WSU’s plans will be aligned and consistent with local orders, the State of Washington’s Phased Approach and with employee job requirements.

Washington State University’s policies and protocols for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic will be rooted in the health and safety for our faculty, staff, students and the public we interact with.  The Employee Return to Work guide is intended to assist with the safe return of faculty and staff to WSU work locations.  As appropriate for the work location, this guide is to be used in conjunction with the protocols for the safe return of students. The employee return to work guide is not a substitute for any protocols required by Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) requirements for work performed.

The primary goals for WSU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic are to protect public health, and to continue the institutions vital missions of education and research. 

It is important for all employees to understand that minimizing the risk of COVID-19 infections is a shared responsibility. In addition, although WSU is taking appropriate steps in accordance with established guidelines, the risk of contracting COVID-19 cannot be eliminated. When returning to WSU work locations, all employees must understand that this risk continues to exist.

As mentioned above, WSU’s plans will be aligned and consistent with local orders as well as the State of Washington’s Safe Start Washington: A Phased Approach to Recovery. WSU’s plans will also follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), and Washington State Department of Health, (DOH) and local county health officials.

WSU’s knowledge and understanding of the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, and our policies and plans will be updated as appropriate as more information becomes available. Visit the WSU Coronavirus COVID-19 website for the university’s central source of updates and information about COVID-19. 

Through Phases 2 and 3, teleworking or working at an alternative work location remains the preferred work option. WSU employees who can telework without hampering essential operations should continue to do so.

Employee Guide for Returning to a WSU Work Location


Through Phases 2 and 3, teleworking or working at an alternative work location remains the preferred work option. WSU employees who can telework without hampering essential operations should continue to do so.

Reporting to a WSU Work Location

Employees are not to report for work at a WSU work location unless directed to by their supervisor, once they have met all of the pre-return requirements defined in this guide.

Workplace Expectations & Guidelines

All employees are expected to fully comply with WSU polices, protocols, and guidelines. Failure to do so may result in corrective and/or disciplinary action. Supervisors should contact HRS, as certain violations may require the employee to immediately leave the work location.  

COVID-19 Symptoms

According to the CDC, people with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness.Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.

People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

This list is not an exhaustive list of all symptoms. Other less common symptoms have been reported, including gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Visit CDC website for additional information.

COVID-19 Groups at Higher Risk

Certain groups may be at higher risk for COVID-19 infection, including:

  • Older adults (aged 65 years and older)
  • People of all ages with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, including:
    • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
    • People who have serious heart conditions
    • People who are immunocompromised
    • People with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
    • People with diabetes
    • People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
    • People with liver disease

Employees who have been instructed to return to their work location and have concerns about doing so, due to a medical condition that places them in a higher risk group, those who are pregnant, or those who wish to seek ADA Reasonable Accommodations related to returning to the work location should visit the HRS Disability Services website or contact the HRS main line at (509) 335-4521.

Return to Work Requirements

Employees who have been instructed to return to a WSU work location must do the following:

  1. Complete the WSU COVID-19 Safe Return to Work training.
  2. Effective, June 29, 2020, Conduct symptom self-attestation every day before reporting to a WSU work location. COVID-19 Employee Attestation Information.

COVID-19 Return to Work Concerns

Employees who have been directed to return to a WSU work location and have concerns, due to COVID-19, are to complete the COVID-19 Return to Work Concerns Form.

Staffing During Phases 2 & 3

WSU will return faculty and staff, in a coordinated process, over time, to ensure appropriate social distancing, and availability of face coverings and PPE (personal protective equipment) in accordance with federal, state, and local health officials.

WSU will assess expanded staffing based on mission-critical operations, ability to control and manage specific work environments, and necessity to access on-site resources. These decisions, once approved, will be communicated through your employee’s respective vice president, chancellor or dean.

The need to reduce the number of people on campus (density) to meet social distancing requirements will continue for some time through Phases 2 & 3. Departments who can continue to have employees effectively telework or work at an alternative location must continue to do so until restrictions are eased under Phase 4.

Expanded staffing will be tightly controlled and coordinated to mitigate potential risks and ensure the safety of employees, as well as the communities we serve. No department or unit shall increase staffing levels beyond current needs to support critical on-site operations without:

Consultation and review of return to work plans by:

  • Respective vice president, chancellor or dean,
  • Public Health Emergency Task Force and/or Risk Management Advisory Group
  • President’s cabinet

As on-site staffing increases and operations expand, WSU will closely monitor and assess the potential spread of the virus, as well as existing policies and procedures to mitigate it.

Staffing Options

For employees who have been instructed to return to their work location, there are several options departments can consider to maintain required social distancing measures and reduce population density within buildings and work spaces.

Telework: Departments with employees who can effectively telework to fulfill some or all of their work responsibilities must allow them to continue do so to reduce the number of individuals on the campus or other WSU work location.

Alternating Days or Shifts: To limit the number of individuals and interactions among those at the WSU work location, departments may schedule partial staffing on alternating days or shifts, such schedules will help enable social distancing, especially in areas with large common workspaces.

Staggered Reporting/Departing: The beginning and end of the workday typically bring many people together at common entry/exit points of buildings. Staggering reporting and departure times will help reduce traffic in common areas to meet social distancing requirements. (See Enter/Exit Controls for further details).

Face Coverings

UPDATE: Beginning June 26, a statewide order requires all individuals in an indoor public space, or outside public space when unable to physically distance from others, will be legally required to wear a face covering. For more on the statewide face covering mandate, visit the Washington State Coronavirus Response (COVID-19) website

Face Coverings: As directed by federal, state or local county health officials, face coverings must be worn by all employees working at any WSU work location when in the presence of others and in public settings.

Exceptions include: when working alone in an office, vehicle, or at a job site; if the individual is deaf or hard of hearing, or is communicating with someone who relies on language cues such as facial markers and expression and
mouth movements as a part of communication; if the individual has a medical condition or disability that makes wearing a facial covering inappropriate; or when the job has no in-person interaction.

WSU will supply face coverings for employee’s.  Employees may choose to wear their own personal cloth face covering. Personal cloth face coverings must only be worn for one day at a time, and must be properly cleaned before use again. See EH&S Personal Protective Equipment and CDC guidance regarding face coverings. Disposable face coverings must be disposed of daily.

Cloth face coverings are not PPE. Face coverings do not replace social distancing, avoiding face touching and frequent handwashing. Cloth face coverings protect others from infected individuals who wear the face coverings, including those that may be infected but don’t experience illness i.e. asymptomatic. Wearing cloth face coverings in public areas to limit the spread of respiratory droplets demonstrates consideration for others. Please understand some individuals may not comfortably wear cloth face masks without negatively affecting their breathing. If unable to wear a face covering, due to a medical condition, please visit the HRS Disability Services website or contact the HRS main line at (509) 335-4521 to discuss options.

See details regarding face covering/mask use below:

Personal Safety Practices

Social Distancing: Keeping space between you and others is one of the best tools to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 virus and slow its spread. Since people can spread the virus before they know they are sick, it is important to avoid close contact with others whenever possible, even if you have no symptoms. Social distancing is important for everyone, especially to help protect people who are at higher risk of getting very sick. Employees who are working at a WSU work location must follow these social distancing practices:

  • Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people at all times
  • Do not gather in groups exceeding the number allowed within the Phase guidelines for your county

Handwashing: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or touching your face. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol or 70% isopropanol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash your hands after touching your face.

Gloves: Healthcare workers and others in high-risk areas should use gloves as part of PPE (personal protective equipment), but according to the CDC, gloves are not necessary for general use and do not replace good hand hygiene. Washing your hands often is considered the best practice for common everyday tasks.

Goggles/Face Shields: Employees do not need to wear goggles or face shields as part of general activity. Good hand hygiene and avoiding touching your face are generally sufficient for most non- healthcare environments. Contact EH&S for specifics on high risk areas and PPE.

Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for all positions, is available including gloves, face coverings, hand-sanitizer, and face masks (if required for position, check with E&HS).

Cleaning/Disinfection: Employees should wipe down commonly used surfaces before and after use with products that meet the EPA’s criteria for use against COVID-19 and are appropriate for the surface. This includes any shared-space location or equipment (e.g. copiers, printers, computers, keyboards and mice, A/V and other electrical equipment, coffee makers, desks and tables, light switches, door knobs, etc.). EH&S provides sanitizing guidance at the EHS Disinfectant website.

Coughing/Sneezing Hygiene: If you are in a private setting and do not have on your cloth face covering, remember to always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow. Then throw used tissues in the trash. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.

Guidance for Specific Workplace Scenarios

Public Transportation: If you take public transportation, including shared rides, vanpools, buses, trains, ferries etc. it is recommended you wear a face covering before entering and avoid touching surfaces with your hands. Upon disembarking, wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers with greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol as the preferred form of hand hygiene as soon as possible and before removing your mask.

Working in Office Environments: If you work in an open environment, be sure to maintain at least 6 feet distance from co-workers. If possible have at least one workspace separating you from another co-worker. You should wear a face covering at all times while in a shared work space/room.  Discourage workers from using others work space including desk, telephone, equipment, and other work items.  If they are used, they must be sanitized between uses.

Departments must assess work environments and meeting rooms to institute measures to physically separate and increase distance between employees, other coworkers, and customers, such as:

  • Place visual cues such as floor decals, colored tape, or signs to indicate to customers where they should stand while waiting in line.
  • Place one-way directional signage for large open work spaces with multiple through-ways to increase distance between employees moving through the space.
  • Consider designating specific stairways for up or down traffic if building space allows.
  • Remove excess chairs and place chairs a minimum of 6 feet apart.
  • Consider installing a cough guard for reception areas

If you work in an office, no more than one person should be in the same room unless the required 6 feet of distancing can be consistently maintained. If more than one person is in a room, face coverings should be worn at all times. A face covering is not required if you are working alone in a confined office space (does not include partitioned work areas in a large open environment).

Face coverings should be worn by employees in reception/receiving areas. Face coverings should be used when inside any WSU facility where others are present, including walking in narrow hallways where others travel and in break rooms, conference rooms and other meeting locations.

Using Restrooms: Use of restrooms should be limited based on size to ensure at least 6 feet distance between individuals.  Coordinate appropriate signage with facility services.

Using Elevators:  No more than one person may occupy an elevator at a time.

Meetings: In person meetings are to be avoided as much as possible.  If an in person meeting is necessary, participants must follow social distancing requirements. Departments should remove or rearrange chairs and tables or add visual cue marks in meeting rooms to support social distancing practices. All attendees should wear a face covering while sharing space in a common room. Meeting rooms must be sanitized before and after use. Employees are encouraged to communicate with colleagues and supervisors as needed by email, instant message, telephone or other available technology rather than meeting face-to-face.  Use online meeting applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or telephone conferencing when possible, even when employees are in the same office or building.

Meals: If employees are eating in their work environment (break room, office, etc.), they must maintain 6 feet distance between others. Individuals should not sit facing one another.

Laboratory Work: Specific criteria have been developed for faculty and staff working in laboratory environments. See COVID-19: Research Operations at WSU website for additional details.

Enter/Exit Control

Employees should not hold or prop open exterior doors for any other person.

Departments and building coordinators should work together to identify usable building access points and schedule arrival and departure times of staff to reduce congestion during typical “rush hours” of the business day.

Building occupants are expected to follow signage on traffic flow through building entrances, exits, elevator usage and similar common use areas.

Mental and Emotional Wellbeing

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is available to offer emotional support during this stressful period. You may contact EAP by calling 1-877-313-4455 or visiting the EAP website.

WSU is committed to supporting your overall health and wellbeing. Visit the Wellcoug website for more information and resources to offer support, manage stress and enhance your resilience

WSU Resources

Additional Resources:

Our knowledge and understanding of the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, and our policies and plans will be updated as appropriate as more information becomes available. The WSU Coronavirus COVID-19 website is the university’s central source of updates and information about COVID-19.

Updated 7/2/2020