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Return to work: Guidance for supervisors

Supervisors play a crucial role in our continued commitment to find creative solutions, remain flexible, and fulfill the university’s mission while ensuring the health and well-being of employees. During the phased re-opening of the university, supervisors’ leadership will be vital.

This guidance applies to all stages of the phased re-opening. Refer to this guidance once a phased re-opening plan has been approved for your unit. Use the Workspace Controls Checklist to establish and evaluate workspace controls for your units.

Supervisors must remain vigilant in emphasizing the importance of daily self-screens, social distancing, handwashing, staying home when sick, and use of cloth face coverings. As we reopen campus, be ready to adjust plans based on COVID-19 case data as needed. This paced and flexible approach supports our vision for fall and beyond.

Health and Safety Expectations

As supervisors, it is important to understand the health-related guidance related to COVID-19, both for yourself and for employees. Review this information often with members of your unit. All employees are expected to do the following:

Be aware of COVID-19 symptoms. These symptoms are currently associated with COVID-19 infection:

  • Fever, cough, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chills, repeated shaking with chills, and muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of taste or smell

Employees who develop symptoms should stay home, limit contact with others, and contact their health care provider or, if needed, their local emergency room.

Check temperature. Employees are required to do self-temperature checks before coming to the workplace and to stay home if they have a fever. Normal temperature should not exceed 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Units are not expected to check employee temperatures.

Self-Isolate. Employees in these categories, per CDC guidelines, are required to self-isolate. The duration of self-isolation depends on your reason for self-isolating. After you complete the self-isolation form, you will be contacted to learn more about your situation and provided guidance on how long you need to self-isolate.

  • Anyone with symptoms of possible COVID-19 infection or known to be positive for COVID-19 infection.
  • Anyone who has had close contact with someone known to be diagnosed with COVID-19. Close contact means being within about six feet of a person diagnosed with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time (that is, more than a few minutes). Close contact can occur while caring for, living with, visiting, or sharing a health care waiting area or room with someone who has COVID-19. Close contact also means having direct contact with secretions (typically coughs and sneezes) from a person with COVID-19.
  • Anyone awaiting COVID-19 test results.
  • Anyone arriving back in the US after traveling in another country.
  • Anyone arriving from a cruise ship (ocean or river).

Employees who have recently traveled within the US should decide whether they need to self-isolate based on state and local travel restrictions and the rate of community spread to which they have been exposed. Unlike with international travel, there is no single source or authority to determine if you need to self-isolate after traveling from a location in the US. Instead, domestic travelers will need to decide what they need to do based on their evaluation of local conditions. Travelers should check with state or local authorities at their starting point, along their route, and at their planned destination to learn about local circumstances and any restrictions that may be in place.

Employees who develop any symptoms of COVID-19 during self-isolation should contact their health care provider or, if needed, their local emergency room.

Employees who have been in contact with someone who is self-isolating but not known to be infected with COVID-19 are not required to self-isolate but are encouraged to take precautions, closely monitor their health, and telework if possible.

Students and employees should follow guidance from their health care provider, the contact tracing team, or the Knox County Health Department on when they may stop self-isolating.

Employees should communicate with supervisors and the contact tracing team to determine a return to work date based on the guidance from the health care provider.

Remember that working from home mirrors office workers’ compensation liability and standard protocol. If a work injury is life-threatening or results in serious bodily injury, immediately call 911. For nonurgent injuries, the first step is to report the injury to your supervisor and to CorVel’s 24/7 call line at 866-245-8588. Per OSHA guidelines, faculty, staff, and student workers that have tested positive for COVID-19 and feel it was contracted in the workplace, should report the positive test to their supervisors and to CorVel’s 24/7 call line at 866-245-8588. For more information about workers’ compensation, next steps, and forms, visit the UT System risk management website.

Wash hands often. Employees should wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, after touching frequently used items or surfaces, or after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, employees should use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, covering all surfaces of their hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Employees should avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Practice social distancing. Employees should maintain a distance of six feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit. Work spaces, classrooms, labs, meetings, and activities should be evaluated and adjusted as necessary to maintain proper social distancing.

Elevator Safety. During this time, we ask that if employees are able to do so, that they please take the stairs. If employees need to take the elevator because they cannot use the stairs, please limit capacity. Under no circumstances should employees enter an elevator or wait in an elevator lobby without a mask or cloth face covering.

Wear a cloth face covering around others. The university will provide cloth face coverings, and employees will be asked to wear a cloth face covering (their own or provided by the university) when in public or when social distancing is not possible, including times of brief interaction with co-workers or friends. To request a mask or cleaning supplies (masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and disinfectant supplies), supervisors should submit quantities needed to their unit business manager. The unit business manager will complete an online request form two days in advance for the total of all quantities needed. The requesting business manager will be notified when the order has been approved and will coordinate arrangements for pick-up. These personal protective equipment (PPE) requests do not apply to units with existing PPE requirements for general lab and workplace safety. Lab and other workplace safety PPE should be acquired as previously.

Cover coughs and sneezes. Employees in a private setting who do not have on a cloth face covering need to always cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze, or use the inside of their elbow.

Clean and disinfect spaces. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily following CDC recommendations. This includes shared spaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, faucets, and sinks. When applying disinfectant supplied by Facilities Services, wear gloves and allow 3 minutes before wiping the surface. Employees are encouraged to use disinfectant between uses of shared spaces throughout the day. Keep workspaces free of clutter, excess personal items, and other unnecessary items to allow for maximum cleaning of all surfaces. Supervisors should address workspaces that are not properly maintained.

Keep buildings secure. During phases I and II, campus buildings will remain locked. Employees must use their Volcard for electronic access points or keys to enter buildings. Coordinate access changes through the building owner. Doors should NOT be propped open. This will continue to support our social distancing efforts.
Only utilize restrooms that are designated as open. Closed facilities will be marked with appropriate signage. This assists the campus with maintaining appropriate staffing levels of Building Services employees as we continue to return to campus.

Supervisor Expectations

All supervisors shall do the following:

Continue the practice of telecommuting, creative scheduling, social distancing in the workplace, and other protocols established in the reopening plan for their unit. Enforce this plan and regularly communicate with faculty and staff on progress and/or changes as needed. It is expected that many supervisors will begin to return to campus during phase II unless they are member of a vulnerable population or reside with someone who is. In that case they are encouraged to continue working remotely.

Ensure that all employees returning to campus complete the online return to work training prior to coming to campus. This 12-minute training will help our colleagues understand what to expect and how to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our workplace. Supervisors can run a report to verify who has and has not completed this training by following the instructions below. Please allow up to a week for training completion to update in the IRIS system. Upon individual completion, employees will receive notification that the assignment has been graded in Canvas. This may also serve as verification of completion.

  • Select your organizational unit as appropriate
  • UT Knoxville Return to Campus Training – Qualification # 50402036
  • Compliance As Of Date: 12/31/2020

Emphasize the importance of a phased return for the health and safety of our campus community. Employees should not return to work and should continue to telework until they are notified by their supervisor to come to work. As individuals continue to return to campus, every effort should be made to stress inclusivity for remote and in-person employees in meetings, projects, and the like.

Strategize additional safety measures for your unit as appropriate, suggestions include:

  • Consider alternating work schedules.
  • Coordinate work schedules for those in cubicles to allow for social distancing.
  • Incorporate technology to converse or meet (telephone, zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.)
  • Limit the amount of people for in-person meetings.
  • Stagger entry and exit times.

Restrict common areas. Identify and restrict areas where people are likely to congregate and interact, or enforce social distancing protocols (for example, break rooms and lobbies). Remove community coffee pots from service and ask employees to wash hands before touching shared refrigerators and microwaves. Handles and other shared surfaces should be disinfected by employees after each use.

Place recommended signage and traffic flow indicators 

  • Physical barriers act as a reminder for people to maintain an appropriate distance from each other. They will also serve as a protective tool in close quarters when social distancing is not possible. There is an ongoing project to place these in priority areas due to the nature of interactions that take place and the high volume of people in those spaces. This includes, but is not limited to, all dining and retail locations, One Stop, Fleet Management, Auxiliary Services Building (UPM and Mail Services), VolCard office, Registrar’s office, Parking Services, the key shop in Greve Hall, Hodges Library and the psychology clinic in the UT Conference Center.
  • Campus signage reminds members of the community about methods to keep themselves and others safe. Signs are being placed throughout campus by Facilities Services.
  • A signage checklist is available for use by supervisors and building owners. The checklist will include information about the pre-designed signage as well as suggested tactics for increasing social distancing opportunities in office common areas and other locations.
  • Volcard or key entry is required for all buildings. Violation of guidelines may result in the immediate revocation of building access privileges.
  • Requests for a physical barrier can be made through Facilities Services. The request will be evaluated and the task force will determine whether a Plexiglass shield is the correct solution. Barriers should be paid centrally for all locations recommended by the task force and will be installed based on the priority assigned by the task force. Plexiglass shields requested by a specific office should be paid for by that office, unless deemed necessary by the task force during a review process.
  • Furniture and floor markings will be installed by Facilities Services to avoid physical damage. Initiate a work order when needed.

Emphasize and enforce work site adherence to all health and safety guidance by ensuring that employees:

  • Operate as if they assume they are infectious and others are infectious; limiting interactions with other.
  • Use designated building entrances and restrooms.
  • Follow accepted policies and procedures with respect to health and safety.
  • Do not engage in work practices that could be considered a danger to health and safety.
  • Be aware of situations that could be considered a danger to the health and safety of others.
  • Report to their immediate supervisor when witnessing others not adhering to health and safety guidance.
  • Order a stop work if fellow workers are engaged in work that is considered a danger to health or safety.

Supervisors can report an employee refusing to follow health and safety guidance. Submit concerns to Human Resources at and an HR staff member will contact you for further consultation.

Screen all employees reporting to work on site for COVID-19 symptoms using the daily health self-screening app. The app is a web-based tool available at Employees are responsible for confirming with supervisors that all their answers to the self-screen questions are “no” before reporting to work.

If at any time employees cannot access the daily health self-screening app, they may self-screen using the Self Check Symptoms at the CDC website and share the final result with supervisors using a preferred method of communication (email, text, or phone call). Detailed responses to these questions are not needed. Supervisors do not receive employee answers to these questions. Supervisors only receive the final determination. Self-assessment is not considered protected health information and as such is neither stored nor subjected to HIPAA protections. Supervisors shall send an employee home if the final determination is “yes” to one or more questions and should apply appropriate leave policies described in the next section:

Apply appropriate leave policies:

  • Send an employee home if they suspect they may be sick. There are options for employees to receive pay while in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19.
  • If an employee is unable to work because they have been advised to quarantine or isolate, the employee may be entitled to paid sick leave. Instructions for how this should be applied can be found here: Emergency Paid Sick Leave
  • If an employee is unable to work or telework because the employee cannot obtain child care for a minor child, the university encourages supervisors to exercise maximum flexibility in scheduling, including options such as flexible hours, shift swaps, and alternating work days.
  • Review requests for leave and approve use of accrued leave as appropriate. Submit questions to and an HR staff member will contact you for further consultation..

Support student employees. In these extraordinary times, we want to support the health and wellbeing of our students and campus community. To this end, it is important that we offer flexible work arrangements for student employees who need to self-isolate. The Student Pay FAQ should be used to guide decisions about how to appropriately handle pay when student employees must self-isolate due to COVID-19.

Consult HR regarding cases where employees may feel unsafe to return during their designated phase per unit plan (examples: vulnerable populations, unavoidable exposure to elderly family members, concerns about a lack of PPE). Submit questions to

Remind employees about available resources and supports such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at 855-437-3486,, and the 865-946-CARE (2273) hotline for distressed faculty and staff. The Helen Ross McNabb COVID-19 helpline (855-661-9191) provides free resource assistance and emotional support for individuals affected by the pandemic in East Tennessee.

Share and enforce travel requirements and information with employees. Check the supervisor guidance periodically for updates.

University-related travel within Tennessee no longer requires an exception as of June 8, 2020. Exceptions are required for all other university-related travel, domestic and international, through September 30, 2020. The use of World Travel and the purchase of travel insurance through Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI) are required for university-related international travel.
Travelers must:

  • Check CDC Travel Advisories.
  • Request an exception before booking any university-related international travel or domestic travel outside of Tennessee. Domestic travel exception requests must be submitted to Forms for international travel exceptions are online at faculty/staff international travel exception form and student international exception form.
  • If an international travel exception is approved, use World Travel for arrangements. International trips booked outside of World Travel will not be eligible for reimbursement. CISI insurance will be required and should be purchased by business units.
  • Be aware that business units will be responsible for trip cancellations related to COVID-19 effective July 1, 2020.
  • Do not make any university-related international travel reservations without an approved exception, even for travel beyond September 30, 2020.

For more information about international travel, visit Center for Global Engagement.

Be prepared to revert back to a prior phase, including a remote working environment if the campus deems this necessary. The Emergency Operations Center will communicate when phases change. Consider the following: Emergency Preparedness Checklist

  • Create and / or update your continuity of operations plan with key systems, critical functions and positions needed to perform tasks which cannot be completed remotely.
  • Maintain a current phone tree for employee notification.
  • Ensure an adequate inventory of laptops and hotspots is available for your unit.
  • Allow employees to check out necessary equipment such as a monitor for ease of remote work or a comfortable desk chair.
  • Ask employees to prepare a take home pack with necessary office supplies.
  • Designate associates for ad hoc visits (mail pickup, deposits, etc.).