Return to on-site work

Manager’s guide to navigating COVID-19 related workplace concerns

This page was updated August 17, 2021

As more employees return to the workplace, managers are receiving questions from employees about their individual circumstances and concerns. Responding to employee-specific circumstances while managing performance as part of a team is challenging. This guide is intended to support managers through difficult conversations by providing recommended language, accurate information* and next steps.

As much as their personal circumstances may differ, employees share widely held concerns about safety, expectations and trust. It’s important to enter these conversations with empathy, seeking to understand each employee’s perspective and providing them with accurate, up-to-date information.

The following topics and corresponding guidance represent a number of possible issues you may address as a manager; however they do not apply to every situation, and you should continue to reach out to your HR consultant for specific guidance.

*It’s important to note that although this guidance is current (as of August 17, 2021), it will be updated as public health guidance and corresponding policy evolve.

Thank you for all that you have done and are continuing to do to support our employees.

Listen

Remember that personal concerns should be discussed in an appropriate setting, so ensure the conversation is had privately, away from a shared space.

Empathize. Employees have unique challenges beyond our knowledge or understanding. Listen as best you can without assumption or judgment. Let the employee know you hear their concerns and take it seriously. You may also paraphrase what they’ve shared to confirm understanding.

Assess

What is the core concern the employee has shared? This is important given the many interdependencies of return-to-workplace COVID-related considerations, which are still evolving. Understanding the core concern will allow you to respond most effectively.

Is it urgent? The concern may be very important, but not need to be resolved urgently. Is the employee currently working with the concern or are they anticipating the problem? If they’re communicating a concern about an unvaccinated coworker that may present itself in the future, the employee may be relieved to know there will be guidance by the time it is required. This is particularly important with quickly evolving issues when accurate information today may shift by September.

Pause. Once you’ve listened and learned the employee’s concern, you may not need to have a real-time response. It’s ok to let the employee know you want to provide them accurate, up-to-date information and commit to communicating an update within a time frame appropriate for the given issue. This time will allow you confirm up-to-date information and prepare a thoughtful response, particularly when guidance is being updated frequently. Managers are also encouraged to reach out to their HR representative as needed.

Educate

Clarify your role, which is to address barriers that may prevent employees from being successful in their jobs. It does not mean a manager becomes an employee’s confidante or personal problem-solver. Being clear about your role helps manage employees’ expectations and may reduce apprehension you may have about talking about personal concerns in a professional setting.

Share the facts: The University of Washington COVID-19 Face Covering Policy requires everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask or other face covering indoors when on-site at a University of Washington location. The policy applies indoors when other people are present and in all public and common areas, such as lobbies, hallways, stairways, restrooms, elevators, and in shared vehicles. UW Medicine medical center employees should follow the UW Medicine face covering policy, which also requires universal masking regardless of vaccination status.

The University of Washington’s COVID-19 Face Covering Policy is in accordance with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) workplace health and safety requirements, the Washington State Department of Health Face Covering Order, and the Washington state Proclamation for Higher Education. This policy is in effect until otherwise modified or rescinded, and managers should stay up-to-date as policies are updated.

Escalate if necessary

If the concerned employee is not satisfied by the information above, managers are encouraged to contact their unit HR representative. Unit HR representatives should contact their HR consultant for support as needed.

As a manager, you may observe an employee not following the University of Washington Face Covering Policy. Understanding your responsibilities as a manager is important and will help you respond appropriately and effectively.

  • Managers are expected to share the University of Washington Face Covering Policy with an employee who is not wearing a face covering.
  • Managers are not expected to repeat efforts to communicate the requirement multiple times to the same individual or pursue compliance in any other way on their own.

If an employee does not comply with the policy once the manager has shared it, the manager should communicate directly with their unit’s HR representative who will provide guidance and next steps. Unit HR representatives should contact their HR consultant for support as needed.

Managers may also learn of potential non-compliance from another employee. It is appropriate for a concerned employee to communicate with their manager directly rather than directly with their colleague. In this instance a manager should communicate regarding the policy with the employee of concern. It’s critical to remember, however, that nothing regarding the employee of concern should be shared or discussed with the employee reporting the issue, including confirmation of any employee’s vaccination status. Managers may use the guidance below.

Listen

Remember that personal concerns should be discussed in an appropriate setting, so ensure the conversation is had privately, away from a shared space.

Empathize. Employees have unique challenges beyond our knowledge or understanding. Listen as best you can without assumption or judgment. Let the employee know you hear their concerns and take it seriously. You may also paraphrase what they’ve shared to confirm understanding.

Although COVID-19 is a public health risk, confidential information of one employee cannot be discussed with another. Be cautious of any urge to discuss the employee of concern.

Assess

What is the core concern the employee has shared? How is the issue affecting the concerned employee? This is important given the many interdependencies of return-to-workplace and vaccine considerations, which are still evolving. Understanding the core concern will allow you to respond most effectively.

Is it urgent? Yes. Safety is our highest priority. Non-compliance with the UW COVID-19 Face-covering policy should be addressed immediately by the manager and escalated without delay if necessary.

Pause. Once you’ve listened and learned the employee’s concern, you may let the employee know you’ll address the concern right away, but may not be prepared to answer all of the employee’s questions. It’s ok to let the employee know you want to provide them accurate, up-to-date information and follow up as soon as possible. This will allow time to confirm policy information, particularly when guidance is being updated frequently. Managers are also encouraged to reach out to their HR representative as needed.

Educate

Clarify your role, which is to address barriers that may prevent employees from being successful in their jobs. It does not mean a manager becomes an employee’s confidante or personal problem-solver. Being clear about your role helps manage employees’ expectations and may reduce apprehension you may have about talking about personal concerns in a professional setting. When health or vaccination status is involved, also clarify that you do not discuss the personal information of any employee.

You may tell the concerned employee that your responsibility as a manager is to communicate the policy to any employee who is not wearing a face mask as required, and that there are HR processes in place to ensure compliance.

Share the facts: The University of Washington Face Covering Policy requires everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a face covering indoors when on-site at a University of Washington location. The policy applies indoors when other people are present and in all public and common areas, such as lobbies, hallways, stairways, restrooms, elevators, and in shared vehicles. UW Medicine medical center employees should follow the UW Medicine face covering policy, which also requires universal masking regardless of vaccination status.

The University of Washington’s COVID-19 Face Covering Policy is in accordance with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) workplace health and safety requirements, the Washington State Department of Health Face Covering Order, and the Washington state Proclamation for Higher Education. This policy is in effect until otherwise modified or rescinded, and managers should stay up-to-date as policies are updated.

You may let the concerned employee know you will ensure proper steps are taken with any person in the unit not complying with the policy. If operations allow, you may encourage them to temporarily work in an alternative area.

Escalate if necessary

If the employee of concern is not following the University of Washington Face Covering Policy once the policy is communicated by the manager directly, or the concerned employee escalates the issue, managers are encouraged to contact their unit HR representative. Unit HR representatives should contact their HR consultant for support as needed.

Listen

If an employee comes to you with a concern regarding eating and drinking relative to vaccination status or the University of Washington COVID-19 Face Covering policy, remember that personal concerns should be discussed in an appropriate setting and ensure the conversation is had privately, away from a shared space.

Empathize. Employees have unique challenges beyond our knowledge or understanding. Listen as best you can without assumption or judgment. Let the employee know you hear their concerns and take it seriously. You may also paraphrase what they’ve shared to confirm understanding.

Assess

What is the core concern the employee has shared? This is important given the many interdependencies of return-to-workplace and vaccine considerations, which are still evolving. Understanding the core concern will allow you to respond most effectively.

Is it urgent? The concern may be very important but not need to be resolved urgently. Is the employee currently working with the concern or are they anticipating the problem? If they’re communicating a concern about an unvaccinated coworker that may present itself in the future, the employee may be relieved to know there will be guidance by the time it is required. This is particularly important with quickly evolving issues when accurate information today may shift by September.

Pause. Once you’ve listened and learned the employee’s concern, you may not need to have a real-time response or solution. It’s ok to let the employee know you want to provide them accurate, up-to-date information and commit to communicating an update within a time frame appropriate for the given issue. This time will allow you confirm up-to-date information, particularly when guidance is being updated frequently. Managers are also encouraged to reach out to their HR representative as needed.

Educate

Clarify your role, which is to address barriers that may prevent employees from being successful in their jobs. It does not mean a manager becomes an employee’s confidante or personal problem-solver. Being clear about your role helps manage employees’ expectations and may reduce apprehension you may have about talking about personal concerns in a professional setting.

It is a manager’s responsibility to follow the EH&S Guidance: eating spaces & food guidance for their area, and to share the guidance as necessary if you observe it is not being followed. Managers are not expected to repeat efforts to communicate this guidance or engage in continued dialogue or pursue compliance in any other way on their own. If an employee does not comply with the policy once the manager has communicated it, the manager should contact their unit’s HR representative who will provide guidance and next steps. Unit HR representatives should contact their HR consultant (HRC) for support as needed.

Share the facts: The following guidance is provided by Environmental Health and Safety: EH&S Guidance: eating spaces & food. Employees who are not comfortable eating or drinking within the EH&S guidelines may eat or drink in an alternative area that is available and compliant.

Departments and local teams are responsible for following current University of Washington Policy and corresponding guidance issued by University administration. They may not implement their own separate or modified guidance.

Escalate

Any questions about workplace eating and drinking guidance should be directed to Environmental Health and Safety directly. If HR guidance is needed, managers should contact the unit’s HR representative. Unit HR representatives should contact their HR consultant for support as needed.

Listen

If an employee comes to you with a concern regarding unvaccinated or high-risk family members, remember that personal concerns should be discussed in an appropriate setting and ensure the conversation is had privately, away from a shared space.

Empathize. Concerns related to the health and safety of our families are the most personal and emotional. Be fully present as best you can and listen for understanding. Let the employee know you hear their concern and take it seriously. You may also paraphrase what they’ve shared to confirm understanding.

Assess

What is the core concern the employee has shared? This is important given the many interdependencies of return-to-workplace and vaccine considerations, which are still evolving. Understanding the core concern will allow you to respond most effectively.

  • Does the employee need increased flexibility?
  • Is the employee’s concern short-term or long-term?

Is it urgent? The concern may be very important but not need to be resolved urgently. Is the employee currently working with the concern or are they anticipating the problem? If they’re communicating a future concern, the employee may be relieved to know that these questions are high priority, and that there will be additional guidance by the time it is required. This is particularly important with quickly evolving issues when accurate information today may shift by September.

Pause. Once you’ve listened and learned the employee’s concern, you may not need to have a real-time response or solution. It’s ok to let the employee know you want to provide them accurate, up-to-date information and commit to communicating an update within a time frame appropriate for the given issue. This time will allow you confirm up-to-date information, particularly when guidance is being updated frequently. Managers are also encouraged to reach out to their HR representative as needed.

Educate

Clarify your role, which is to address barriers that may prevent employees from being successful in their jobs. It does not mean a manager becomes an employee’s confidante or personal problem-solver. Being clear about your role helps manage employees’ expectations and may reduce apprehension you may have about talking about personal concerns in a professional setting.

Review the Caregiver flexibility and time off options and the guidance on determining eligibility for hybrid or remote work to help you understand options for the employee reporting the concern. Managers are encouraged to contact their unit HR representative with questions. Unit HR representatives should contact their HR consultant for support as needed.

Escalate if necessary

Guidance specific to employee’s personal circumstances at home often requires employee-specific guidance from Human Resources. Unit HR representatives should contact their HR consultant for support as needed.

Listen

If an employee comes to you with a concern about their personal data or sharing their vaccination status, remember that personal concerns should be discussed in an appropriate setting and ensure the conversation is had privately, away from a shared space.

Empathize. Concerns related to private health information should be taken seriously, as employees have the right to expect the information is secure and confidential. Be fully present as best you can and listen for understanding. Let the employee know you hear their concerns and take them seriously. You may also paraphrase what they’ve shared to confirm understanding.

Assess

What is the core concern the employee has shared? This is important given the many interdependencies of return-to-workplace and vaccine considerations, which are still evolving. Understanding the core concern will allow you to respond most effectively.

  • Is the employee concerned about completing the attestation or how the data will be used?
  • Is the employee concerned about who has access to the data locally or across the institution?
  • Is the concern about off-line data/attestation status sharing?

Is it urgent? The concern may be very important but not need to be resolved urgently. Is the employee currently working with the concern or are they anticipating the problem? This is particularly important with quickly evolving issues when information may shift by September.

Pause. Once you’ve listened and learned the employee’s concern, you may not need to have a real-time response or solution. It’s ok to let the employee know you want to provide them accurate, up-to-date information and commit to communicating an update within a time frame appropriate for the given issue. This time will allow you confirm up-to-date information, particularly when guidance is being updated frequently. Managers are also encouraged to reach out to their HR representative as needed.

Educate

Clarify your role, which is to address barriers that may prevent employees from being successful in their jobs. It does not mean a manager becomes an employee’s confidante or personal problem-solver. Being clear about your role helps manage employees’ expectations and may reduce apprehension you may have about talking about personal concerns in a professional setting.

Share the facts. The UW COVID-19 Vaccination Attestation Policy only allows an individual’s vaccine attestation to be used by the Executive Office and personnel managers in accordance with state requirements to inform UW operations and to comply with regulatory requirements. Information is only used for these purposes. The information received in the COVID-19 Vaccine Attestation form is private and confidential. These records are maintained separately from other records, except when the records relate to non-compliance by personnel and students; in that event, the record may be maintained in code of conduct or disciplinary records.

The access to these records is based on the need to know to achieve the above.

NOTE: Access to vaccination attestation data is controlled by the ability to run the COVID-19 Attestation Audit (R0711) in Workday and/or use the COVID-19 Attestations Audit worklet found on the Workday homepage. Managers can access all employees that report up to their supervisory org. HR Partners and Academic Partners can access the attestation information for their unit. If you do not have Workday access to the attestation audit report or to a specific employee’s data, you do not have permission to view that data or receive the data from others who have access.

Escalate if necessary

If a unit believes they need access to vaccination data that is not adequately met by the roles described above, contact your HRC to request review by the Data Governance HR Data Domain Council.

If you have reason to believe this information is not being kept private and confidential, please contact your unit HR representative. Unit HR representatives should contact their HR consultant for support as needed.