Workplace Guidance for COVID-19

Updated June 15, 2020

Employee Health and Safety Is Our Priority

As one of Minnesota’s largest employers, the University of Minnesota is committed to keeping employees and student workers safe. One of the main ways to ensure this is by encouraging all faculty, staff, and student workers to stay home if they are sick.  Please remember that this information is subject to change given the fluid nature of COVID-19.

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Sunrise Plan for Return to Campus

The University has developed a "Sunrise Plan" that outlines a gradual reopening of limited functions on our campuses and other University sites. This is an intentional and comprehensive plan that is consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

For more information, visit our Sunrise Plan page.

Paid Leave

Families First Coronavirus Response Act 

The federal government recently passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to provide emergency leave to employees who are unable to work or work remotely for reasons related to COVID-19. (See this notice from the U.S. Department of Labor). This leave can be used in combination with University Emergency Paid Leave. This FFCRA web page offers more details. Email or call the OHR Contact Center (ohr@umn.edu, 612-624-8647 or 800-756-2363) with any questions about your eligibility for leave. This leave can be used in combination with University Emergency Paid Leave. 

University of Minnesota Emergency Paid Leave

The University Emergency Paid Leave for COVID-19 is an appendix to the Administrative Policy: University State of Emergency: Human Resources Implications. The goal of this interim benefit is to provide emergency paid leave for COVID-19–related reasons in order to maintain the health and wellbeing of our University community.

Effective March 23, 2020, the University will provide emergency paid leave of up to a total of 80 hours to faculty, staff, and student workers. This leave is intended only for situations when employees are unable to work or work remotely due to COVID-19–related illness, the need to quarantine or isolate as a result of exposure to COVID-19, to care for someone who is ill with COVID-19, to care for a child whose school or childcare is closed or unavailable, or to assist with the relocation of a college-age child due to COVID-19. If you work less than 100% time, paid leave hours will be proportionate to the percentage of time you work. For example, someone who works 50% time will receive a total of 40 hours of University Emergency Paid Leave or a student who works an average of 15 hours per week would qualify for up to 30 hours of paid leave.

Using Emergency Paid Leave
You can use this leave beginning March 23, 2020, and this leave will be tracked by the unit's time and absence administrator. If you need to use this leave, employees should request it in the same manner that they request and utilize other paid leaves. You will not need to provide medical documentation. However, if you are ill with COVID-19 for an extended period and you want to use your employee-elected short-term disability insurance, you will need to provide documentation to the University’s provider, UNUM, regarding your illness. Your use of your short term disability coverage can run concurrently with emergency paid leave.

If additional time away is needed beyond what is provided in the University State of Emergency: Human Resources Implications, you can use regular available sick leave or paid medical leave plus comp time, if eligible.

As of March 23, 2020, any leaves not qualifying for emergency paid leave will be processed using the guidelines provided in the Administrative Policy: Campus and Building Closure in the appendix Pay Provisions During Emergency Closings or Reduced Operations.

Employee Benefits

Benefits, including the employee health plan, will continue for employees while on Emergency Paid Leave related to COVID-19. UPlan Medical Plan participants using Medica will have COVID-19 tests covered. If you are ill due to COVID-19 for an extended period and have short term disability insurance, contact UNUM.

Physical, Mental, and Financial Health Care from Home

Resources are available that you can use from home if you need some help. Learn about the virtual services for physical health, mental, health, financial health, and wellbeing resources. These services are available to employees, undergraduate and graduate students, fellows, residents, and interns. 

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COVID-19 in the Workplace

If you think you may have COVID-19, contact your primary health care provider. As with any illness, stay home and report your absence using the standard process for your unit. Whether you are working from home or on campus, notify your supervisor and human resources staff if you believe that you have COVID-19 so your time away is tracked as Emergency Paid Leave related to COVID.

Supervisors, administrators, and HR staff members are obligated to respect the privacy of University employees health conditions. Guidance on ensuring employee health privacy is available from the Office of Human Resources.

Working Remotely

President Gabel's March 16 communication directed all employees to work from home after March 18 unless otherwise directed by their supervisor. The Office of Human Resources' guidance can help supervisors, employees, and departments ensure remote work arrangements are successful and productive.

New University Talent Share Program

If your department could use extra staffing for important projects and tasks—or if you have employees who have time for more work during reduced operations—the University’s new Talent Share program may help.

To take part in Talent Share, visit the new Talent Share website which provides program details, Frequently Asked Questions, and the forms needed to participate.

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Resources

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Frequently Asked Questions

All responses are as of April 10, 2020.

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Leaves

Pay

Benefits

Supervisors

Human Resource Professionals

Employees

Leaves

Q: What should I do if I have been diagnosed with COVID-19?

A: Follow your physician's instructions and report your situation to the Minnesota Department of Health. Eligible employees who become ill with COVID-19 are covered under the Emergency Paid Leave with up to 80 hours of paid leave for full-time staff and adjusted down based on the percentage of time worked. Beyond that time, you can use your available sick leave and your employee-elected short-term disability insurance.

In addition, the federal government recently passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to provide emergency leave to employees who are unable to work or work remotely for reasons related to COVID-19. This FFCRA web page offers more details.

Q: What about staff that have used up most or all of their sick and vacation time?

A: The University’s Emergency Paid Leave for COVID-19 went into effect on March 23. Follow the link to learn more about leaves.

In addition, the federal government recently passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to provide emergency leave to employees who are unable to work or work remotely for reasons related to COVID-19. This FFCRA web page offers more details.

Q: What happens if I am Labor Represented or Civil Service and run out of sick time?

A: Effective March 23, eligible employees who become ill with COVID-19 are covered under the Emergency Paid Leave with up to 80 hours of paid leave for full-time staff and adjusted down based on the percentage of time worked. Beyond that time, you can use your available sick leave and your employee-elected short-term disability insurance.

In addition, the federal government recently passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to provide emergency leave to employees who are unable to work or work remotely for reasons related to COVID-19. This FFCRA web page offers more details.

Q: What if I am a Faculty member or P&A and need to be out for a period of time due to sickness?

A: Effective March 23, eligible employees who become ill with COVID-19 are covered under the Emergency Paid Leave with up to 80 hours of paid leave for full-time staff and adjusted down based on the percentage of time worked. Beyond that time, you can use your available sick leave and your employee-elected short-term disability insurance.

In addition, the federal government recently passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to provide emergency leave to employees who are unable to work or work remotely for reasons related to COVID-19. This FFCRA web page offers more details.

Q: Can emergency leave be entered intermittently?

A: Yes. The employee and supervisor will need to discuss straight vs. intermittent leave, similar to Family Medical Leave.

Q: Can employees donate sick leave?

A: There is not a sick time donation program available at this time.

Q: In reduced operations, who is considered an "essential employee"?

A: Refer to the policy for a definition of an essential employee

Q: I see that if I'm sick for more than eight days, and I'm enrolled in the short-term disability plan, I should call UNUM. Does time in quarantine count toward the eight days?

A: Effective March 23, eligible employees who become ill with COVID-19 are covered under the Emergency Paid Leave with up to 80 hours of paid leave for full-time staff and adjusted down based on the percentage of time worked. Beyond that time, you can use your available sick leave and your employee-elected short-term disability insurance.

In addition, the federal government recently passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to provide emergency leave to employees who are unable to work or work remotely for reasons related to COVID-19. This FFCRA web page offers more details.

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Pay

Q: How will staff pay be decided if portions of the campus are closed?

A. Refer to the Emergency Closing policy https://policy.umn.edu/operations/emergencyclosing-appd.

Q: If we have not declared a state of reduced operations and hourly employees work hours are reduced, will impacted employees be paid for their regular hours? Or, only paid for hours worked?

A: Refer to policy for a definition of an essential employee.

Q: Will off-cycle checks be mailed?

A: Yes. These will be mailed out directly from OHR.

Q: Typically, TAs and RAs have a work break over the summer and return in the fall, frequently at a higher rate of pay. Can they return with a higher rate this year given our pay freeze?

A: If a pay increase was communicated before March 24, that increase may be granted. Pay increases after March 24 should not be granted at this time. The one exception: Students returning to a different graduate assistant function in which the rate of pay is higher, such as from TA to RA, may receive a pay increase to the standard rate for the new function.

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Benefits

Q: Do our health benefits with Medica cover COVID-19 testing?

A: Yes, copays, co-insurance, and deductibles related to COVID-19 diagnostic lab testing will be waived. Employees should contact Medica for specific coverage questions.

Q: Do our health benefits cover the cost of medications proven to be successful in treating COVID-19?

A: Medications for treating COVID-19 will be covered by the UPlan at no cost to you through May 31. After that, standard copays will apply. Two medications on the UPlan Pharmacy Program formulary are being used to treat COVID-19:

  • Chloroquine, which has been approved by the FDA for treatment of malaria, is now being used for COVID-19 on an off-label basis. Chloroquine would need to be used under the regular care of a physician and is generally used for treatment in the hospital.
  • Hydroxycholoroquine, which has been approved by the FDA for treatment of malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, is now being used for COVID-19 on an off-label basis. Hydroxycholoroquine would need to be used under the regular care of a physician and is generally used for treatment in the hospital.

We will continue to work with Prime Therapeutics, our pharmacy vendor, to identify drugs that can be covered based on their efficacy in treating COVID-19.

Q: Will our health plan cover the cost of the COVID-19 vaccine, once it is developed?

A: When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available and has been approved by the Pharmacy and Therapeutics committees for Prime and Medica, coverage would be provided on either our Pharmacy or Medical Plan at no cost to the member, under provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The expectation is that it will be at least 12 - 18 months before a vaccine is available.

Q: If you are overseas, does Redpoint cover evacuation due to COVID-19?

A: Whether Redpoint would evacuate someone diagnosed with the coronavirus depends upon the following: (a) whether evacuation or repatriation is medically necessary; (b) whether transporting them would endanger those in contact with the member under the infectious disease exclusion or is prohibited by law, and (c) whether the individual’s condition is sufficiently serious to warrant transport or other services. At this time, government regulations prohibit the transportation of someone infected with the virus.

Q: The COVID-19 situation has left me feeling anxious and worried. Where can I turn for help?

A: The Employee Assistance Program is available for all employees.

Q: Does the Employee Assistance Program have a crisis hotline?

A: In-the-moment support is available 24/7 from the Employee Assistance Program provider, Sand Creek. If you have an urgent need, please call Sand Creek directly at 888-243-5744 to speak with a clinician. However, if you are experiencing an emergency or are in a violent situation, call 911 or visit your local emergency room. Sand Creek is available for counseling when you are safe and ready to talk.

Q: What virtual care options are available during this time?

A: Many services are available that you can use from home. Learn about virtual care resources for physical health, mental health, financial health, and wellbeing. These services are available to employees, students, fellows, residents, and interns.

Q: If the U.S. has a shortage of generic drugs due to these drugs being manufactured in China, will employees on our health plan be able to get the non-generic equivalent for the generic price?

A: Prime Therapeutics is monitoring the supply of generic and other medications to ensure that none are in short supply. If a particular medication would be in short supply, we will work with Prime Therapeutics to ensure that there is another generic or a brand medication that would be available to our members at no incremental cost versus the original medication.

Q: My childcare expenses have changed in 2020 because of COVID-19. Can I change my 2020 Dependent Care FSA election?

A: Yes, but there are important guidelines to be aware of when making a change. You can decrease your 2020 Dependent Care FSA election, but you cannot decrease it below the amount that has already been deducted from your paychecks. Your year-to-date deductions can be found on your most recent paycheck or on the Discovery Benefits website. (For example, if your 2020 Dependent Care FSA election is $5,000 and you have had $500 deducted from your paychecks, the lowest annual election you can decrease it to would be $500 annually.) You can increase the election amount again if your daycare expenses increase.

To make this change, email ohr@umn.edu. Make sure you provide a verification document for status change, such as a signed statement from your childcare provider confirming the change in cost, which is a mandatory step. You need to request the election change within 30 days of the change in cost.

Q: Are Regents Scholarship Program benefits affected by COVID-19?

A: The Regents Scholarship Program is continuing as-is, and is not affected by COVID-19.

Q: If I'm not currently enrolled in Short Term Disability, am I able to enroll now?

A: You can apply for coverage, but coverage is not guaranteed. First, you must complete the Voluntary Disability Insurance Enrollment and Change form and submit it to Employee Benefits. Then, you need to complete the evidence of insurability process. Based on the information you provide, Unum will determine if you are eligible for coverage. Please note coverage can only be canceled at open enrollment.

Q: Is the date of the Retirement Transition moving, both because of COVID-19 and the volatility of the market?

A: Yes. The transition date has been moved to June 12, 2020. Learn more on the Retirement Transition webpage.

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Supervisors

Q: Can a staff member be reimbursed for internet access if asked to work from home, whether or not they have internet service to start with?

A: Departments will make decisions about any additional resources available to support work from home. Local Wi-Fi and internet providers may be providing additional access within your community. Refer to OIT website for updates. 

Q: Will we need telecommuting agreements in place for telework or work from home?

A: An optional form is available on the OHR website

Q: Can we offer remote options for meetings that are normally in person?

A: Yes. Refer to OIT website for remote meeting instructions 

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Human Resource Professionals

Q: What do I, as an HR professional, need to do if there is a suspected COVID-19 case in my college or administrative unit?

A: Ask the employee to contact their doctor or clinic.

Q: Can we compel someone to get tested for COVID-19?

A:  You can only encourage them to get tested.

Q: Can employees wear face masks at work if they want to?
A: Yes.

Q: If employees are returning from personal travel should they self-quarantine?

A: Refer to guidelines put into place by the Minnesota Department of Health or Global Programs and Healthcare Alliance.

Q: If the U closes and employees don't have computers to work from home and the unit doesn't have enough loaner laptops, what options are available?

A: This is a department decision based on budget and business needs. OIT is working on an Internet Connectivity Guide for users. Check OIT's websites for updates

Q: How will time be paid if all employees are asked to work from home but my home internet service is inadequate or fails due to US-wide overload?

A: Please see the Pay Provisions During Emergency Closings or Reduced Operations for information based on your employee group.

Q:  What about employees who are not able to work from home because they don't have the internet? What happens if their work does not lend itself to working from home (mailroom, labor/custodial work, security type of positions)? What about computers, Wi-Fi, and other accommodations?

A: Clarification in the Reduced Operations Policy and Pay Provisions Appendix is being developed.

Q: How do we notify the essential employees they need to come to work?

A: An email or letter is fine. A good practice is to have the employee acknowledge receipt of information but that is a departmental level decision.

Q: Do we need physical documentation to process I-9s?

A: The Department of Homeland Security is deferring the physical presence requirements for I-9 employment eligibility verification for employees who are being onboarded remotely and will continue to work remotely. This option is not available for employees who are physically present at a work location. For more information, see the announcement on the I-9 Employee Eligibility Verification page. Information can also be found on the OHR Operations website for those with access.

Q: When staff are traveling, what is covered under Redpoint for possible quarantine or medical expenses related to COVID-19?

A: Redpoint provides a variety of services that can help answer employee questions. Additionally, they can also refer employees to the nearest treatment center. Medical expenses are covered under the employee's medical plan and not by Redpoint. Specific to COVID-1, copays, co-insurance and deductibles related to COVID-19 diagnostic lab testing will be waived.

Q: If we have an employee currently covered by an intermittent FMLA for a major illness in which they are immunosuppressed, do we need to get further medical documentation for them to work from home for an extended period of time?

A: Don't think so, especially if they're working from home during the time that they are also covered by FMLA (even if intermittent). We could treat this as we would anyone else - if we can accommodate a longer work for home option, we should. If it were to need to continue beyond the current state of a pandemic, perhaps consider an accommodation request through Disability Resource Center.

Q: I received a question as to whether FMLA would still be required for absences of more than three days when related to COVID-19. Yes for now? if an emergency were declared?

A: The Office of the General Counsel has just issued new guidance for review as of March 20, 2020. 

Q: What policies should I be considering regarding the management of COVID?

A: Please review the information on the Safe-U website.

Q: What types of releases and returns to work would be required, particularly for employee groups that often are challenged to provide it? Is there a process in place for soliciting that information and to know who is healthy?

A: For the novel coronavirus, the University is not requiring a doctor’s note before departure from the workplace, for use of sick leave or medical leave, or for proof of ability to return to work. This is a unique situation and the University is focused on keeping our employees and student workers safe during this period. 

Q: What happens if we don't have enough revenue due to impacts on sponsored projects and other revenue sources?

A: Refer to attached policy for information on pay during emergency closing period

Q: Some employees are being told by their supervisors that they can work from home but are not allowed to do so "if a dependent is present.” Is this true?

A: This does not align with guidance from the President. President’s messages can be found on OHR website

Q: Can tour guides and others be given other projects during this time to keep their hours?

A: Yes. Please assign other work, particularly work that can be done from home.

Q: We had some bargaining unit questions regarding modified hours affecting pay.

A: Need clarification on the question. You can contact your Employee Relations consultant directly.

Q: Our leadership is not interpreting President Gabel's email as truly work from home (WFH). There is a desire to keep offices open, even if the jobs can be done completely remotely. I am trying to shift the concern of "closed offices" to virtual/a different format for service, but it's been a struggle. Can there be any clear language centrally that states offices can be closed physically and provide service remotely?

A: Beginning on March 23, 2020, only "essential" employees can be required to come into the office. Essential is defined in the Reduced Operations policy.

Q: Research question: Has anyone heard from funding sources if they are allowing employees to be paid on grant funding if clinical studies are not able to run during this time? We have a couple clinical studies that have pushed back their start dates based on the population they serve.

A: Please reach out to Sponsored Projects Administration.

Q: I reviewed Teamsters contract and spoke with Employee Relations about Article 14.6 of the Teamsters contract which states, "If it is necessary to implement permanent changes in work schedules (other than for reasons beyond the employer’s control), the employer shall notify the union at least thirty (30) calendar days prior to implementation." We agreed the exception applied and I have advised supervisors to provide as much notice as possible.
A: Reduced operations is not considered a permanent schedule change and is due to issues outside of the University's control.

Q: If we go to reduced ops or closure, can student workers be considered "essential employees"? We have students help with our animal care, and the feedback I've received is it would be very challenging to not have their help if/when that would happen.

A: Students can be designated as essential workers. Information can be found in the following policy. https://policy.umn.edu/operations/emergencyclosing-appd

Q: Any update on student workers and their pay? I see on the leave chart that it will be updated the week of March 16,2020?

A: Student worker information can be found in the following policy. https://policy.umn.edu/operations/emergencyclosing-appd

Q: We have one unit delay two new hires, and other units start. The first unit may need to rescind an offer, and I was asked whether it would qualify as a layoff. I didn't believe it would, as the individuals have not started work yet.

A: If a job offer has been accepted, units should contact the Office of General Counsel before taking any action. If the offer has not been accepted, units may postpone the start date or rescind the offer at the discretion of unit leadership.

Q: I have heard from two units that employees who have self-quarantined have applied for worker's compensation. Not sure what will happen there.

A: Questions about Workers Compensation reporting should be sent to the Risk Management Office at http://controller.umn.edu/riskmgmt/index.html

Q: For clarification, we're at the end of a probationary period and we need to give notice by April 4. Do we follow a different process?

A: Managers can provide probationary notice per the usual process.

Q: I asked last Friday about faculty asking students if they can ask directly where a student has traveled. Can we ensure we are clear in our response?

A: Travel related questions should be referred to Global Programs & Healthcare Alliance at https://global.umn.edu

Q: We have some unique units that have to contemplate reducing hours sooner, rather than later. I assume we work continue to work with our Employee Relations Consultants. on this?

A: Yes, continue to work with your Employee Relations Consultant on these situations.

Q: What are others doing about non-renewals? We intended to issue a couple of notices this month but the timing makes this harder.

A: Non-renewals can move forward as usual.

Q: Is there a need to capture pay and other expenses related to COVID in case there is a possible federal reimbursement?

A: Finance has created a CF2 code to track expenses. Please reach out to your Finance contact with questions about what should be tracked at this time. OHR is also putting tracking mechanisms into place for payroll.

Q. Will we be allowed to cash out vacation balances if we are over the vacation maximum due to heavy workloads related to COVID-19 preparation and response?

A: To ensure the University can continue to support as many employees throughout this pandemic as possible, we will not be providing a vacation payout option for P&A and Faculty positions. Civil Service and Labor-Represented employees should refer to their governance documents for vacation payout rules.

Q: I have a question for the leaves chart—a Dining Services employee returns from a week's travel to another state. The manager is not comfortable with them serving people food and the manager asks them to stay home. The employee has not been diagnosed or knows if they have been in contact with a person with COVID-19. Is this sick leave, or paid leave?

A: Refer to guidelines put into place by the Minnesota Department of Health or Global Programs and Healthcare Alliance.

Q: The Emergency Operations Plan for Pandemic Influenza Response that was updated February 2020 states: "The University hopes to provide a minimum of two weeks of paid leave to all employees who are required to stay home during partial closure of the campus during a pandemic flu." This has started rumors that employees believe they will be laid off after two weeks. Can we get some clarification?

A: Effective March 23, eligible employees who become ill with COVID-19 are covered under the Emergency Paid Leave with up to 80 hours of paid leave for full-time staff and adjusted down based on the percentage of time worked. Beyond that time, you can use your available sick leave and your employee-elected short-term disability insurance.

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