Institutional Policies and Procedures
As higher education institutions prepare for students, faculty and staff return to campus and for instruction to resume, it is crucial that those institutions take steps to clearly identify, document and communicate COVID-19-relevant changes in policies and procedures.
1. Publish policies and procedures relevant to COVID-19 safety measures
- Clarify campus social distancing expectations and requirements.
- Develop guidelines for students, staff, faculty, and visitors regarding the use of PPE.
- Develop guidelines for temperature checks and reporting of symptoms.
- Develop guidelines regarding personal and professional travel during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- As of June 2020, the U.S. State Department still has a large number of countries listed under a Level 4 – Global Do Not Travel Advisory and the CDC has a Level 3 Global Health Notice to avoid all nonessential travel. For the foreseeable future, it is advised that all nonessential travel be avoided.
- As the situation evolves and travel may again be possible,
American College Health Association recommends that future
travelers consider the following elements in their planning:
- Frequent and detailed communication between all involved parties, with clear communication mechanisms identified.
- Detailed travel plans and purposes should be disclosed prior to travel.
- Policies regarding international travel should pertain to all campus stakeholders (students, faculty, and staff) and should be created collaboratively. Student health services, administration, risk management, and general counsel should be involved in the policy development as should state or local health departments as appropriate.
- A travel registry should be established and completed for all travelers prior to their travel.
- Increased consideration should be given to pre-travel health screenings.
- Appropriate health insurance should be mandatory for all travelers.
- Update all handbooks, agreements, and contracts to include
updated guidelines regarding COVID-19 safety.
- Review and update all handbooks, agreements, and contracts to reflect updated guidelines regarding COVID-19 related policies, including but not limited to: social distancing, PPE use, and temperature checks.
- Students, faculty, and staff are bound by these agreements and updating this language may aid in mitigating legal risk for your institution.
- Documents to review and update may include:
- Student code of conduct
- Faculty handbooks
- Employee handbooks
- Enrollment contracts
- Residence hall contracts and handbooks
- Any other relevant contracts and agreements
2. Discuss HR Policies and workplace alternatives
- Review HR policies to account for faculty and staff who might
have underlying health conditions that prevent them from engaging
in face-to-face delivery of instruction or services.
- Employees with disabilities have legal protections un the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act. As reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, faculty members who have a physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits a major life activity” should be allowed to work from home if they can demonstrate that they are able to perform the essential functions of their job at home and if they have requested and received approval to work from home as a reasonable accommodation for their disability.
- Additionally, faculty members with pre-existing medical
conditions, such as age-related conditions, may be eligible
to work from home. Exposure to COVID-19 may result in a
“substantial limitation” in major life activities including
breathing, so as required by the American with Disabilities
Act, faculty who have a compromised immune system, chronic
health condition or other medical condition may be permitted
to work from home as a reasonable accommodation as defined by
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Develop guidelines regarding flexible leave and excused
absence policies that enable faculty, staff and students to stay
home when sick or work from home when self-quarantining.
- All members of campus should be actively encouraged or required to stay home if they are sick or if they have recently had contact with a person who has COVID-19.
- Examine and revise policies for excused absences and virtual learning for students and leave, telework and compensation for employees.
- The CDC recommends that leave and excused absence policies should be flexible and should not be punitive to people for taking time off and should allow sick employees and students to stay home and away from others. Leave and excused absence policies should also account for faculty, staff and students who need to stay home with their children if there are school or childcare closures, or to care for sick family members.
3. Provide training for students, faculty and staff
Provide training for campus stakeholders (faculty, staff, and students) that brings them up to speed on new COVID-19-relevant campus policies and procedures.
Per the recommendation of the American College Health Association, training for campus stakeholders should include:
- Basic virus prevention and control measures, such as handwashing, respiratory etiquette, social distancing, cleaning and disinfection, signs and symptoms of COVID-19, testing procedures, transmission sources and credible resources.
- Campus-specific policies and practices about infection
prevention and control, campus health and safety resources,
use of PPE and actions to take if one is sick.
- Equip faculty, staff and students with the information they
need on how to administer and enforce procedures as relevant to
- In addition to general training regarding COVID-19 prevention techniques and campus-specific COVID-19 policies, institutions should provide specific training to faculty, staff and students who work for the university regarding their requirements and ability to enforce these policies.
- Ensure that faculty and staff are trained on how to discuss
underlying medical conditions with students, faculty and staff
without violating ADA requirements.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
- Employees who were already receiving a reasonable accommodation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic may be entitled to additional or altered accommodations, absent undue hardship.
- If an employee requests an accommodation for a medical condition, employers may ask questions or request medical documentation to determine whether an employee has a disability as defined by the American with Disabilities Act.
- Although the ADA prohibits discrimination based on association with an individual with a disability, that protection is limited to disparate treatment or harassment. An employee is not entitled to an accommodation under the ADA in order to avoid exposing a family member who is at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition.
4. Complete an inventory of current institution marketing materials and websites
- Review messaging regarding campus safety.
- Examine university websites and other materials to identify any specific language regarding the steps taken to help improve the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.
- This may help limit liability against claims of breach of
- Review messaging regarding the education offered at the
- Check institution publications for descriptions of the educational experience (e.g., face-to-face instruction in small classes or promises of study abroad or internship experiences). These might not be available because of COVID-19.
- Ensure that this language is updated to reflect the reality that there is the possibility that instruction may be in an online or hybrid format and ensure that you are not promoting the in-person learning experience as a benefit of your campus during this time.
- This may help limit liability against claims of breach of contract.
5. Discuss and communicate policies for refunds in the event of a campus closure
- Update campus policies regarding potential closure due to
emergency events, in preparation for a potential second wave and
Per CDC guidance, questions to consider when creating a plan for potential dismissal and campus closure can include:
- When should classes be suspended and events/activities on campus be cancelled?
- How long should classes be dismissed?
- Should you continue teaching or research activities if classes are dismissed?
- Should you temporarily cancel extracurricular group activities and large events?
- If classes are dismissed, what is the process for deciding to reopen the campus?
- Determine policies for refunding tuition, fees, housing, and
dining costs in the event of closures.
- As a result of the unexpected campus closures during spring 2020, nearly 80 legal cases have been brought across the country regarding refunds for fees and/or tuition. This is likely a preview of what to expect if campuses must close again for future waves of COVID-19 infection.
- Campuses should determine and articulate their specific policies for potential refunds of tuition, fees, housing, dining costs and other payments in the event that campuses shut down again in fall 2020 or spring 2021.
- System and campus leaders should also be aware that refunds may impact a student’s federal financial aid and should work closely with their financial aid office to ensure that their policies mitigate potential negative effects on student aid.