backfill and hire a current approved, budgeted position. Should I continue to schedule and conduct in person interviews?

In-person interviews should be moved to video conference or phone, whenever possible. Your Talent Acquisition partner can provide guidance and best practice for conducting interviews of these kind.

2. We have a new staff hire that will begin employment in the next few days; how should we proceed?

Depending on the needs of the department, the hiring manager will decide if the employee will begin employment as scheduled, or make arrangements for the new hire to work remotely. In some limited circumstances, a delayed start date may be agreed with the new hire. Contact Talent Acquisition if you need to consider this option.

New hires needing to complete new employee forms may visit our Evanston office at 720 University Place, 2nd Floor, on Tuesdays from noon to 4 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.