Update on COVID-19: Temporary Policies in Place

Dan Driscoll
March 26, 2020

Dear Colleagues:

We have all made a great number of adjustments to our daily lives over the last several weeks. The following outlines two new temporary policies related to pay continuity and paid emergency absences. Our colleagues at CUIMC will be receiving a similar communication that addresses the unique circumstances and challenges they face as a world-class medical center on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Everyone at Columbia has been working tirelessly to keep our campus community safe while at the same time keeping focused on the University mission. The speed with which we are adjusting course is rapid and the scope of the change is broad. I am profoundly grateful for each and every person’s dedication to our University in these trying times. I am especially thankful to our on-site workforce—your commitment to the University is unsurpassed and your hard work and dedication is making a difference in the lives of our entire University community.


Following Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order on Sunday evening, the University has shifted to 100% remote work for all but on-site essential personnel. The existing University policy on telecommuting has been temporarily expanded to include union and non-union support staff. Anyone who is not identified by their department as required to be on-site should be working from home. This may include developing alternative work assignments that can be fulfilled off-site.

Flexible Work Schedules

We recognize that not all work at the University can be done off-site, even at this time. As a residential campus, we are not closed and we continue to provide housing and services to our students who remain on campus. In addition, we have a commitment to maintain the safety and security of our people, infrastructure and IT systems. Where possible, please work with your supervisor to consider flexible work schedules to allow you to commute during off-peak times. The dedication of our on-site workforce is unsurpassed and we are all thankful for your commitment.

Pay Continuity

Columbia understands that some employees cannot perform their job functions remotely. Employees may be given new assignments outside of their regular duties or recalled to perform duties that are necessary to ensure the operations of the University. For employees who are available to work but do not have assigned tasks or alternative assignments, the University is currently providing paid excused absences. As circumstances unfold, we will review this among other temporary policies, and communicate changes with you and your managers and supervisors.

Paid Emergency Absence

Columbia recognizes that some employees who have assigned tasks or alternative assignments may, from time to time, find themselves unable to perform this work because of school closures, lack of available child care, or similar external challenges related to COVID-19. We are offering our full-time and regular part-time employees up to 10 paid work days of emergency absence time in these situations, in addition to any other available leave benefits under our existing University policies (including up to 40 hours under the New York City Earned Safe and Sick Time Act). Employees should submit requests for an emergency absence to their managers. We will consider requests for an emergency absence in half-day or full-day increments. Approved emergency absences will be paid based on the employee’s regular scheduled hours and regular rate of pay. This emergency absence time is separate from the paid excused absences available when employees do not have assigned work described in the preceding paragraph.

Support During Stressful Times

The health and welfare of our faculty and staff is of the utmost importance and Columbia offers a number of resources to help you personally during stressful times. The Employee Assistance Program is a free, confidential resource available 24/7 and provides the opportunity to talk with a licensed mental health professional, and can direct you to other resources as needed. Additional information on resources is available to our faculty and staff community.

Across the University, and at every level of our organization, good people are working diligently to ensure every member of our community is provided with the latest information and guidance to ensure we are able to make the best choices for the University and ourselves. Over the coming weeks, the situation surrounding COVID-19 across the globe will continue to evolve. Our responsibility in these times is to put forth our best selves, work together, and remain united in our dedication to Columbia, our broader New York community and the world. 


Daniel Driscoll
Vice President, Human Resources
Columbia University