COVID-19 Pandemic Employee Work Location and Leave Policy

This policy provides direction when UW-Madison implements emergency COVID-19 pandemic provisions requiring social distancing of employees.

Functional Owner

Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources

Executive Sponsor

Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration

Policy Contact

Director, OHR/Workforce Relations

Policy Summary

This policy provides direction when UW–Madison implements emergency COVID-19 pandemic provisions requiring social distancing of employees. Areas include employees performing essential functions, working remotely (telecommuting), and leave provisions when non-essential work cannot be performed remotely (80 hours of paid leave prorated by % FTE). The policy will stay in effect through at least April 12th with ongoing renewal and/or amendments as necessary and appropriate.

Who This Policy Applies To

Employees paid from all funding sources who are Faculty, Academic Staff, University Staff, Employees-In-Training, and Graduate Assistants (Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants, and Program Assistants), Post-Doctoral Scholars, Limited Employees, and Temporary Employees. Student Hourly staff are not included in this policy.


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the related federal and state public health emergencies, effective March 17, 2020, UW–Madison is implementing emergency leave provisions and workplace flexibility options to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the campus community. The health of the UW–Madison community, including students, staff, and faculty, is the top priority.

Policy Detail

During a pandemic, to minimize the spread of the disease, many employees may be directed not to report to the workplace to facilitate social distancing. Many workers will be able to perform their functions remotely (telecommuting) where possible and appropriate. Core university operations must continue in this situation. These will be considered essential functions, and employees needed to deliver these core operations will be considered essential employees. Some essential employees will be required to work on-site to maintain essential operations, although the university will allow as many as possible to work remotely. Some employees cannot perform their functions through telecommuting; if these functions are not essential, then these employees may be asked to stay home on leave. Employees who are not designated as essential employees may be reassigned to other functions based on operational need and capacity. The overarching goal is to keep our community safe and healthy, while enabling as much of our mission-related activities to continue as possible.

The following scenarios identify the provisions for essential employees performing on-site functions, employees working remotely (both working on essential and non-essential functions), and employees responsible for non-essential functions that cannot be performed remotely. Regardless of any of these scenarios, employees must follow all public health guidance, including staying home and self-quarantining if sick.

  1. Employees Working On-Site (Essential)

    In the event UW–Madison implements a directive requiring employees to work on-site who perform essential functions and who must be on-site to perform these functions, the following provisions apply:

    • Employees will be notified by their supervisor and/or divisional human resources of their on-site work and are required to report unless they have a qualifying reason (defined below);
    • Non-exempt (hourly) employees will be paid for the hours worked and be eligible to receive a lump-sum payment in recognition of their essential on-site work (amounts to be determined);
    • Exempt (salaried) employees will be paid their normal salaries and be eligible to receive a lump-sum payment in recognition of their essential on-site work (amounts to be determined) - Employees in Limited Appointments are not eligible for this additional payment;
    • Qualifying reasons for not reporting may include issues directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, those things defined and covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or the Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Act (WFMLA) and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for the employee or the employee’s eligible family member (“family member” as defined by UW–Madison Sick Leave policy);
    • When employees cannot report to their workplace, they must inform their supervisor as soon as they become aware they are unable to report; and
    • Divisions reserve the right to set further policy and/or standards specific to their employees and university business operations.
  2. Employees Working Remotely (Essential and Non-Essential)

    For employees telecommuting (working remotely), the following provisions apply*:

    • Supervisors will assess and identify the ability of their employees to work remotely based on job responsibilities and approve or deny an employee’s ability to telecommute;
    • If telecommuting requests are a close call (between being able to telecommute vs not), campus encourages supervisors and human resources to review and interpret telecommuting requests favorably for the employee due to the public health and safety considerations during the COVID-19 pandemic;
    • If an employee is approved for telecommuting, job expectations will be clearly defined by the employee’s supervisor and regular discussion will occur between the employee and supervisor during the period of telecommuting work;
    • Supervisors will consult with their human resources contact for assistance and support with employee telecommuting questions;
    • Employees approved for telecommuting will continue to receive their normal pay while telecommuting;
    • If an employee can only partially perform their job duties while telecommuting, the below provisions in Section III (Employees Who Cannot Work Remotely) will apply for the percent of the job that cannot be performed remotely; and
    • Employees who can telecommute as determined by their supervisor, but request not to do so, must submit a request to their supervisor and be approved to use their accrued leave time during their absence or be approved for leave without pay.

    * COVID-19 revised telecommuting provisions should be reviewed and followed for employees working remotely.

  3. Employees Who Cannot Work Remotely (Non-Essential)

    For employees who are directed not to report to their workplace because the university has implemented social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and these employees cannot telecommute (work remotely) and their job function is not deemed essential, the following provisions apply:

    • Employees will be provided with COVID-19 leave (paid leave) for up to 80 hours to cover their absence (prorated by % FTE) until called back to return to the workplace; and
    • Employees in this status are considered available for work and the following requirements apply:
      • Employees must remain responsive to work-related inquiries and requests during their normal work or shift hours; and
      • Failure to timely respond (within two hours) to a work-related inquiry or request for information from a supervisor or human resources may result in the employee being required to use their own accrued leave time for that day.
  4. Employees Who Cannot Work Because of Illness

    Employees who cannot work because of COVID-19 issues including self-quarantine, self-isolation, illness, care of an immediate family member, or child/elder care due to school/day care closures will be able to use COVID-19 leave (paid leave) for up to 80 hours (prorated by % FTE). Employees can use other accrued leave to cover absences after COVID-19 leave is exhausted. FMLA rights and provisions will also apply in these circumstances.

  5. Employee Reassignment

    Based on emergency circumstances, employees may be reassigned to cover UW–Madison staffing needs to ensure essential campus services are provided. These reassignments may involve work that is not part of the employee’s regular functions and/or located away from their current work unit. The following provisions will apply:

    • Employee will be given information and direction about the work they are being asked to perform;
    • Reassignment work will be reasonably made and consider current campus emergency circumstances, university business operation needs, and the employee’s skills and abilities to the best extent practicable under the circumstances; and
    • If the employee has concerns with the reassigned work, they should discuss with their supervisor and/or human resources contact. If these issues are related to a disability matter that may be interfering with the reassigned work, the employee should contact their Divisional Disability Representative (DDR).


Essential Employees: Employees with responsibilities critical to maintaining essential functions and services on campus, including, but not limited to, completing the academic semester and supporting students who are engaged in ongoing classes, providing housing and dining services to students who remain in residence halls, life/safety, hazardous research and animal care, and Physical Plant. Essential employees often need to report to campus to fulfill essential function duties. Depending on the specific situation and who is needed for the preservation of life and property, essential employees may or may not be called in, but the designation of essential employees should be determined ahead of time.

Non-Essential Employees: Employees who are engaged in non-essential functions and who are directed NOT to report to campus to limit exposure (e.g., campus hazard). However, we recognize that there are critical activities that must occur at key points in time. Supervisors (department chairs, deans, etc.) are expected to work with employees with these types of responsibilities, depending on the timing of emergency events, utilizing the unit's Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP).

Social Distancing: Social distancing as defined by the CDC means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.

Links to Related Policies

ADA and Quick Facts provided by the EEOC

Employment Categories

FMLA Qualifying Reasons for Leave

Sick Leave Policy

Telecommuting Policy

Telecommuting Policy Addendum In Response to COVID-19 (2020)

WFMLA Qualifying Reasons for Leave

Link to Policy

Keywords:covid-19, coronavirus, pandemic, emergency, leave, flexible, remote, telecommute, essential, non-essential, health, sick, illness   Doc ID:98958
Owner:OHR .Group:HR Policies
Created:2020-03-17 09:43 CDTUpdated:2020-03-18 10:56 CDT
Sites:HR Policies
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