Emergency Conditions Policy

Emergency Conditions Policy

This policy applies during emergency conditions that may include severe winter weather, flooding, civil disturbances, pandemic events, or other notable events or incidents that have the potential to compromise life safety or significantly disrupt university operations.

Washington University is a large and complex workplace with many areas and types of operations. At all times, the University must be able to meet the needs of students, provide care for patients, maintain the integrity of its research, and carry out all other related essential functions.

As a result of  these needs, the University will be considered “always open.” However, during emergency situations, the University may designate a period of “Alternate Operations,” which may result in the cancellation or suspension of classes, functions or campus activities; enable employees to take appropriate time off if necessary for life safety; and empower departments with the flexibility to appropriately alter staffing and/or operations in order to meet critical operational needs.

Alternate Operations

During a significant emergency event, university leadership may declare a period of “Alternate Operations.”  During this time, non-essential personnel may elect to take time off and departments may alter their normal schedules or activities to accommodate the life safety needs of faculty, staff, students, patients and visitors.  The decision to declare “Alternate Operations” will be made by senior university leadership and communicated to the university community.  This decision will be made in consultation with:

  • Chancellor
  • Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
  • Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Administrative Officer
  • Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
  • Vice Chancellor for Human Resources
  • Executive Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs and Dean, School of Medicine
  • Washington University Physicians Faculty Practice Plan Chief Executive Officer

Essential Personnel

The university defines essential personnel as the faculty and staff who are required to report to their designated work location and to ensure the operation of essential functions or departments during an emergency or when the university has suspended or altered normal operations. Due to the decentralized and complex nature of the University community, the designation of essential personnel is best done at the local department or division level.

Department management is responsible for designating applicable employees as essential personnel based on their position and/or role in maintaining the department’s essential functions.  These employees will be required to report to work in order to meet operational needs, regardless of conditions.  At the discretion of department management, schedules and/or work assignments may be altered in order to meet the operational needs of the department.  This may include temporary telecommuting options if applicable and appropriate.

Upon hire and prior to any anticipated emergency condition, employees who are designated as essential personnel should be notified of their designation by their managers.  This designation will vary by department and role.  Management within a department should be aware of which roles and employees are designated as essential personnel and review this functional designation on an ongoing basis. At all times, a departmental plan for operations under emergency conditions should be in place with these employees.

All Other Personnel

An employee’s decision regarding whether their commute to or from work can be made safely rests solely with the employee. If an employee chooses not to report to work or leaves early due to emergency conditions, they may elect to take time off.  If this occurs, their time off will be designated as vacation time. In this case, employees should follow normal departmental call-in procedures. If an employee is still in their probationary period or has exhausted their vacation balance, vacation time may be advanced.

For employees who are not designated as essential personnel during emergency conditions and whose attendance is not required, management may decide that work may be done from home.  If it is not feasible or necessary for an employee to work from home, time off will be charged as vacation time in most cases.

If during the workday, a department decides to send employees home due to emergency conditions, employees will be paid for the remainder of that work day.


Any University-wide decisions regarding “Alternate Operations” will be announced on university social media outlets, local news stations, via email from administration and on emergency.wustl.edu.

Any changes to specific departmental operations should be announced by departmental leadership through appropriate channels.


Decisions about essential personnel and functions are made at the departmental level.  Department leadership should have a plan in place to notify employees of any changes to operations or schedules through their normal chain of command.  The following list includes, but is not limited to, responsibilities expected under this policy.

Individual Employees:

  • Discuss your position/role within the department with your supervisor and prior to an emergency in order to establish whether you meet the criteria of essential employee as outlined within this policy.
  • If you are designated as an essential employee, make a personal plan and preparations for your expected attendance during any period of “Alternate Operations” on campus.
  • Remain in close communication with your supervisor to identify any needed changes to expected schedule, roles, or responsibilities during “Alternate Operations.”
  • If you are not designated as an essential employee, evaluate the current conditions to determine whether your commute to or from work can be made safely. If you are unable to report to work, follow normal departmental call-in procedures.

Supervisors / Managers:

  • Have a discussion with employees to let them know whether they have been identified as an essential employee upon hire and prior to any anticipated emergency condition.
  • Develop a plan for staffing, including any teams or resources necessary to ensure the continuation of essential functions during “Alternate Operations.”
  • Ensure all staff are familiar with established department call-in procedures.
  • Communicate in a timely manner with assigned personnel in anticipation of and during “Alternate Operations” to ensure clarity of expected schedules, roles, and responsibilities.
  • Consult with department leadership and/or WU Human Resources for any questions related to this policy or management of personnel during “Alternate Operations.”

Directors / Department Leadership:

  • Identify essential functions within the department that must be maintained during “Alternate Operations” in order to meet the needs of students, provide care for patients, maintain the integrity of research, and ensure life safety on campus.
  • Develop a plan for identifying and communicating with essential personnel needed to ensure the continuance of essential functions.
  • Establish appropriate telecommuting options and protocols for applicable staff that could work from home or another location during “Alternate Operations.”
  • Communicate in a timely manner with supervisors / managers in anticipation of and during “Alternate Operations” to ensure clarity of expected schedules, roles, and responsibilities.
  • Regularly coordinate with and communicate potential significant operational changes or impacts (i.e. cancellation of classes or activities, closing of medical clinics, cancellation of athletic events, cancellation of student events, etc..) to the appropriate executive leadership areas (i.e. Provost Office, Faculty Practice Plan, CFU, Student Affairs, etc.).


All pay provided to employees will follow federal and state law, as well as University policies. University policies may be modified as needed to take into account shifting circumstances.

View the Compensation Schedule for university employees.