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COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) reflect American University’s current policies and resources regarding AU Forward and continues to include information on COVID-19 and the expanded telework environment. 

On June 16, President Burwell announced the university's plans for the 2020 fall semester. As we being the phased reopening of the university, the way we work will differ significantly from the pre-COVID-19 period to protect the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students—in terms of where, how, and when we work. The FAQs were originally posted on Monday, March 16. Updates and additions are noted on individual questions.

AU Forward

403(b) Retirement Plan Employer Match Suspension

Hiring Freeze Guidance

Stipends

Continuity Partners

Benefits

General Questions

 

AU Forward

Can I continue to work from home?

Added June 16, 2020

Faculty and staff positions will be designated as either full remote work, partial remote work, or full campus presence required. Employees will be notified of their designation by their departments by the end of July. Employees who have been designated as partial remote or full campus presence will be notified of modifications made to their schedules to accommodate a reduction of density in office spaces.

Classifications may change during the fall as conditions in the region and on campus change. Faculty and staff will be notified of any changes.

Is it safe to return to work?

Added June 16, 2020

We are taking every precaution to ensure our workplace is safe. We are following federal health and safety guidelines as well as guidance from DC government. We are implementing practices such as employee self-monitoring and physical distancing practices to keep our workplace healthy. 

What accommodations will be made for faculty and staff in high-risk groups?

Updated June 17, 2020

Faculty and Staff may request a COVID-19 accommodation or work adjustment to telework/teach remotely. A reasonable accommodation with accompanying medical documentation due to a disability or medical condition may be requested, or a faculty or staff member may request to work or teach remotely due to age (65 or older) or if they have a member of their household who is immunocompromised. Please contact the HR Employee Relations team with any questions.

How will positive cases of COVID-19 be handled in the workplace?

Added June 16, 2020

Despite all precautionary measures, there is always a risk of workplace exposure to communicable diseases. Should an employee contract COVID-19 and expose others in our workplace, we will work with the DC Department of Health (DOH) to identify people (through contact tracing) who have been potentially exposed, and ensure they are notified. We will provide guidance for employees who may need to self-quarantine. A thorough cleaning of the workspace used by the individual will be conducted. 

Contact tracing is a public health tool used to identify people who have come into contact with diseases such as COVID-19 positive individuals in an attempt to reduce the spread of the disease. Contact tracing is conducted by DOH, and if a person has tested positive for COVID-19, DOH will:

  • Alert individuals who may have been in close contact of the potential exposure
  • Identify localized outbreaks and ultimately control the spread of illness across campus

Medical confidentiality and privacy will be maintained. Contacts will only be told they have been exposed to a positive case, but the identity of that case will not be directly revealed. Sensitivity to individual situations will be maintained. Individuals with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 can return to campus, or if living on campus as a student, leave isolation only after their symptoms resolve in accordance with the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What portion of COVID-19 expenses will the AU health plans cover?

Added June 16, 2020

CareFirst and Kaiser will cover all COVID-19 related expenses at 100%. This includes testing and treatment. There will be no copayments or deductibles. There are not maximum limits. Faculty and staff should contact their primary care physicians to obtain a referral for a COVID-19 test. Please contact HR if you have any questions about AU’s benefits.

Do I have to answer medical questions when reporting to work?

Updated Ocotober 28, 2020

All employees and visitors will be required to perform a daily self screening via the AUForward portal each time they come to campus.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Updated Ocotober 28, 2020

Employees who feel ill should self-report via the AUForward portal, notify their manager and not report to work. If you are already at work and begin feeling sick, you should notify your manager, self-report via the AUForward portal, and go home immediately. Staff can utilize accrued sick leave or leave share.

Do I have to wear a mask or face covering at work?

We will require employees to use face coverings at all times while on campus with the exception of when alone in private offices, or outdoors in settings where they are able to maintain physical distance. If you have a medical condition that restricts you from wearing one, please speak with human resources. Contact human resources if you need a face covering.

Will we continue to have in-person meetings?

Added June 16, 2020

All meetings will be held virtually. This includes group meetings and one-on-one meetings, even if the attendees are in the same office. 

403(b) Retirement Plan Employer Match Suspension

Why is the university suspending employer match contributions to the 403(b) Retirement Plan temporarily?

The university is projecting a two-year impact on finances and operations as a result of COVID-19 and is taking measures to address the financial shortfall while preserving the university’s mission and long-term financial well-being.  The temporary retirement contribution suspension will help AU address the significant financial gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic while causing the least day-to-day hardship for faculty and staff.

When is this happening?

The university contribution to the 403(b) plan will stop on August 1, 2020. If you are paid monthly, your last paycheck with employer contributions to the 403(b) plan will be on July 31, 2020; if you are paid bi-weekly, your last paycheck with employer contributions to the 403(b) plan will be on August 7, 2020. Your personal contributions to your 403(b) plan will not be impacted unless you choose to adjust them. The university has temporarily suspended the match contribution for 1 year.  

What actions should I take?

The temporary suspension of AU’s contributions to the 403(b) plan will take place automatically and you do not need to do anything. However, you may wish to review your 403(b) plan account and potentially adjust your own employee contribution. The IRS annual contribution limit on employee contributions to the 403(b) plan is $19,500 per year for 2020. If you are age 50 or older, you may also be eligible to make “catch-up” contributions, up to an additional $6,500 in 2020.

How will this impact me?

The impact of the temporary suspension of the AU retirement contribution depends on your annual salary and your elected contribution. The table below shows the impact of the temporary suspension of AU contributions for a sample of participants.

 

Your Salary

You contribute 1%

AU contributes 2%

You contribute 3%

AU contributes 6%

You contribute 5%

AU contributes 10%

$20,000

$200

$400

$600

$1,200

$1,000

$2,000

$40,000

$400

$800

$1,200

$2,400

$2,000

$4,000

$60,000

$600

$1,200

$1,800

$3,600

$3,000

$6,000

$80,000

$800

$1,600

$2,400

$4,800

$4,000

$8,000

$100,000

$1,000

$2,000

$3,000

$6,000

$5,000

$10,000

 

How can I review my retirement plan and/or make adjustments?

You can review your current plan and make changes to your contribution percentage online at www.netbenefits.com/au, or by calling Fidelity Investments at 800-343-0860. Changes to your contributions will take effect in one to two pay periods after your election depending on whether you are paid monthly or bi-weekly .

You may also change your investment options at any time by contacting your investment service provider, Fidelity Investments at 800-343-0860 or www.netbenefits.com/au or TIAA at 800-842-2252 or www.tiaa.org/american.

What happens if I am eligible for auto-enrollment during the temporary matching suspension period?

You will not be auto enrolled until the suspension period has ended. However, you may enroll to make unmatched contributions to the retirement plan online at www.netbenefits.com/au, or by calling Fidelity Investments at 800-343-0860.

Who can I talk to if I need help?

The Benefits Team in the Office of Human Resources is available if you have questions. E-mail HRPayrollHelp@american.edu or call HR Payroll Help at 202-885-3836. You may also schedule a phone or virtual consultation with our Fidelity Investments or TIAA consultants.  Consultants are available to discuss all aspects of financial planning.

Has AU considered the possibility of lessening the impact the temporary suspension of employer matching contributions will have specifically on faculty and staff close to retirement?

Added July 2, 2020

Nondiscrimination rules that apply to employer-sponsored retirement plans such as the university' 403(b) plan, state that all retirement plan participants must be treated equally. Therefore, any changes made to the 403(b) plan provisions must apply equally to all eligible plan participants.

Faculty and staff eligible to participate in the 403(b) retirement plan may consider increasing their own contributions to the plan and scheduling a phone or virtual consultation with our Fidelity Investments or TIAA consultants to explore other strategies that may help lessen the impact of this change in their retirement goals. Consultants are available to discuss all aspects of financial planning.

Hiring Freeze Guidance

What actions are covered under the Hiring Freeze?

Updated May 29, 2020

For staff, HR will not post vacancies, process hire, promotion or reclassification actions or approve stipend payments except in extremely limited cases with the approval by the cabinet member responsible for the unit in consultation with HR.

Faculty hiring and stipends are subject to the freeze.

How do I request an exception to the Hiring Freeze?

Added May 8, 2020

To submit an exception to the staff hiring freeze, the HR Representative for your unit must complete the Hiring Freeze Exception Request Form. It will automatically be routed to your department head, cabinet member and HR. Please allow two weeks for a decision.

Are title changes, promotions and reclassifications affected by the hiring freeze even if the change does not include an adjustment to compensation?

Added May 8, 2020

Yes. Promotions, reclassifications and title changes, with or without compensation changes, are part of the hiring freeze. During freezes like the one AU has initiated, there is often a desire to provide title changes and/or promotions to staff that, after the freeze, can drive salary and other equity issues. This can also lead to a lack of standards across the university and perceptions of unfairness among others when they learn their colleagues received title or promotions when those changes are otherwise subject to the freeze. Units seeking to promote staff or reclassify positions, with or without pay implications, should complete the Hiring Freeze Exception Request Form and document the reason for the request.

Do internal job postings require approval during the hiring freeze?

Added May 8, 2020

All new job postings are subject to the hiring freeze, including internal postings. Temporary opportunities that can be filled by a Continuity Partner do not need approval.

Do I need Cabinet approval to hire a staff member whose position is externally funded?

Added May 8, 2020

Only positions that are fully externally funded will be allowed to move forward; partially funded positions will not. If your position is fully-funded externally, work with your departmental HR Representative to complete a Hiring Freeze Exception Request form and indicate the source of funding on the request.

Are Ready Hire staff impacted by the hiring freeze?

Added May 8, 2020

Yes. Ready Hires are included in the hiring freeze. If you have a Ready Hire already in place and would like to extend their assignment, a Hiring Freeze Exception Request Form must be submitted, which will automatically be routed to the cabinet member responsible for your unit for review and approval.

Will an email from the cabinet member be sufficient approval for HR to process the hiring freeze exception?

Added May 8, 2020

No. All exception requests must be submitted via the Hiring Freeze Exception Request form on the myAU portal.

Are there cases when cabinet-level approval is not required?

Added May 8, 2020

No. Cabinet-level approval is required for all exceptions. HR has launched the Hiring Freeze Exception Request Form on the myAU portal to support easier administration of the exception request process. When your HR Representative completes a Hiring Freeze Exception Request Form, it will automatically be routed to your department head, cabinet member and HR. Please allow two weeks for a decision. Decisions will be communicated through the site. A similar tool for faculty actions subjected to the

Can a frozen position be reconsidered and posted later?

Added May 8, 2020

If conditions in your unit change that necessitate the need to revisit a frozen position or action, please use the Hiring Freeze Exception Request Form  and indicate the reason for the reconsideration.

When positions are allowed to be filled with staff eligible for remote work, will units receive all IT tools necessary (laptop and system accesses) to work from home?

Added May 8, 2020

To qualify for an exception to the hiring freeze, sufficient resources must be available to onboard a new employee. Departments will be responsible for ensuring that a computer and system access are arranged. Similarly, if a department takes on a Continuity Partner it will be necessary to determine if the Partner has the tools necessary, and if not, if they can be obtained.

Can a department reassign people within their own department to cover duties of a vacancy? Do departments have to go through the hiring freeze exception process to do that?

Added May 8, 2020

Departments are encouraged to utilize their internal talent who have capacity to fill gaps and ensure staff are fully deployed. Temporarily tasking internal staff to cover duties does not have to go through the hiring freeze exception process.

How will e-actions be processed during the freeze?

Added May 8, 2020

E-actions should be submitted after you receive an approval through the Hiring Freeze Exception Request approval process. To assist with e-action processing, please reference the date of the approval in the comments section of the e-action.

Stipends

What is the approval process for new stipend requests for staff taking on additional duties?

Added May 8, 2020

Stipends for additional duties will mostly not be approved during the hiring freeze. During the hiring freeze, it will be important for departments to seek approval for a stipend prior to assigning work to the staff member and to avoid questions later in the process when payment is sought. We understand this is a change from existing practices and appreciate your support to think ahead and plan for the situations in advance.

How should a department handle the request for a stipend payment for work that has been completed but the stipend was not paid prior to April 17th? 

Added May 8, 2020

Stipend payment requests for work that has already been completed should proceed through the Hiring Freeze Exception Request Form. Please provide backup information that will inform the cabinet member of the circumstances. However, stipends for additional duties will mostly not be approved during the hiring freeze.

Continuity Partners

What is the Continuity Partners initiative?

Added May 4, 2020

Each of us has a key role to play in supporting the university during this critical period as it navigates the COVID-19 expanded telework environment. HR has launched the campus-wide initiative, Continuity Partners, to match units in need of extra support with staff who may be able to offer temporary help. In many cases, units have reassigned staff internally and this practice will continue. Other units who do not have internal staff to reassign but need assistance may identify their position for a Continuity Partner.

How can I request a Continuity Partner for my department?

Added May 4, 2020

If your unit needs temporary help, whether some hours devoted to a project, part-time help for a short period, or full-time help for a time, please complete the Temporary Staffing Request Form. The HR Team will contact you once we receive your form.

Do I use Continuity Partners for temporary assignments for students?

Added May 4, 2020

For students who are currently employed, we will use a similar process, though not the same. Please contact theworkline@american.edu.

Where do I find Continuity Partner opportunities?

Added May 4, 2020

If you are a staff member who is interested in a temporary assignment as a Continuity Partner, check with your supervisor to ensure that taking on a temporary assignment will not interfere with your upcoming work. HR will also contact staff who have been identified by their departments as potential Continuity Partners. Opportunities are posted in the AsuccessfulU internal career portal. Type "temporary" in the keyword field and click "search jobs." All jobs that are indicated as "Temporary-Continuity Partners" reflect current opportunities.

How do I express interest in a Continuity Partner opportunity that I’ve located on the internal career site?

Added May 4, 2020

To express your interest in an opportunity, “apply” for the position. You will be prompted to create a talent profile in AsuccessfulU. You do not need to upload a resume to create a profile. A member of the HR team will contact you regarding next steps.

Benefits

Are employees able to increase or decrease their health care and/or dependent care flexible spending accounts (FSA)?

Added May 4, 2020

Faculty and staff may make changes to their flexible spending accounts (FSAs) that are consistent with the reason for the request (e.g., an FSA participant can stop or reduce their dependent care FSA amount if their childcare needs have been reduced).

How do I reduce my retirement deduction?  

Added May 4, 2020

Fidelity provides plan administrative services for the AU 403b Retirement Plan. Go to the Fidelity Net Benefits website and click on the Update button at the bottom of the page. You will need your login credentials to access the site to make changes, such as increasing/decreasing your retirement deduction.

My contract was not renewed. Am I eligible for unemployment?

Added May 4, 2020

You may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Please visit the DC.gov website for more information.

General Questions

Will HR provide guidance on work expectations during the extended telework period?

Yes, please discuss the Guidelines for Expanded Telework with your supervisor.  In order to ensure the continuity of university services, it is critical that AU staff and supervisors implement these best practices  during the expanded telework period. Employees who are teleworking are expected to be fully engaged with their duties while working remotely.

Are there any options to community members who do not have internet access?

If you do not have internet access but are designated for telework, please work with your manager to determine what your options may be. We suggest that you contact your area internet provider to see if they are offering any discounts on internet services to help during this crisis. As an example, certain vendors, (Comcast and others), may be providing support to individuals in their services areas who currently do not have access to internet services. 

Will we be permitted to return to campus to retrieve needed materials, if necessary?

Yes, you may return to campus on a limited basis for the purposes of retrieving materials you may find you need to do your job from the remote location. Remember to bring your AU ID card with you in case you need to swipe into your building and try to limit your trips to campus and time in your building as much as possible, if you are coming to retrieve needed materials. If you are traveling to campus, please make sure you fill out the daily self-screening on the AUForward portal

How do we ensure continuity of operations during the expanded teleworking period?

Please refer to the Expanded Telework Guide for ways to ensure a most productive period for your unit. Supervisors are encouraged to familiarize themselves with their unit’s continuity plan, the teleworking policies, university's communications and the expanded telework FAQs.

How will new hires certify their I-9’s?

Added March 27

I-9 certification has changed temporarily based upon new guidance from the Department of Homeland Security. Effective March 30, 2020 employees/new hires must first contact Chris Rasnick in Employee Relations at crasnick@american.edu to determine how their I-9 will be verified.

  • New hires with a position that require an on-campus presence (e.g., campus police, maintenance technicians) will schedule an in-person appointment to verify the I-9 in person within 3 business days of their start date.
  • New hires with positions that allow for remote work will schedule a videoconference call to verify their I-9 remotely within 3 business days of their start date. Those employees will also be required to submit copies/pictures of their documents by email. When the university resumes a regular on-campus presence, those employees will be required to bring their documents for physical inspection within 3 days.

Please do not to come to the Office of Human Resources if you do not have a scheduled appointment.

Where do I get a temporary telework agreement?

The temporary telework agreement is available as on online form. After the agreement is completed, please route it back to your HR Representative for approval.

I don't have an AU laptop. Am I still expected to telework?

AU’s expectation is that all full-time and part-time staff that are designated for full or partial telework for the expanded telework period will continue to work remotely. Staff should talk with their supervisors about obtaining a laptop from their department. In the alternative, staff may use their personal computer to access university systems and files. Reference OIT's system requirements and policies regarding personal computer use. If neither option is viable, your supervisor may identify assignments on which you can work without technology. You may be asked to assist with other functions. 

Can I use my personal computer to access university systems and files?

Using an AU-issued computer is the best option for teleworking, but you may use your personal computer to connect to the AU network. Your computer needs to meet the system requirements and you must agree to abide by both American University's Computer Use and Copyright Policy, and Information Technology Security Policy.

For more information, reference OIT’s knowledgebase article regarding Requirements for Connecting to AU's Network.

What leave benefits are available to me should I or a family member become ill?

Staff are provided with accrued sick leave to cover absences for their own illness or to care for an ill family member. Full-time staff also have access to a sick leave donation pool in situations in which they do not have enough accrued sick leave to cover their absence. The pool will be available for documented flu or COVID-19 diagnoses.

Full-time staff who have considerable hours built up and would like to help others who may have fewer accumulated sick hours may donate leave to the pool; complete the Leave Share form to donate.

Family Medical Leave provides job protection in cases of continuous or intermittent leave for oneself or to care for a family member.

Short-term disability covers extended periods of leave due to one’s own illness (2 weeks to 6 months in duration). Long-term disability provides salary continuation during periods of disability that extend beyond 6 months.

Part-time staff and student workers are eligible to accrue sick leave benefits for up to 7 days per calendar year if they are enrolled as full-time students and work 25 hours per week or more. 

How do I donate to the leave donation pool?

Added March 20, 2020

Full-time staff and Librarians may donate annual (vacation) and/or sick leave to employees in need (minimum donation is seven hours). The maximum amount that an employee may donate in a calendar year is limited to 70 hours.

To donate annual and/or sick leave, complete the leave donation form, include the amount of annual and/or sick leave you will donate, and email your form to hrpayrollhelp@american.edu. Human Resources will confirm receipt of your request and the amount of annual leave that will be donated.

Check your available annual and sick leave balances on your time sheet or leave report, located on the myAU portal. You may access the Leave Share Policy on the university's policies website.

Am I required to provide HR with a doctor’s note in order to use sick leave benefits?

We will generally not require a doctor’s note from an employee who uses sick leave at this time. You will need to provide a doctor’s note to Employee Relations if you are requesting donated sick leave.

Can I still use my remitted tuition for courses now that they have moved online?

Tuition remission will continue to cover the courses that have been approved for tuition remission benefits.

How is HR handling verification of employment and processing unemployment insurance claim requests during the extended telework period?

Added May 4, 2020

Please refer requests for employment verification and unemployment compensation claims to hrpayrollhelp@american.edu.

Contact HR

Please contact us with your questions and comments.

Contact HR

Report COVID-19 Diagnosis

Faculty or Staff

If you or a family member have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or you are required to work on-site but are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, notify Employee Relations.

Email Employee Relations