Frequently Asked Questions

Additional employee COVID-19 FAQ can be found on the Human Resource Services website. Also see the Working Remotely FAQ.

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Returning to Work on Campus

When can I come back to work on NIU’s main campus or regional sites?

Employees who can perform their job duties remotely are strongly encouraged to continue doing so through at least July 31, 2020. For those who must be on campus or regional sites to perform their job duties, we anticipate that Gov. Pritzker will allow university employees to begin returning to work Monday, June 1. However, all supervisors and those employees who are returning to campus or NIU regional sites must first complete a Training for Returning to Work on Campus. Your return-to-campus work date and work schedule will require a conversation with your supervisor. Supervisors must approve return-to-campus work dates and work schedules.

What do I need to do before returning to campus for work?
Before returning to campus for work, you must take a brief training on COVID-19 safety measures and protocols. If you do not have access to the internet at home, speak to your supervisor about taking the training on campus when you return. All employees should perform a self-assessment of their health each day before coming to work. If you feel like you are or might be sick, you must inform your supervisor and not come to campus or any NIU facility.
What is the university doing to make campus safe for employees?

The university is operating under the following guiding principles:

  • Our top priority is the health and safety of our students and employees.
  • We will follow all applicable local, state and federal public health guidance and orders.
  • Supervisors will remain flexible to accommodate employees who must balance work and caregiver responsibilities.
  • Operations will continue in a manner consistent with expert public health guidance and principles.

President Freeman convened a working group comprised of representatives from across campus to develop safety protocols and guidelines. In addition to safety training, we are taking a host of other precautions, including daily cleaning of buildings, setting up hand-sanitizing stations, protocols for physical distancing and wearing of protective face masks, and provisions for hand sanitizer, disinfecting products and personal protective equipment.

Is NIU requiring employees to have COVID-19 testing done before returning to campus?

At this time, we are not requiring employees to have testing done before coming back to work at NIU facilities. However, anyone with symptoms is not to come to an NIU facility and should contact their personal health provider. Anyone with a lab-confirmed or presumptive COVID-19 diagnosis is instructed to call the NIU police non-emergency number (815-753-1212). The police department will ask the employee a series of screening questions and share the results with the DeKalb County Health Department.

Added 6/3/20

 

Training for Returning to Work on Campus

What do I do if an employee doesn’t comply with the requirement to wear a face mask or practice physical distancing?
If an employee refuses to wear a mask or practice physical distancing, your supervisor should be notified. Supervisors must take steps to quickly address the situation with the employee. Employees and supervisors are expected to practice reasonableness and work together to resolve issues in a timely and effective manner. If the employee continues to refuse to abide by health and safety measures, the employee should be sent home and the supervisor should consult with their supervisor on the matter. In addition, the supervisor can also consult with Human Resources Services—particularly in the areas of Employee/Labor Relations and the Employee Assistance Program—and/or the Office of General Counsel for further assistance. Failure to follow health and safety guidelines can result in corrective action.

Work Options

What are some of my on-campus options for working during this time?
We expect a trickle, not a flood, of employees to return to work at NIU facilities after June 1. Even with some employees returning, we hope to keep foot traffic at a minimum on campus or at other NIU locations, effective at least through July 31. When appropriate, use available options such as working remotely, using staggered schedules and using flextime. In all cases, please work with your supervisor to review and document any adjustments to your schedule.
What’s a staggered schedule?
When possible and appropriate, employees can stagger work schedule start- and end-times. This option is applicable for those who are working remotely and for those with necessary on-campus roles. Employees should discuss the feasibility of the option with their supervisor.
Can I do flextime?
Where possible and appropriate, an employee can work longer but fewer days similar to the flextime option that some employees take advantage of during the summer. This option is applicable for those who are working remotely and for those with necessary on-campus roles. Employees should discuss the feasibility of the option with their supervisor.
Can I reduce my work schedule and supplement with benefits time?
Employees who wish to adjust their schedule to work reduced hours, from home or on campus, can supplement their remaining time by using their available compensatory time (hourly only) or vacation time. This option is applicable for those working remotely and for those with roles where an on-campus presence is necessary.
As a supervisor, what considerations should I make when bringing employees back to campus?
  • Consider workspaces, day-to-day activities and priorities to determine which jobs (employees) need to return first and who can continue to work remotely.
  • Consider alternate workspaces and encourage physical distancing.
  • Contact your employees about expected return-to-work schedules and expectations.
  • For employees with concerns regarding returning, work with HR and the employee and formulate alternative work arrangements until the employee can return to campus.
  • Develop a schedule, identifying which employees will return to campus and when they will return. Make sure you’re meeting their needs and that physical distancing can be maintained.
  • Communicate all work plans and expectations with both on- and off-campus employees.
  • Set the example in the office by physical distancing, wearing a protective mask and following proper sanitation practices.
  • Request face masks or cleaning supplies for your employees’ work areas.
As a supervisor, how should I rotate employee on-campus schedules?
When using a rotational schedule, supervisors should schedule employees for a full business day as opposed to bringing some employees in during the morning and another group in the afternoon. This will limit the number of people on campus in a given day. Supervisors can also consider allowing employees to use flextime and/or staggering start- and end-times for employees to lessen foot traffic.

Maintaining Physical Distancing

Will I be able to have in-person meetings on campus?

Remote meetings are strongly encouraged. Restrictions remain in place regarding the size of meeting groups, with no more than 50 people to be together in a room or area. Physical distancing, meaning 6 feet in diameter, must be able to be maintained. Masks are required to be worn. We “wear because we care” about our colleagues and community.

Updated 7/15/20

It’s hard to maintain physical distancing in elevators and stairwells. What should I do?

If possible, use the stairs and avoid touching handrails. If handrails must be used, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after exiting the stairwell. Where possible, building representatives should take the lead on designating stairwells as “up” or “down.”

If you must use an elevator, face masks must be worn. No more than four persons should be in an elevator at any time. Avoid touching handrails and stand in one of the corners of the elevator. After exiting an elevator, employees should wash their hands or use hand sanitizer as soon as possible.

Updated 8/4/20

How many workers can be in a work area?

Restrictions remain in place regarding the size of groups, with no more than 10 people to be together in a room or area. In places where physical distancing cannot occur, face masks are required to be worn.

Wearing a Protective Face Mask

Do I have to wear a protective face mask on campus?
You are required to wear face masks when physical distancing cannot be maintained or when you are in indoor shared spaces such as breakrooms, elevators, lounges, kitchens, reception areas, conference rooms and restrooms, regardless of whether you are alone. You should also wear a mask upon entering or exiting a building. In offices or workspaces where physical distancing is possible, employees will not be required to wear face masks.
Are there protocols or guidelines for protective face masks?

Employees should exercise common sense, respect for others and professional judgment when using personal face coverings to wear to work. Protective face masks should not display images or words that are threatening or disruptive to others.

Added 5/28/20

Is there a proper way to wear a face mask?
  • Wash your hands before putting on your face covering.
  • Put it over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin.
  • Try to fit it snugly against the sides of your face.
  • Make sure you can breathe easily.

Added 5/28/20

Will face masks be required in classrooms?

To help keep our community healthy, students and instructors will be required to wear protective face masks in class, including when they are speaking. Students are expected to supply and maintain their own face masks. We will provide each member of the faculty and staff with two washable face masks. Additionally, we plan to provide face shields to faculty who request them to support classroom lectures and discussion. Disposable face masks will be available in departmental offices for faculty members who wish to have some available in classrooms for emergency student use.   

Students who cannot wear face masks or other personal protective equipment because of a disability should proactively contact, or be referred to, the Disability Resource Center (DRC) prior to the start of the fall semester. The DRC will engage in an interactive process to determine any reasonable accommodations. Faculty can request to view the approved accommodation documentation that students receive from the DRC. More information about classroom protocols may be found on the Classrooms and Classroom Protocols page on the Protecting the Pack website.

Updated 7/22/20

What if I can’t wear a protective mask because of an underlying medical condition?

If you cannot wear face masks or other PPE, you should notify your supervisor immediately and continue working from home until you are given further instructions. Employees and supervisors are expected to practice patience and work together to resolve issues or concerns

Further, employees who cannot wear face masks or other PPE because of underlying medical conditions must contact, or be referred to, Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Education (AAEOE) for assistance. AAEOE will engage in an interactive process with the employees and their units to determine any reasonable accommodations that might be necessary to assist the employees in performing their jobs.

I’m a supervisor. What do I do if one of my employees can’t wear a protective face mask?

Supervisors are expected to work with their employees on attempting to find suitable solutions to their employees’ issues or concerns with the use of face masks or other PPE. If a resolution with an employee cannot be reached, supervisors must consult with other appropriate offices, such as Human Resource Services and/or the Office of General Counsel, before making any final decisions.

If employees self-disclose that they or their immediate family members with whom they live are at-risk, DO NOT ask those employees to disclose or identify any specific medical conditions that they or a family member might have. Instead, please let the employees know that if they have underlying medical conditions, they can seek reasonable accommodations for those conditions by contacting Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Education (AAEOE).

Workspace Arrangements, Shared Areas

Will we be able to use the office refrigerator?

Yes. However, food and drink in refrigerators should be clearly marked with the person’s name and removed at the end of each day. Employees should not share food, including condiments and creamer. Also, keep in mind that protective face masks must be worn in kitchens and other shared areas.

Has NIU flushed domestic water systems in campus building?New

Yes. To avoid stagnant water concerns while buildings are not regularly occupied, building water systems have been and will continue to be flushed monthly from all water points until buildings are regularly utilized to maintain regular water flow. This flushing action helps sustain appropriate water quality throughout the distribution system and allows the water source treatment methods from the City of DeKalb public water system to properly function.

Added 8/12/20

What procedures were followed for flushing?New

The below CDC references provide general guidelines for water quality and the general recommendation for flushing water systems when building water systems do not experience regular use. This includes flushing all domestic water systems, hot and cold, throughout entire facilities where a person could access potable domestic water, such as showers, bathtubs, sinks, drinking fountains, utility sinks, kitchen sinks, etc. Additionally, NIU is a registered community water system/drinking water system operator under the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s (IEPA) drinking water program and regularly monitors water quality to adhere to standards set by IEPA.

Added 8/12/20

What role do building ventilation systems play in the transmission of COVID-19?New

Transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19, is generally believed to occur through contact with droplets exhaled from infected persons or through contact with contaminated surfaces. Larger respiratory droplets generated from an infected person during coughing, sneezing, and, even, talking are considered to contain more virus than smaller aerosol particles and fall from suspension in the air before entering building ventilation systems. While smaller respiratory particles could possibly enter the ventilation system, the combination of long ventilation ducts, central system filtration, outside air dilution, and occupants adhering to face mask policies will help mitigate the risk of transmission through ventilation systems. To date, there have been no documented cases of room to room transmission via ventilation systems and available studies have concluded this risk to be low.

Added 8/12/20

What is being done to building ventilation systems to address COVID-19?New

According to the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and professional trade associations, such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), primary efforts for ventilation systems should focus on increasing overall air flow (air change rate), increasing filtration levels, and increasing the outside air mix. 

The guidelines acknowledge that building ventilation systems are designed specifically for the unique air quality demands for each facility and will have limitations for accommodating increases for these system parameters. NIU staff is working diligently to adjust ventilation system parameters in concert with each other, as system capabilities allow, and achieve an overall increase for these complex building systems.

Enhancements to accommodate HEPA-level filtration or ultraviolet germicidal irradiation are being reviewed for feasibility and effectiveness. In general, most enhancements of this nature require ventilation systems to be entirely redesigned to be effective towards addressing the possible risk of COVID-19 transmission through the ventilation system. Introducing possible enhancements to one parameter of a ventilation system without accounting for all operating factors could be counterproductive for the overall system and air quality for a building.

Added 8/12/20

Signage, Meetings and Personal Interactions

Can I have in-person meetings on campus?

Remote meetings are strongly encouraged. Restrictions remain in place regarding the size of meeting groups, with no more than 50 people to be together in a room or area. In places where physical distancing cannot occur, such as a meeting room, face masks are required to be worn.

Updated 7/15/20

Where can I eat a snack or lunch?
Food consumption should take place in a person’s individual workspace or outdoors in a manner that is compliant with physical distancing. Employees should always wash their hands after eating. Disposable utensils must be used in kitchens. Reusable items (such as flatware, dishes and cups) should not be used. Additionally, use of microwaves, coffee pots and toasters is discouraged. Please do not use vending machines during this time.
Can non-students or non-employees visit NIU?New

Yes, visitors are welcome on campus, but we ask that they take the same precautions that we require of our students, faculty and staff. They should protect themselves and others by wearing a mask, practicing physical distancing and not coming to campus if they do not feel well.

Added 8/12/20

Cleaning and Sanitation

How are we keeping campus clean and sanitized?
  • All buildings will be cleaned daily using CDC guidelines regarding appropriate cleaning supplies. Daily cleaning will include wiping down high-touch areas, including doorknobs, sinks, water fountains and elevators buttons. Additionally, all restrooms will be cleaned daily. 
  • To help avoid repeated touches of door handles, interior doors should remain open during business hours to the greatest extent possible. If doorstops are needed, submit a work request. Please do not keep stairwell doors open, however, as this violates the fire code.
  • Employees should wipe down their workspaces on a regular basis as well. When needed, you can request disinfecting products for office areas.
  • Hand sanitizer stations have been placed near the entrances to all buildings, and disinfectant spray will be provided in all computer labs and other high-touch/high-traffic offices and spaces.
How will I keep my work area clean?
The university will provide hand sanitizer and disinfecting products for self-cleaning work areas. To request disinfecting products for office areas, such as spray disinfectants and paper towels, visit the Central Stores section of Facilities Management and Campus Services. We ask that you not request disinfecting products for your individual office or workspace, but for areas as a whole. For example, each employee in the Office of the General Counsel should not request disinfecting products, but the office as a whole should do so.
How will sanitation be maintained in restrooms?

All restrooms will be cleaned daily. Where possible, restroom doors should remain open. Employees should wash their hands thoroughly. Restrooms without air dryers will have a trash can placed by the entrance/exit door. When it’s not possible to leave a door open, open the door with a paper towel that is then placed in the trash can upon exiting. Brushing teeth or shaving is prohibited in any NIU sink. Face masks must always be worn in restrooms, which are considered shared areas.

Who is responsible for cleaning?

While daily cleanings of buildings will be performed by building service workers, please remember that keeping our work areas clean is a community responsibility. All employees are asked to chip in. If you use a shared refrigerator or copy machine, for instance, please wipe it down with sanitizer before and after using.

Added 6/3/20

At-risk Employees

What does it mean to be at-risk?

Some employees and other members of our community are more vulnerable or “at-risk” for contracting or having complications with COVID-19, depending on their individual risk factors. Risk factors include but are not limited to pregnancy, older age or the presence of chronic medical conditions, including immunocompromising conditions. There are also environmental risk factors to consider—for instance, having “at-risk” people at home, such as immunocompromised family members, the elderly or newborn or young children; or working, living or interacting with others in areas that might have potentially higher exposure risks to COVID-19. 

NIU encourages its employees and their supervisors to work together, and asks all of those involved to practice patience, be reasonable and demonstrate cooperation as we move forward together.

As an employee, what should I do if I believe I am at-risk?

If you have an underlying medical condition that you believe puts you at risk, please notify your supervisor and directly contact Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ADEI) to speak with a staff member about reasonable accommodations for a medical condition. ADEI will engage you in an interactive process to determine what reasonable accommodations you might need to assist you in the performance of your job. As an employee, you are under no obligation to disclose any specific medical condition that you or your family member might have. Please understand, though, that you might have to disclose such medical conditions to an ADEI representative during the reasonable-accommodations process.

If you are working at home or off-site, please remain there until you receive approval to return to campus facilities. Please do not wait until the last minute to raise your concerns or issues. Many of these situations can be complicated, and there might not be an immediate answer. Issue resolution at the local level is typically the most effective and efficient manner to address employee concerns. You can also raise the concern or issue with Environmental Health & Safety or Human Resource Services.

As a supervisor, how should I assist employees who believe they are at-risk?

The university expects supervisors to work with employees who are members of vulnerable populations or have close family who are members of vulnerable populations, and who express concerns or issues with the workplace environment in relation to “at-risk” factors. If an employee is represented by a union, supervisors must consult with Employee/Labor Relations in Human Resource Services before implementing any resolutions to employee concerns/issues.

Supervisors should practice patience and compassion, while exercising flexibility and exploring all available options in addressing the concerns or issues raised by employees. Employees should be encouraged to speak up and responded to in a clear and respectful manner. 

If employees self-disclose that they or their immediate family members with whom they live are at-risk, DO NOT ask those employees to disclose or identify any specific medical conditions that they or a family member might have. Instead, please let the employees know that if they have underlying medical conditions, they can seek reasonable accommodations for those conditions by contacting Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ADEI). Otherwise, please ask the employees to describe any issues or concerns they might have with protocols, procedures, use of PPE, etc., so that you can work with the employees on resolving their concerns. Should an employee self-disclose any medical condition to you, you must keep this information confidential and refer the employee to ADEI for a determination on reasonable accommodations that the employee might need.

The university understands that not all concerns or issues raised by employees will have easy answers or satisfactory resolutions for all involved. Employees should not return to the workplace until there is some resolution to the issues or concerns raised. In the event that a supervisor and an employee cannot reach a resolution, supervisors should advance the matter up their administrative supervisory chain and seek additional consultation from appropriate offices on campus, such as Human Resource Services and/or the Office of General Counsel, before making any final decisions.

If an Employee Is Sick or Exposed to COVID-19

What should I do if I’m not feeling well or might be sick?

If you are sick, or suspect you might be getting sick, you must inform your supervisor and not come to campus or any NIU facility. Please immediately contact your health care provider and self-quarantine until further guidance is provided by your health care provider or the DeKalb County Health Department (DCHD). You must also call NIU’s COVID-19 helpline (815-753-0444) and answer a series of screening questions. Until cleared to return, you will be prohibited from entering the workplace or physically interacting with coworkers or students. Those who refuse to answer questions about whether they have COVID-19 symptoms and whether they have been tested will also be barred from campus.

Employees who are able and feel well enough to work from home can do so. Otherwise, employees should use available sick leave benefits.

Updated 7/29/20

Why isn’t NIU requiring temperature checks?
Temperature screening is an optional strategy, according to CDC recommendations. Temperature checks were deemed not feasible for NIU due to multiple campus entrances, multiple building entrances, the number of personnel needed to conduct the screening, the amount of PPE needed to conduct the temperature checks, and the time it will take to screen all. It is a better use of resources for employees to self-monitor for symptoms. The most effective means of COVID-19 prevention are physical distancing, regular handwashing and disinfection of common surfaces.
If I was sick, when can I come back to work?

Sick employees should not return to work until all of these criteria are met:

  • At least 10 days have passed since the symptoms first appeared.
  • They have had no fever for at least 72 hours (without fever-reducing medication).
  • Other symptoms have improved.

Additionally, those caring for a sick person should quarantine for 14 days after the patient has been fever-free and symptoms are improving.

What if I feel like I might be coming down with a sickness while I’m at work?

If you are sick, or suspect you might be getting sick, you must inform your supervisor, go home immediately and not come to campus or any NIU facility until cleared to return. Please immediately contact your health care provider and self-quarantine until further guidance is provided by your health care provider or the DeKalb County Health Department (DCHD). You must also call NIU’s COVID-19 helpline (815-753-0444) and answer a series of screening questions. Until cleared to return, you will be prohibited from entering the workplace or physically interacting with coworkers or students. Those who refuse to answer questions about whether they have COVID-19 symptoms and whether they have been tested will also be barred from campus.

Employees who are able and feel well enough to work from home can do so. Otherwise, employees should use available sick leave benefits.

Updated 7/29/20

I’m a supervisor. What is the protocol if one of my employees calls in sick with COVID-19 symptoms?

The employee should be instructed to call his or her health care provider and NIU’s COVID-19 helpline (815-753-0444) to answer a series of screening questions. The supervisor should then notify HRS at HRSCOVID@niu.edu and their own supervisor. Until cleared to return, the employee will be prohibited from entering the workplace or physically interacting with coworkers or students. Those who refuse to answer questions about whether they have COVID-19 symptoms and whether they have been tested will also be barred from campus.

Updated 7/31/20

I’m a supervisor. What is the protocol if one of my employees goes home sick with COVID-19 symptoms?

The employee should be instructed to call his or her health care provider and NIU’s COVID-19 helpline (815-753-0444) to answer a series of screening questions. The supervisor should then notify HRS at HRSCOVID@niu.edu and their own supervisor. Until cleared to return, the employee will be prohibited from entering the workplace or physically interacting with coworkers or students. Those who refuse to answer questions about whether they have COVID-19 symptoms and whether they have been tested will also be barred from campus.

Updated 7/31/20

What happens if one of my co-workers tests positive for COVID-19?
The work area of the employee will be cleared, and deep cleaning and sanitization will take place before employees can return. You will receive a call from the health department if they believe you might have been exposed. Generally, that would require you to have been in regular contact with the person for more than 10 minutes and at a distance of less than 6 feet. If you do not hear from the health department, it is unlikely you have been exposed.
One of my co-workers called in sick or went home early because of sickness. Should I be concerned?

Contact tracing is conducted with each person who tests positive for COVID-19. The local health department will ask the person a series of questions about who they have had contact with over the last several days. The health department will contact you if they believe you might have been exposed.  Generally, that would require you to have been in regular contact with the person for more than 10 minutes and at a distance of less than 6 feet. If you do not hear from the health department, it is unlikely you have been exposed.

I tested positive for COVID-19. Do I need to notify my employer?

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, you must notify Human Resource Services immediately. HRS will maintain confidentiality and work with the DeKalb County Health Department to determine exposure to other members of the NIU community. Employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 can return to work once they have documentation showing clearance from a doctor or a county health department.

Is there a plan for tracking people who might have been exposed to COVID-19?

Yes. People who have a lab-confirmed or presumptive COVID-19 diagnosis will be instructed to call NIU’s COVID-19 helpline (815-753-0444) to answer a series of screening questions. This process will allow us to work with the DeKalb County Health Department to initiate appropriate tracing, testing and tracking procedures. 

Updated 7/29/20

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