5.1.6 Essential Services During Emergencies or Other Conditions

Policy Section: Conditions of Employment

Subsection: Work Status & Schedules

Effective Date
May 15, 2024
Previously Updated
February 21, 2020
Applicable to
Benefits-Eligible Employees
Responsible Executive
Romy Riddick, Vice President for Human Resources
Responsible Office
Office of Human Resources
Policy Description

Princeton University is a residential community and an employer that operates continuously 24 hours a day. Activities and services related to teaching and research, which include library and computer services, facilities support, housing and dining services, and health and safety must continue as necessary on a seven-day schedule. However, there are some scheduled or unscheduled situations or emergencies that may necessitate cancelling classes and/or closing offices, i.e., suspension of normal operations. In an effort to ensure safety for University students, employees, and visitors, these situations are closely monitored and carefully planned so that appropriate and timely decisions and announcements related to work schedules can be made.

Essential Services Employee

Essential services employees perform jobs that are necessary and required to maintain basic University operations during scheduled closures or unscheduled suspension of normal operations due to emergencies, events, or other situations. Essential services employees may be asked and/or required to perform jobs or duties that fall outside of their normal job classification during an emergency event.

Suspension of Normal Operations

Suspension of normal operations is defined as the decision of the University to suspend University operations in whole or in part in the event of extraordinary situations, and may include University closure and/or class cancellation.

Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP)

The Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) is an effort that focuses on planning for the continued operations, services, and activities across campus during a wide range of potential long-term emergencies or disruptions to ordinary operations. For planning purposes, long term may range from two days to several weeks.

COOPS are part of the University-wide emergency management planning effort and are generally implemented after the University has ensured the safety of those who live, work, and visit the campus, and the preserved University property.

The COOP planning process is designed to answer two key questions:

  1. What essential functions does this department/office provide to the University community and what resources would be required to continue to provide that function in an extended disruption? Essential services might include such items as food and shelter, time and absence management, payroll, utilities, security, etc.
  2. What resources would be required for the department/office to continue its own operation during an extended disruption?
Application of the Policy

This policy describes how the University is staffed during scheduled work closings or suspension of normal operations resulting from events, emergencies, or other situations.

Certain essential services are required to be maintained in any suspension of normal operations. There are several factors that influence the University’s decisions on which essential services and employees are needed. These factors include but are not limited to:

  • Reason for the closure
  • Whether the closure is scheduled or unscheduled, short term, or long term
  • Time of year that the closure takes place

In other words, employees may be designated as essential services staff in one circumstance but not in all circumstances.

Where there are union agreements in place, the terms of the contract are to be followed.

Work Schedule Modifications

Impact of Suspension of Normal Operations on Work Schedules

Depending on the situation that necessitates a suspension of normal operations, the University may alter the regular work schedule. The University announces on a situation-specific basis the time the suspension of normal operations condition ends and the University officially reopens to resume the regular schedule and compensation rates of pay.

During a suspension of normal operations, including a delayed opening, early dismissal or closing, employees who perform essential services whose regular work schedule is between the hours of 8:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Designated essential employees are expected to:

  • Report to work during closures and follow their regular and/or altered work schedules as directed by the University and/or respective department
  • Notify their supervisors as early as possible if they expect to be delayed in arriving at work

Employees who have work schedules other than the regular schedule between the hours of 8:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday should call their supervisors to learn if there are any adjustments to their expected time of arrival.

Supervisors should develop particular notification procedures for employees during an emergency, especially for those employees who work afternoon, evening, or weekend shifts.

Essential Services Employees


Staff members designated by their department as essential services employees are required to report to and/or remain at work as directed by the University and/or department during a University closing and/or when operations are suspended.

Whenever possible, essential services employees should be designated in advance of an occurrence and will be compensated as described within this policy. In the event an unpredictable situation occurs, the University reserves the right to require employees to be designated on an ad hoc basis as essential services staff. In these rare cases, the University will make every effort to give as much notice as possible to the affected employees.

Job Requirement

Because the University depends on employees who perform essential services, the ability of employees to report to and/or remain at work during these times is considered a job requirement. They may be excused only with the specific authorization of their department. Under certain circumstances, employees may be permitted and/or required to work from home or remotely.

Travel Ban During a Declared State of Emergency

The State of New Jersey and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania identify specific job functions that may be eligible for a travel restriction exemption during a declared state of emergency and travel ban. The University provides eligible essential services employees with appropriate travel ban documentation and/or credentials for their use when they are required to report to work in these situations. Shelter and food is provided for essential services employees throughout the travel ban period.

Essential services employees must use their best judgment to determine their own safety when traveling to and from work. Absences by essential services employees who are required to report to work may be reviewed on a case by case basis in consultation with the employee’s supervisor and the Office of Human Resources.

Categories of Closures

Cancellation of classes and closure of offices can result from either scheduled events or suspension of normal operations, as described below. Each situation may affect the campus and the surrounding community differently. The nature, severity, and impact of each circumstance determine the essential services required to maintain vital campus operations. The University has established two categories of emergency and nonemergency closures to plan more easily for and enable efficient communication, staffing levels required (including specific skill sets needed) and pay administration during various situations.

The University’s Emergency Management Group (EMG) is responsible for monitoring acceptable levels of risk for the institution and for determining the appropriate category and emergency response.

Scheduled (non-emergency)

Scheduled situations or events are typically planned, nonemergency, short term, and require certain staff members to perform essential services when all or most offices are closed. Examples include but are not limited to events or needs that:

  • Occur on a University holiday, such as December holidays, Memorial Day, Labor Day
  • Incur parking shortages or other vehicular congestion during major University events, such as Commencement

Managers who are responsible for planning special events should anticipate staffing needs as far in advance as possible to designate some or all staff members as essential services staff for the specific event or time period.

Classes are generally not impacted by these situations and affected offices typically remain open.

Suspension of Normal Operations

Suspensions of normal operations are unscheduled situations or emergencies when the University would have to suspend normal University operations and/or modify work schedules. While events requiring the suspension of normal operations are typically not scheduled, appropriate responses may be anticipated and planned ahead of time. Essential services required are determined by each situation.

These situations may impact the activities of the entire campus or portions of the campus, affect the ability of employees to travel, disrupt scheduled classes or events, close offices, and have short-term or long-term impact.

Essential services are required to ensure the health and welfare of the University’s campus population, keep the campus secure, and safely operating, and/or protect and preserve University property.

Although unlikely or rare, employees must plan for serious or extreme emergencies that threaten the health or safety of the campus and/or the local region. There may be additional functions that require essential services staffing to maintain financial, technology, and/or other infrastructure transactions.

Most or all offices may be closed and classes may not be cancelled, depending on the severity of the threat or impact.

Examples include but are not limited to:

  • Bomb threats/terrorism
  • Extended network interruptions
  • Extended power interruptions
  • Fire
  • Flooded roads or buildings
  • Hazardous material or other environmental hazard
  • Inclement weather
  • Interruption of vital supplies
  • Public health threat
  • Violence or civil unrest

Refer to policy 6.1.1 Overtime Pay for specific information about pay rates for essential services staff.

University Communication

Official University notification regarding changes to University work hours may be provided by several or all of the following communication tools, depending on the severity and impact of the situation:

  • Princeton TigerAlert Notification System, an emergency notification system that allows authorized Princeton officials to send news and instructions simultaneously to individuals through landline phones, cellular phones, text messaging, and email
  • Announcements made on the following local radio stations:
    • ­WPST Trenton, 97.5 FM
    • ­WKXW Trenton, 101.5 FM
    • ­WBCB Levittown, 1490 AM
  • Website announcements
  • Email
  • Tiger TV emergency alert system
  • Posters
  • TigerSafe App
Updating Personal Information

To receive immediate notification of closures from University officials through TigerAlert, employees should keep their personal information up-to-date in the human resources self-service website, including:

  • Cell phone numbers, including SMS text messaging
  • Home phones
  • Personal email addresses
Nonessential Staff Absence

During delayed openings, employees who are not designated as essential services staff and who are not able to or choose not to report to work when the University reopens, must notify their supervisors within a reasonable amount of time or follow call-in procedures for their departments.

If an employee's local police authority or municipality prohibits vehicular travel during an emergency, the time-off is not charged if the employee provides documentation confirming the travel ban. When the emergency is lifted, employees are expected to report to work.

Working Remotely

Under certain circumstances, employees may be permitted and/or required to work from home or remotely. Supervisors should review these situations and communicate expectations to employees.

Scheduled Time Off

Paid leave, e.g., vacation, sick, personal, bereavement, is not restored to employees who, prior to the closure, have had designated as a paid leave day the day on which a late opening or early dismissal or closure occurs. The entire day or days remain charged to the employee’s paid leave.

Roles & Responsibilities
Office of Environmental Health & Safety

The Office of Environmental Health and Safety can provide guidance on developing a department-specific COOP.

All departments should develop a contingency or continuity of operations plan (COOP) that will enable them to identify services and employees who might be required to work during an emergency or scheduled closing, based on the emergency category or tier. In a majority of cases, managers can identify essential services and designate essential services staff ahead of time.


Department managers should:

  • Develop a COOP to ensure continuity of the operation
  • Determine which services performed by the department, if any, should be considered essential based on the categories described in this policy
  • Designate which employees perform essential services and therefore may be required to report to work during various closings

Additionally, prior to the opening of each academic year, supervisors should:

  • Review their staffing rosters to determine which of their staff, if any, should be designated as essential services staff
  • Remind employees of their designations
  • Review the call-in procedures
  • Provide the Department of Public Safety with an updated list of employees who require a travel ban exemption during times when the State of New Jersey or Commonwealth of Pennsylvania declares a state of emergency.

Supervisors are expected to contact HR for guidance if they are considering designating current employees for the first time as essential services staff to discuss the impact of the essential services staff role designation on the employee’s job.

Excused from Essential Service

Depending on the nature and suspension of operations, and at the discretion of the department head, essential personnel may be excused from essential service for the following reasons:

  • The essential services employee has a medical condition.
  • The essential services employee has a personal circumstance that prohibits one from reporting to duty or necessitates departure from the workplace during the course of the suspension of normal operations.
Hiring Supervisors

When filling vacancies, supervisors should:

  • Advise candidates prior to hiring that the position is designated as providing essential services
  • Explain under what conditions attendance is required
  • Explain the procedures for notification and call-in to newly hired employees
Staff Members

Staff members who provide essential services are expected to:

  • Follow their regular and/or altered work schedules as directed by the University and/or respective department during a suspension of normal operations
  • Notify their supervisors as early as possible if they expect to be delayed in arriving at work

Employees designated as performing essential services that do not report to and/or remain at work when required to do so by management may be subject to disciplinary procedures. Each situation will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by a representative from the Office of Human Resources, the supervisor and the employee to determine appropriate action.

Update Log

 2/21/2020: Updated "time collection" to "time and absence management"

5/15/2024: Removed discontinued SNOW hotline for weather emergencies