COVID-19 Workplace Safety Policy

This policy provides direction for UW–Madison’s implementation of interim workplace policies, procedures and expectations for all university faculty, staff and other campus community members in response to ongoing exigent circumstances impacting the University of Wisconsin–Madison due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Functional Owner

Office of Human Resources, Workforce Relations

Executive Sponsor

Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources

Policy Contact

Workforce Relations Director

Policy Summary

This policy provides direction for UW–Madison’s implementation of interim workplace policies, procedures and expectations for all university faculty, staff and other campus community members in response to ongoing exigent circumstances impacting the University of Wisconsin–Madison due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who This Policy Applies To

This policy applies to all University of Wisconsin–Madison employees. For purposes of this policy, the term “employee” includes, but is not limited to, Faculty, Academic Staff, University Staff, Limited Appointees, Graduate Assistants (Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants, Lecturer Student Assistants and Project/Program Assistants), Post-Degree Training (research interns, research associates, postdoctoral fellows, and postdoctoral trainees), student-hourly employees and other campus community members (e.g., emeritus faculty members, volunteers, etc.) working in university owned or controlled facilities, as well as when working on behalf of the university in non-university facilities.


The purpose of the University of Wisconsin–Madison COVID-19 Workplace Safety Policy is to promote the safe and orderly performance of on-site work. Colleges, schools and divisions will review and approve the specific plans appropriate to those area(s) and function(s) returning to the on-site workplace consistent with this policy.

Policy Detail

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty and staff have been working remotely since March 2020 with only limited numbers of personnel performing work functions deemed on-site essential and required to report to the workplace. Designated employees who have been working remotely are returning in a gradual, controlled manner to on-site campus workplace locations. This policy provides direction and expectations for on-site campus work.

This policy is subject to modification as new regulations, information and guidance becomes available. The university relies on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and Public Health Madison & Dane County to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and for purposes of returning employees to the workplace in a gradual and controlled manner.

The university works closely with the aforementioned agencies, as well as relevant campus units, including (but not limited to) the Office of Human Resources (OHR), Environment Health and Safety, University Health Services, the campus Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator, Employee Disability Resource Office, the Office of Risk Management, the Office of Legal Affairs and others to revise, update, and rescind these policies and procedures as public health guidance evolves.

  1. Principles Governing the Return to the On-Site Workplace

    1. Promote the safety and well-being of every employee as the campus transitions from significantly reduced in-person operations to increased on-site operations while following public health guidance and considering individual circumstances.
    2. Maximize sustained remote work for those able to do so to the greatest extent feasible, taking into account the mission and function of a given unit, to reduce the density of faculty and staff on-site.
    3. Minimize health risks through less dense work arrangements including physical work locations and scheduling, physical distancing, individual health monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, and following all current and applicable health guidance.
    4. Support flexibility for colleges, schools and divisions to develop plans and approaches specific to their mission and function in a manner emphasizing a need to consult with this policy and all State of Wisconsin and/or Dane County public health guidance and regulations.
    5. Maximize simplicity, accessibility and transparency with clear and consistent guidance that all faculty, staff and members of the campus community can easily and effectively follow.
    6. Provide enhanced compliance reporting mechanisms for employees with health and safety concerns. This includes, but is not limited to, accessible reporting options for employees with limited or no computer access, limited or no English language skills, and employees with disabilities.
    7. Implement fair and appropriate consequences for instances of non-compliance.

    COVID-19 is not specific to an ethnicity or race–disease does not discriminate. Racist behaviors or stereotyping are not tolerated at UW–Madison. Employees who experience harassment or discrimination may file a complaint with the Office of Compliance.

  2. Preparing to Return to the On-Site Workplace

    When returning to the workplace, employees will need to complete the COVID-19 Training for On-Site Workers. This training will provide employees with important information regarding the return to on-site work in a manner which protects the health and safety of co-workers, students and visitors. Note, as governmental agencies such as the CDC and Public Health Madison & Dane County update their information, tools, and resources, this training may also be updated. Employees may take an initial version of the training and then be informed there are updates of which the employee needs to be aware. Employees currently in the workplace will also need to complete the required training.

    Employees should also be sure to engage with their supervisors or managers, so they are aware of important process and procedural information about returning to their particular work area or unit. If employees have concerns or questions about their return to on-site work, they are encouraged to first discuss these concerns or questions with their supervisor or manager. If the concern is related to a disability or medical condition, or that of a member of the employee’s household, the employee should contact their Divisional Disability Representative (DDR). Divisional human resources offices in the college, school or division and/or campus Workforce Relations in OHR are also resources available to help answer employee questions or concerns.

    Employees who are directed to report to the on-site workplace and fail to do so without supervisor approval may be placed on a leave of absence and may be subject to disciplinary action up to, and including, dismissal.

  3. Return to On-Site Work Plan Review

    All colleges, schools and divisions that plan to have one or more employees return to on-site work will be required to maintain specific plans appropriate to those area(s) and function(s) returning to the on-site workplace, consistent with this policy. These plans may be coordinated by the Dean/Director’s office or delegated within the college, school or division. Plans may include a summary of the functions and how the duties returning to on-site work support the university’s interests in teaching, research and outreach.

  4. Return to On-Site Work

    1. General Information

      The university cares for its students, faculty, staff, and other campus community members. As such, the university is doing its part to mitigate risk and support a safe and healthy campus environment during the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. In order for the university to be successful in maintaining a safe and healthy campus environment, we expect that all faculty, staff, and campus community members do their part to support these objectives.

      Faculty, staff and other campus community members must periodically review the information provided by the university, to remain aware of up-to-date university information on continued preparedness, action and response to COVID-19. Policies provided by the university rely on recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and Madison and Dane County Public Health. As information changes and is updated by these governmental agencies, there may be changes to this policy, required training, policy support resources and policy tools. Faculty, staff and other campus community members who come to the on-site workplace and have a reason to utilize university facilities, or engage with our students, faculty, staff, and/or volunteers, will be provided with information necessary to stay up to date with the university’s COVID-19 information and resources, understand what the university is doing to help keep the campus healthy and the safety precautions that are in place for COVID-19 prevention, and be knowledgeable about what they can do to directly contribute to a safe and healthy campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

      To the extent possible, taking into account the operational needs of the university, the unit, and as determined by their supervisor, employees who can successfully work remotely – in full or in part – should continue to do so. Maintaining reduced density of faculty and staff in the on-site workplace reduces risk of transmission of COVID-19 and protects vulnerable members of the campus community.

      Faculty and staff placed in full furlough and/or telecommuting since March 2020, and who will be returning to the on-site workplace under approved college, school, division or departmental plans, will receive communication from their Department or supervisor in advance of the expected return to on-site work. Topics covered in these communications should include information regarding COVID-19 Workplace Safety policies and procedures, health and safety requirements, as well as procedures to address concerns faculty and staff members may have regarding returning to the on-site workplace. Additionally, faculty and staff returning to on-site work will be provided with training regarding how to comply with this policy to support a safe and healthy working environment for themselves and their colleagues.

      Reasonable accommodations will be made for employees with disabilities in accordance with applicable laws. Employees are encouraged to contact their DDR to discuss a potential request for accommodation. If an employee with a disability makes a request for an accommodation to reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19 and/or due to another COVID-19 related issue (e.g. limitations related to wearing a mask, limitations related to the use of cleaning supplies in their workspace, etc.), the DDR will make an individualized assessment to identify if a reasonable accommodation can be made.

    2. Self-Monitoring Requirements, Campus Testing and Contact Tracing for Faculty, Staff and Other Employees Reporting to the On-Site Workplace

      Effective testing and contact tracing are needed to help slow the spread of COVID-19 by identifying positive cases for isolation and treatment.

      1. Self-Monitoring: Faculty, staff and volunteers working in the on-site workplace are expected to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms each day before reporting to work and they are not to report to work if they have any symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19. If an employee has one or more symptoms, they should follow their normal absence notification procedures, which typically includes notifying their supervisor or divisional HR that they will not be reporting to the on-site workplace. These symptoms include:
        • Cough (new onset or worsening of chronic cough)
        • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
        • Fever (greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius)
        • Chills
        • Repeated shaking with chills
        • Muscle or body aches
        • Headache
        • Sore throat
        • New loss of taste or smell
        • Runny nose
        • Fatigue
        • Congestion
        • Nausea or vomiting
        • Diarrhea

        If an employee develops symptoms while at work, they must leave the workplace and follow their normal absence notification procedures, which typically includes notifying their supervisor or divisional HR they are leaving. Individuals with these symptoms or combinations of symptoms may have COVID-19 and they are strongly encouraged to contact their healthcare provider for medical guidance regarding care and testing. Individuals with symptom(s) may not return to the workplace until the following conditions are met:

        • The employee has had no fever for at least 24 hours (that is, one full day of no fever without the use medicine that reduces fevers), AND
        • Symptoms, including any respiratory symptoms, have improved (for example cough or shortness of breath have improved), AND
        • at least 10 days have passed since their symptoms first appeared

        Any changes to these requirements must be reviewed/approved by Environmental & Occupational Health (EOH) and UHS before they are implemented to ensure that appropriate public health practices are followed.

        To be clear, faculty, staff, and other community members are not to report to the workplace with any of the above identified symptoms. The university has developed guidance to support supervisors and HR managers who become aware of employees who may be exhibiting one or more symptoms of COVID-19.

      2. COVID-19 Testing for UW–Madison Employees: Beginning Fall 2020, UW–Madison will offer no-cost COVID-19 testing to all faculty and staff.

        The university will also conduct regular testing of volunteer cohorts of individuals across representative campus populations that will provide regular samples to assist campus and public health officials monitor for the prevalence of disease. Additionally, the university will conduct regular testing of employees working in certain areas (e.g., campus residence halls). Until then, testing is currently available in the Madison area at the Alliant Energy Center and through several local health care providers. Learn more about testing from your healthcare provider or Public Health Madison & Dane County here.

      3. Positive COVID-19 Test Results: All faculty, staff, and campus community members who have received a positive COVID-19 test result are expected to report their positive COVID-19 test result to University Health Services (UHS). Positive test results are expected to be reported as soon as practicable in order to support the state, county, and campus contract tracing efforts. Contact tracing is part of a multi-pronged approach to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
        • Contact Tracing: All COVID-19 positive cases are reported to public health officials. UHS is working to support officials at Public Health Madison & Dane County to conduct case interviews and contact tracing. An employee who has been directed by a public health official to isolate should stay away from the workplace for the duration of the isolation period and follow the advice and guidance of their healthcare provider.
    3. Personal Responsibility When Sick or Feeling Sick and for Public Health

      All faculty and staff and other community members must stay away from the on-site workplace if they have tested positive for COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or have been exposed to COVID-19 (e.g., close contact with an infected person, see definition below).

      1. Individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who experience symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19 must:
        1. Stay away from the workplace until:
          1. They have been fever-free for 24 hours; and
          2. Their symptoms have improved; and
          3. It has been at least 10 days since their symptom onset; or
          4. If the person had no symptoms, they may return 10 days after they were tested
        2. Report positive COVID-19 test results to UHS.
        3. Notify their supervisor through the standard procedures of their work unit that they are unable to report to work. If employees need to share any specific medical or health information, employees should contact their DDR.
        4. Consult with their local human resources department about their leave or remote work options. In the event protected medical leave and/or a workplace accommodation may be necessary, faculty and staff will be referred to their Divisional Disability Representative (DDR); and
        5. The employee is strongly encouraged to consult their regular healthcare provider for medical advice and guidance about care and isolation information.
      2. Individuals who have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 will be contacted by official contact tracers at UHS or PHMDC and must:
        1. Stay away from the workplace.
        2. Report positive COVID-19 test results to UHS.
        3. Notify their supervisor they are not reporting to work because they were exposed to or in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
        4. Contact their local HR department with questions about leave or other options if they need to quarantine.
        5. Follow all appropriate procedures, including testing, if they develop symptoms.
        6. Contact their DDR with any questions about protected medical leave.
        7. Consult with your DDR before returning to the workplace.

        Employees are strongly encouraged to consult with their personal healthcare provider for medical advice and guidance around care, testing, and quarantine information. The Wisconsin DHS offers detailed and specific advice.

        Note that ‘close contact’ is defined as being within 6 feet of an infected person for a prolonged period (15 minutes or more) starting from 48 hours before illness onset. Contact tracing experts will contact you if their investigation discovers you have been in close contact with a confirmed positive case.

        The DDR, in consultation with the employee’s supervisor and the local HR department will determine whether the employee needs to remain out of the workplace as a result of the exposure or contact. Employees may not return to the on-site workplace until they have consulted with their DDR who will ensure that the criteria established by federal and state agencies to quarantine have been met.

        Note: Certain clinical operations may have modified procedures related to exposure or close contact to COVID-19 positive individuals or patients.

  5. Physical Distancing

    1. General Information

      The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Increasing the physical distance between individuals reduces the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19, which is considered to be the primary route of exposure. Physical distancing between individuals should be maintained both indoors and outdoors while on campus, in combination with wearing face masks or face coverings.

      Colleges, Schools and Divisions with employees approved to return to the workplace will be required to follow these guidelines:

      1. Limit the number and density of people in any building space at one time. If there are concerns with the density of people in a building, employees should share concerns with their supervisor, human resources office, or OHR’s Workforce Relations.
      2. Facilitate employees’ ability to stay at least 6 feet (1.8m) apart whenever possible.
      3. Limit the number of in-person meetings. Where possible, conduct meetings virtually or by telephone rather than in person.
      4. If meetings are required and electronic or telephonic meetings are not an option, limit the number of attendees at in-person meetings to 10 people or less and maintain physical distancing practices staying at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart; all attendees, in accordance with University policy, should wear a face covering or mask.
      5. Support supervisors in making efforts to stagger work schedules for employees reporting on-site–including arrival times, departure times, and breaks–where possible to further limit density. If supervisors require assistance, they should work with their divisional human resources office for assistance and support. If the staggering of work schedules will result in employees being alone in the workplace, supervisors are strongly encouraged to adopt a check-in/check-out system so employees can be safe coming, going, and working alone in the workplace.
      6. Continue to work remotely when the tasks allow even if authorized to work on-site. Only visit the on-site workplace to perform tasks that cannot be done remotely.
      7. Supervisors or human resources representatives should be available to discuss if faculty, staff, and/or other campus community members have concerns about the reconfiguration of their workspace.
      8. Minimize the use of shared kitchen equipment, dishes, and utensils. Faculty, staff, and volunteers who want to consume food or beverages in the workplace during the day, must bring their own personal containers such as coolers and/or lunch bags/boxes. These items should be taken home each day and cleaned before bringing them back the next day.
      9. Make every effort for maintaining 6 feet (1.8 meters) from others in hallways and stairwells. Avoid elevators and use the stairs if possible and save the elevator use for those individuals who may be unable to physically take the stairs. If an employee must take an elevator, they should limit the elevator to one or two persons, stay as distant as possible, limit conversation and wear a face covering.
      10. Communicate with the appropriate supervisor, college, school or division human resources, or Workforce Relations in OHR if the employee has questions or concerns.
    2. Hygiene

      Frequent handwashing and sanitizing are simple but effective ways to reduce the risk of viral transmission. Each unit with people working on-site will be required to do the following:

      • Review all work areas to confirm that sufficient handwashing facilities and/or sanitizing products are available.
      • Provide sanitizing products as needed, especially in high-traffic, high-touch areas (e.g., outside elevators and stairwells, in work areas with no sinks, etc.).
      • Encourage the frequent use of handwashing facilities and sanitizing products in the unit.
    3. Face Masks and Coverings

      According to the campus Public Health Protocols, all faculty, staff, and employees are required to wear either a reusable cloth face covering or a single-use disposable mask while on campus, including sidewalks and other outdoor spaces, or within university facilities, unless working alone in a laboratory or office space with the door closed.

      A reusable cloth face covering or single-use disposable mask is also required when two or more people are riding in a university vehicle or while riding on a campus bus.

      The university will provide all employees with reusable cloth face coverings. In the meantime, employees may use their own cloth face coverings, or colleges, schools and divisions and/or departments or units can request free delivery of single-use disposable masks in bulk by submitting an online request form.

      The use of a reusable cloth face covering or a single-use disposable mask is meant to supplement, not replace, physical distancing, good hygiene and self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms which remain the most effective measures to reduce the spread of the virus in the workplace. The use of a reusable cloth face covering or a single-use disposable mask does not make it acceptable for employees to come to work if they are having symptoms. Doing so increases the chances of spreading illness in the workplace.

    4. Other Personal Protective Equipment

      Per the campus Public Health Protocols, the requirements for the use of PPE to mitigate identified job-specific hazards will not change. Campus units are experienced in these areas and must continue to ensure that employees are using the correct PPE for their jobs in addition to PPE used to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

      Reusable cloth face coverings and single-use disposable masks differ from personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N-95 respirators and surgical masks. The university will continue to provide PPE to employees who may face potential exposure to COVID-19 or other hazardous substances related to their work. These types of PPE will be reserved for this purpose and they will not be used in lieu of face coverings.

    5. Cleaning and Disinfection

      Each campus unit is responsible for the regular cleaning and disinfection of its work areas, tools, and equipment.

      • Common Areas. Custodians will continue with routine cleaning as well as additional cleaning of high-touch areas in common areas including restrooms. Custodians will also continue to remove trash and recycling from common areas, bathrooms, breakrooms, and kitchenettes.
      • Each unit is responsible for the cleaning and disinfection of offices, laboratories, conference rooms, workstations, and other unit-specific space. Each unit is also responsible for the removal of trash and recycling from unit-specific spaces. FP&M will provide additional guidance to building managers regarding the process for completing these tasks. Changes to these practices will be communicated to the best extent practicable. All faculty, staff, and volunteers are expected to keep their workspaces clean. Where available from building managers or supervisors, employees should use disinfectant spray and/or cleaning wipes on hard surfaces in their work areas where cleaning and disinfection is necessary and appropriate. Employees should ask their supervisor or divisional human resources office for more information or if they have concerns about cleaning or disinfecting in their work area.
      • Units with campus vehicles are responsible for the regular cleaning and disinfection of their own vehicles. Campus buses are cleaned and disinfected by Madison Metro. Additional guidance regarding use of campus vehicles can be found on the FP&M webpage.
      • When a person diagnosed with COVID-19 is known to have been in the on-site workplace, the specific locations where the person spent time will be evaluated by University Health Services (UHS) in partnership with local staff to determine what cleaning and disinfection is required in accordance with CDC guidance. UHS and Environment Health and Safety (EHS) will coordinate to close spaces as needed in advance of required cleaning.

      Please note that certain cleaning supplies, particularly hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes, remain in short supply. Units are encouraged to establish internal controls as needed to ensure supplies remain adequate. Free cleaning supplies from campus inventories can be obtained by completing an online request.

      If faculty, staff, and/or volunteers have allergies or chemical sensitivities to cleaning supplies and/or the use of cleaning supplies in their work area, please consult the Divisional Disability Representative (DDR) where you work.

All faculty, staff and other community members who are approved to return to on-site work are required to follow the workplace safety procedures outlined in this policy and the UW–Madison Reopening Public Health Protocols, in addition to any procedures or expectations from your college, school or division leadership as you return to the workplace. In situations where UW–Madison employees are working in facilities owned or controlled by another entity, these policies continue to apply to UW–Madison employees. UW–Madison employees working in facilities controlled by other non-UW entities may be subject to additional workplace expectations. In the event that there is conflict between these policies and the expectations of another employer or facility, the employee should consult with their UW–Madison supervisor or human resources representative immediately.

Employees returning to the on-site workplace, or in the case of personnel already performing on-site work, continue to be in the on-site workplace, need to successfully complete the COVID-19 Training for On-Site Workers and comply with these policies and procedures.

Consequences for Non-Compliance

University employees who violate this policy and/or associated policies, protocols or procedures may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment, in accordance with the relevant policies and procedures applicable to their employee category.

Supporting Tools

UW–Madison Reopening Public Health Protocols

COVID-19 Training for On-Site Workers

Letter Template: Requirements for Working On-Site

Letter Template: Return to the Workplace

Return to On-Site Work Checklist for Employees

Return to On-Site Work Checklist for Supervisors

ADA Accommodations Guidelines (coming soon)

COVID-19 Symptoms in the Workplace (coming soon)

Campus Vehicle Use Guidelines During COVID-19

Telecommuting Policy

Smart Restart Information for Employees – FAQ

Smart Restart Information for Supervisors – FAQ


Other Campus Community Members: Includes Emerita, zero-dollar appointees, lecturers, volunteers, contractors, service providers and other members of the campus community who perform services in the on-site workplace on behalf of the university.

Close Contact: Defined as being within 6 feet of an infected person for a prolonged period (15 minutes or more) starting from 48 hours before illness onset.


All faculty, staff and campus community members to whom this policy applies are responsible for becoming familiar with and following this policy.

University supervisors are responsible for promoting the understanding of this policy and for taking appropriate steps to help ensure compliance with it.

Employees are expected to:

Supervisors are expected to:

Supervisors are expected NOT to:

College/School/Division Responsibilities:

The Office of Human Resources (OHR) Responsibilities:

Link to Policy

Links to Related Policies

HR Policy 16.16 - Furlough Policy

FPP Chapter 9 - Discipline and Dismissal of Faculty for Cause

ASPP Chapter 8 - Complaints Against Academic Staff Members

ASPP Chapter 6 - Discipline and Dismissal

Corrective Progressive Discipline for University Staff