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Coronavirus Information Update for Staff, March 15

March 15, 2020

On March 15, Vice President for Human Resources emailed all staff with the following update about coronavirus:

At this challenging time for our University, our country, and the international community, I would like to share with you detailed guidance to help inform your response to the coronavirus and mitigate its potential impact. We find ourselves in uncharted waters, but, together, we can set a course that will both sustain Princeton’s educational mission and minimize potential risks to the health and well-being of our faculty, staff, and students.

We continue to take vigorous steps to achieve these dual objectives. As announced on March 11, all undergraduate students who are able to do so have been required to leave campus by March 19. All classes, lectures, seminars, labs, precepts, and exams will be conducted on a virtual basis between March 23 and the end of the academic year. Effective immediately, we are also strongly encouraging staff to work from home if practical to do so, subject to managerial approval. Despite these significant alterations to the way Princeton functions, we remain open and operational, guided by the same commitment to excellence and service that has always defined our University community.

New Policies & Practices

To help address the unprecedented impact of the coronavirus, the University has temporarily implemented the following policies and practices. Given the unpredictable nature of this health emergency, the University will revisit these approximately every three weeks or as required by any major developments related to the pandemic.

Working from Home

We strongly encourage managers to implement work-from-home arrangements for one or more days a week for staff whose duties do not require them to be on campus and whose absence will not disrupt their units’ operations or compromise the integrity and delivery of their work. Eligible employees should work from home consistent with HR’s flexible and remote work arrangement guidelines and their managers’ performance expectations. Working from home requires a high degree of dedication and flexibility, but I am confident that those who do so will continue to excel in fulfilling Princeton’s needs and obligations.

Working on Campus

While we are relying on many staff to work from home, there is much important work at Princeton that cannot be completed off campus. For those employees whose duties must be performed on-site, managers and staff should continue to safeguard their own health and that of others by taking the personal precautions described below and practicing social distancing. I appreciate the steps that managers are taking to provide assurance and stability for staff whose duties bring them to campus.

In the case of unionized employees, we are in the process of working with union officials and management to ensure that duties can continue to be performed in a manner that maximizes both safety and flexibility. Our goal is to institute creative solutions whereby all unionized employees remain in paid status, whether or not they are required to work on campus or whether, in some instances, we reduce the number of staff on site through fair rotations. The partnership in which these discussions are grounded is invaluable, and I want to thank the union officials who have been working with us to address a range of challenges related to this unique situation.

Designated COVID-19 Days

Employees facing hardship situations related to the coronavirus can now make use of COVID-19 days, up to a maximum of 14 days, when requesting absences, effective today. These days, which can only be used in consultation with managers, are designed to assist you if, for example, you fall ill with COVID-19 but do not have sick, vacation, or bundled time available or if you are facing a school closing or other major care-related issue arising from the coronavirus and cannot immediately make alternative arrangements. Please be mindful that many staff are urgently needed at this time and that the use of COVID-19 days requires management approval. To be clear, these days are separate and distinct from those when staff may be working from home, for which no leave time is needed—they are for employees who are unable to work, either on campus or remotely, because of hardships related to COVID-19.

Short-Term Disability

For illnesses that qualify for short-term disability leave, there is a new electronic short-term disability application specifically for faculty and staff diagnosed with COVID-19. For this particular diagnosis, medical certification is not required to be submitted with the application. Please refer to policy 3.1.9 Short Term Disability.

Reducing Exposure to the Coronavirus

As of now, there is no vaccine to protect us from the coronavirus and the respiratory illness it causes (COVID-19). Until a vaccine is developed, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure to the virus, thereby slowing its transmission. We should all take a number of simple but important precautions, based on guidance from public health officials and experts in University Health Services. Your chances of being infected or infecting others can be reduced by:

  • Regularly and thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or cleaning your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub containing at least 60% alcohol
  • Maintaining at least a six-foot (two-meter) distance between yourself and others as much as possible, particularly with anyone who is coughing or sneezing (this reduces the risk of coming into contact with small liquid droplets that spray from the nose or mouth)
  • Avoiding large crowds and events of any size that bring together groups of people in close, confined spaces
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unsanitized hands
  • Covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze; disposing of the used tissue immediately and then sanitizing your hands
  • Staying home if you feel unwell and, most importantly, if you or someone in your household exhibits symptoms associated with COVID-19

It is imperative that we minimize the time we spend in close proximity to one another through social distancing. Although this does not come easily on a campus that values human interaction, we must refrain from bringing large groups of individuals together and avoid, wherever possible, extended face-to-face interactions, which can be replaced by telephone appointments and/or remote meetings through available technologies, such as Zoom. As you know, most large meetings and events have been cancelled on campus. Additionally, with many students returning home and many employees working from home, we are steadily reducing the number of people on campus at any given time, making social distancing easier.

Other Resources

To help you during this particularly stressful time, do not hesitate to make use of the following resources:

For other online resources, including webinars, videos, and websites, please refer to this webpage.

As always, the University’s first and foremost priority is your safety, and I urge you to take good care of yourselves and others until this crisis passes. As noted above, we will continue to review our policies and practices as often as necessary and will communicate with you about any further changes. Every member of Princeton’s staff is important to the success of this University, and it will take all of us, working together, to get through these trying times. Thank you for all that you do and for rising to the challenges before us with such good will and resolution.

Refer to the HR Coronavirus Resources for Employees webpage for helpful benefits, well-being, work-related, and other information.