From planning to approval: A guide to the return‑to‑work process

planning process flow chart
A flow chart depicting the return to work process for WSU units and departments

By RJ Wolcott

Departments seeking to bring employees back to on-site work locations now have a defined process to follow and a bevy of resources to assist them.

Units and departments must begin the process by completing the Return to Work checklist available on the university’s COVID-19 website. Completion of this checklist is the first step in a mandatory process for transitioning back to on-site work.

The current process is designed to help protect the health and safety of students, employees and visitors during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It is being carried out in accordance with Gov. Jay Inslee’s June 24 guidance for institutions of higher education seeking to resume in-person instruction in the fall.

First steps

Completing the return to work checklist is done in conjunction with units and departments creating plans and procedures around topics like sanitation and physical distancing. Available industry specific guidance as well as recommendations from WSU Environmental Health and Safety and public health agencies must be central to planning for the return of employees to on-site work locations.

“We want leaders within departments to have an awareness of any risks unique to their department or unit,” Sharyl Kammerzell, WSU’s chief compliance and risk officer, said.

WSU has set up a robust consultation process to aid in this effort. It begins with the Public Health Emergency Planning Task Force, headed by Ellen Taylor, an associate vice president within the Division of Student Affairs.

The task force’s review panel convenes weekly to review plans and provide feedback. Unit representatives are welcome to attend these meetings. Plans should be sent to Taylor and Jason Abrams for review by the task force’s review panel on Mondays at 1:30 p.m.

It’s vital that departments have a clear explanation of what elements of their operations they are asking to change. That includes how they intend to interface with the public and how they will engineer and maintain the 6-foot physical distancing rule.

“If they are going to be open to the public, how are they going to set expectations for things like touchless payment, handing pens back and forth, traffic flow, face coverings and so forth, as well as how they plan on clearly communicating those standards,” Taylor said.

Additional help

If during the PHEPTF panel review, there are high-risk issues relating to density, traffic or other elements that need additional review, the plan and checklist will be referred to the Risk Management Advisory Group, which reviews plans on Wednesdays from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.

“We fully respect that unit leaders are the experts in their operations and so we need to be educated on their operations and walked through those unique risks and challenges,” Kammerzell, who heads up the group, said.

Final approval and next steps

Once this stage of the review process is completed, department leaders will take revised plans to the provost or deans in academic matters, vice presidents in administrative areas, or to campus chancellors. At this stage, members of the Incident Command System are also given copies of plans.

The provost, deans, vice presidents or chancellors are responsible for taking plans to the President’s cabinet for approval. Cabinet submissions should be sent to Chief of Staff Chris Hoyt at and Executive Assistant Ginger Druffel at Complex plans impacting multiple units with significant institutional risk may be redirected to the president’s executive committee for final approval.

After a department’s plan is approved, they are expected to carry it out and be responsive to new guidance as it becomes available. Relevant senior leaders – vice presidents, chancellors, deans or the provost – are responsible for oversight upon implementation.

WSU employees will not be asked to return to work until the above process is completed and approved. Human Resource Services has a complete guide for returning to work, including a form where employees can submit concerns. Throughout phases two and three of the state’s phased restart plan, working remotely will be the preferred work option for those able.

Joanne Greene, programming director for University Recreation, advised departments to use resources provided by HRS as well as guidance from the state early and often when developing their plans.

“The nice thing about the process is that while there is a lot involved, it’s all for the purpose of keeping employees and customers safe,” she said.

UREC has gotten approval to reopen its outdoor rental shop and resume small group and personal training classes at the Chinook Student Center in accordance with the state’s phased reopening approach. Its plan to resume outdoor and indoor recreational activities is in the approval process.

“We’ve gotten questions from the task force about employee training and we’ve responded by developing additional materials, as well as educating staff on how to work with customers as safely as possible,” Greene said.

For questions about Public Health Emergency Planning Task Force Review Panel, contact Jason Abrams at For questions about the Risk Management Advisory Group, contact Karen Shaw at For questions about the cabinet process, contact Christine Hoyt at

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