FAQS for RF Field Staff and Principal Investigators as of 04/02/2020

1. Can I work from home in the event I am unable to come to work due to site closure or other issues related to COVID-19?

The determination of whether working remotely, alternate work hours and/or alternate work assignments are feasible for each individual employee is made on a case by case basis by your project director or manager. Decisions should consider the technology available and/or means to do the work, and the ability to deliver a tangible work product related to the project or award the individual is paid from. See RFCUNY COVID-19 field staff guidance

2. I have a question related to COVID-19's potential impact on my research project, project-related travel, or field work.Are there any web-links that can provide me with somehelpful information? 

COVID-19 in general: see the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites, and also refer to your state or local health department; 

Travel to/from and quarantine in foreign countries: see the State Department Travel Advisories website; and 

NSF website: NSF website on Coronavirus. 

NIH website: NIH Coronavirus Disease Situation Summary 

COGR website: COGR Guidance on COVID-19 

COGR website: Federal Agency COVID-19 Guidance Matrix

CUNY website: CUNY Coronavirus Updates 

CITY OF NEW YORK: 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ for Contracted Health and Human Service Providers   

3. I travelled to an area impacted by COVID-19. Can I be asked by the RF not to come to my work location?

Yes. The safety and well-being of the campus community and your co-workers is of utmost importance. For information and and travel advisories see RFCUNY’s Coronavirus Guidance and the CDC website Information for Travel: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html.  

4. How will my wages continue if I am unable to come to work for an illness related to COVID-19?

Special COVID-19 Sick Leave: RFCUNY has provided a temporary leave benefit of up to 14 days to its employees to supplement their accumulated leave both for their own COVID-19 illnesses and to take care of ill family members with a confirmed case of COVID-19. This benefit can be used for a COVID-19 illness, any disabling condition from a COVID-19 illness, and any mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation. Special COVID-19 Sick Leave is not applicable in cases where an employee is deemed asymptomatic or has not yet been diagnosed with any medical condition and is physically able to work.  Sick leave, annual leave, or unscheduled holiday leave may be used in those cases. Please refer to the WORKPLACE GUIDANCE RELATED TO COVID-19 FOR FIELD STAFF AS OF 03/25/2020.   

5. Will I still be paid if I can’t work because of a personal illness or to care for family members?

You may use sick leave and/or Paid Family Leave for this purpose. Please refer to the WORKPLACE GUIDANCE RELATED TO COVID-19 FOR FIELD STAFF AS OF 03/25/2020.  

6. What if I voluntarily self-quarantine for 14 days?

Your supervisor will determine if there is the ability to work remotely or complete an alternate work assignment. If that is not an option, you should use annual leave or unscheduled holidays. Please refer to the WORKPLACE GUIDANCE RELATED TO COVID-19 FOR FIELD STAFF AS OF 03/25/2020. 

7. What if school, daycare, or other dependent or special needs provider isclosed,and I need to stay home to care for my dependents? 

Your supervisor will determine if there is the ability to work remotely or complete an alternate work assignment. If that is not an option, you should use annual leave or unscheduled holidays. Please refer to the WORKPLACE GUIDANCE RELATED TO COVID-19 FOR FIELD STAFF AS OF 03/25/2020. 

8. Currently, I need a note from a physician if I am out of work for a personal illness for more than 5 days. Will I need a similar note if I am out because of COVID-19 illness?

We will follow established sick leave and disability policies. Therefore, you will need a note from a physician if you are out of work for more than 5 days due to personal illness. If you are unable to get a doctor’s note due to reasons related to COVID-19 and want to return to work, please contact RF Human Resources. 

9. I am using sick leave for issues related to COVID-19. How do I complete my timesheet?

If you are ill with a confirmed case of COVID-19, you are caring for an ill family member with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or you are in Mandatory Isolation or Precautionary Quarantine as defined in the RF Guidelines to Field Staff, select “Other Paid” on the timesheet and select COVID-19 Sick from the drop-down list. Please refer to the WORKPLACE GUIDANCE RELATED TO COVID-19 FOR FIELD STAFF AS OF 03/25/2020.

10. Am I required to use my existing sick leave accruals if I have a confirmed case of COVID-19, am caring for an ill family member with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or are in Mandatory Isolation or Precautionary Quarantine due to COVID-19?

No, the up to 14 days of Special COVID-19 Sick Leave is in addition to any sick leave, annual leave or unscheduled holiday leave accruals you may already have

11. I am not feeling well but I can’t get to a doctor. Is there an alternative?

Yes, Empire Blue Cross provides telemedicine services through their Live Health Online program. This telemedicine program allows members enrolled in the PPO, POS, and EPO plans to access medical and mental healthcare remotely. Live Health Online can be accessed online at www.livehealthonline.com or by calling 1-844-784-8409.  You may also contact the 24/7 Nurseline at 800-337-4770. Remember to have your Empire Member Enrollment Number handy. You can access your Empire information including member ID number, check on prescription details, view claim history, or find a provider through the Empire App - Sydney Health.  

12. Would I be covered for COVID-19 testing or treatment? Do I have to pay co-pays, co-insurance or deductibles?

Your Empire PPO, POS, or EPO plan covers COVID-19 test with no out of pocket costs. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, your health plan benefits will apply. All cost-sharing, including co-pays, coinsurance, and deductibles will be waived for COVID-19 services received by in-network participating providers. 

13. I am concerned about my prescriptions. What if there is a shortage of my medication?

Ingenio Rx, Empire’s prescription drug manager, is closely monitoring the supply of medications available to members. If they see there could be a shortage of a certain drug, they will find alternate medications that you could take for about the same price. This is a great time to think about changing from a 30-day supply to a 90-day supply of any prescription medicines you take on a regular basis. If you don’t have a prescription for a 90-day supply, talk to your doctor to see if a 90-day supply would work for you. You can even get them through home delivery pharmacy. If you have specific questions about the medicine you take, call the pharmacy services number on your member ID card 833-271-2374 

14. What happens to all my benefits if I am placed on unpaid leave (furloughed)? Do I continue to have health insurance, retirement contributions, and flexible spending plans? 

Health Insurance – Typically, benefits-eligible employees have one month of coverage beyond the last month in which they worked. In other words, if you last day of work is March 15th your health insurance remains in effect through April 30th.  Another example is that if you are furloughed on April 2nd your health insurance will run through May 31st  

Pension and Retirement Benefits – Contributions to the TIAA Defined Contribution Plan, TIAA Tax Deferred Annuity Plan, and TIAA 457(b) Plan will be suspended should you be placed on an unpaid leave of absence. Mandatory employer and employee contributions as well as elective contributions will resume when you return from leave without pay. Should you wish to change your TDA or 457(b) elected deferrals please submit a new Salary Reduction Agreement and/or 457(b) Deferral Agreement form to your Campus Benefits Coordinator. You may email benefits@rfcuny.org for more information. You may call 800-842-2252 to speak to a TIAA representative. 

Flexible Spending Plans - Employees enrolled in the RF’s Pre-Tax Flexible Spending Program (Medical, Transit, Parking, or Dependent Care) through ABS may submit receipts for expenses incurred for up to 120 days from when their unpaid leave of absence starts.  Participants will have an additional 30 days until April 30th to submit claims for 2019.ABS may be contacted at 877-732-8125. Claims may be submitted online www.abs125.com, email rfcunyclaims@abs125.com  or fax to 860-673-2207. 3/18/2020  

15. Whom can I contact with my benefits questions? 

You may contact your assigned Campus Benefits Coordinator by calling 212-417-8600, option 4, or email benefits@rfcuny.org .  Please allow for some longer response times due to the high volume of calls and emails. 

16. I am feeling anxious and am having a difficult time dealing. Who can speak with?

Anxiety is a normal response to a stressful situation. Knowing the difference between typical and atypical stress is important. Monitoring your stress level will let you know when you need to seek additional help. Health Advocate may be reached 24/7 by calling 866-799-2728. They ensure all personal information is kept confidential. A licensed EAP professional provides short-term counseling by phone or email to help the individual better cope. 

17. What important benefit contacts should I know?

The following contacts are available:  

Research Foundation Unemployment information: Julia_Durant@rfcuny.org 

Empire Customer Service: 800-453-0113; www.empireblue.com 

Cigna Dental Customer Service: 800-244-6224; www.cigna.com 

Advanced Benefits Strategies: 877-732-8125; www.abs125.com 

Aflac: Denise Perez 201-739-6897; denise_perez@us.aflac.com 

Health Advocate: 866-799-2728; www.healthadvocate.com/rfcuny 

TIAA: 800-842-2252; https://www.tiaa.org/public/tcm/rfcuny 

18. How will I receive my paycheck if I am out of work or the office is closed? 

Direct deposit will be the easiest and quickest way to receive your wages. If you are not currently enrolled, but are interested in direct deposit, please visit our website to enroll under My Payroll and Benefits or email HRPAYROLL@rfcuny.org for an application. We strongly encourage you to enroll in Direct Deposit immediately.   

19. Will my sponsor provide for an extension to myFederal award if the planned activities are disrupted by the COVID-19 public health threat? 

Most Federal awards are eligible for one-year grantee-approved no-cost extensions and then further extensions as approved by the sponsor. If you foresee a need for an approved extension, it is our understanding that Federal sponsors are already approving such no-cost extensions. 

20. If CUNY or a campus were to shut down–how does that impact RFCUNY employees and/or Graduate Students employed on Federal Grants? 

Principal investigators should work with funding agencies to determine how grant-funded employees will be paid during this public-health crisis. We urge you to contact your program officer to request further guidance and/or needed approvals. This is the responsibility of each principal investigator. 

Please note that the closure of a college does not necessarily mean that all sponsored activity comes to an end. Federal agencies have been very helpful in giving flexibility to principal investigators during previous crises. Principal investigators can suggest postponing activities and request a no-cost extension to make up for the hiatus of research activity caused by the coronavirus crisis. Further, we strongly encourage that you consider working remotely. We provide below a checklist for remote work and provide a key considerations checklist below. You can also refer to RFCUNYRemote Work Guidelines. 

Priorities & Essential Work 

​Evaluate department/team priorities, considering customer/collaborator impact and feasibility of completing some or all of it remotely (with or without adjustments). 

Ownership of Remote Work Plan 

Managers and supervisors, in partnership with their college/unit leadership and HR, are responsible for the remote work plan for each department/team. 


The university or the Research Foundation will announce status changes, though departments and individuals may opt to leverage remote work sooner. 

Remote Work Scope & Candidates 

Determine who, based on job responsibilities, can work remotely. Can positions that do not traditionally lend themselves to remote work be temporarily modified to allow for its use (by focusing on other work elements such as online training, documentation, etc.)? We encourage supervisors to afford maximum flexibility during this time to help minimize the spread of the illness. 

Technology/Internet Connectivity 

​​Identify who has a project-issued laptop. For employees who do not, find out if a back-up laptop is available. If their only option is to use a personally owned computer, laptop, or other device, they are still responsible for following all university practices and policies to maintain security on their device. Verify internet connectivity at home - does the employee have wifi or ethernet? 

Contact Information  

To the extent possible, compile cell phone and/or home phone numbers for all employees you supervise. Discuss how and with whom this information will be shared. 


Determine how schedules and availability will be known and communicated to colleagues, customers, and others. 


Determine what tools you will use will you hold meetings virtually. Identify which upcoming meetings can/should be rescheduled if necessary. Practice holding meetings remotely before increasing remote work use. 


Determine what the preferred group communication and collaboration tools will be and ensure all team members have access. Determine how frequently you as a supervisor/manager will connect with your team members. 

Time & Performance  

Discuss with employees how time and performance will be managed. Once remote work begins, in general, focus on the output and the completion of deliverables when evaluating performance. Review RFCUNYs Remote Work Guidelines for field employees and discuss with employees relevant to their particular situation. 

We also understand that there may be instances where remote work is not feasible and must be conducted in a lab setting. We recommend that researchers with active labs compile an inventory of sensitive research requiring continued support during any disruption 

Prepare a plan to provide support with limited staff and other resources 

Review plans for the continued care of research specimens  

21. I have a Federal travel award, but the meeting has been canceled. Whom do I contact regarding the impact to the award?

You should contact the program officer for your award about this situation. In view of the public health threat, you may wish to consider alternate plans, such as providing or using options for virtual participation. In addition, most program officers will be open to rescheduling the conference or using the funds for a future meeting that is consistent with the original scope and objectives of the award.  

22. A conference has been canceled, but I have nonrefundable travel and/or hotel costs. Canthesebe charged to the Conference or Travel grant? 

Sponsors have provided guidance on this in a varied way. We suggest that you send an email to your program officer requesting clarification on reimbursement. It is our understanding that Federal agencies are working on this guidance and on several proposal and award-related issues pertaining to COVID-19. We will communicate with you as soon as further information becomes available. In the meantime, please continue to follow all relevant current policies and procedures. NYC, NYS, and private foundation sponsor guidelines related to grants/contracts and COVID-19 impacted travel have not been issued, other than general public health mandates and closures.   

23. I am involved with a Conference or Travel award for a meeting that is taking place in the coming weeks. Should I continue with plans for the meeting?

We recommend that you first reach out to the conference organizer or host to see whether the conference will be held. They may recommend having contingency plans if the event is ultimately cancelled or relocated, or might be planning to provide options for virtual participation. If you are the organizer, you may wish to consider developing contingency plans. If the conference involves foreign travel, we also suggest checking the State Department Travel Advisories website and the Centers for Disease Control.  

24. My NSF grant involves an exchange of researchers (including students) and/or other foreign travel. Should I continue with plans?

Please contact the program officer for your grant. Sponsors understand that original proposal plans may be disrupted to the point of needing extensions on original award durations. Please refer to the current federal and/or state orders regarding border closures and travel restrictions.  

25. If I am quarantined/isolated for a period of time and have to deliver regular reports on my grant to my sponsor by a deadline but some essential materials I need are in my office and my building has been closed, how can I request an extension to the deadline?

Researchers or sponsored projects office staff from organizations that have been directly affected and are unable to meet stated sponsor deadlines should contact the sponsor program officer to discuss the issue. Generally, extensions to the submission deadlines vary by sponsor.  

26. I am a principal investigator on a Federal grant with the participation of faculty and students. If a student or a faculty member who appears sick, can I ask them to return home?

Please see Additional Workplace Guidance for Managers and Supervisors in the WORKPLACE GUIDANCE RELATED TO COVID-19 FOR FIELD STAFF AS OF 03/25/2020. 

27. I have agreed to travel to a sponsor to participate in a merit review panel. I am not sure I want to go now that public health alerts have been issued. What should I do?

It is our understanding that all review panels are currently being conducted remotely. Please confirm with your sponsor.  

28. I understand that NSF and NIH are providing grants to researchers interested in submitting a COVID-19 related proposal? Is there a deadline by which I must make this contact? 

NSF and NIH have issued announcements for COVID-19-related grants. Information regarding COVID-19 opportunities for biomedical, health, science and social science faculty can be found at Guidance to CUNY Biomedical Health Science and Social Science PIs on COVID-19. Information for arts and culture faculty can be found at Guidance to Arts and Culture PIs on COVID-19.

29. What might we be able to recoup from this period where we will be paying people and getting very little work done? 

As of this writing, we have very little guidance from the Federal, State, and Local agencies on what will constitute an allowable cost or how PIs will be reimbursed for COVID-19 related costs that they would not otherwise have incurred. That said, we believe that sponsors understand the predicament PIs are in and are cautiously hopeful that they will find a way to provide additional funding if unanticipated costs are identified due to impacts of COVID-19, and unobligated balances are not available. Please keep track of all expenses.  

30. I am a principal investigator working remotely from home during self-isolation. Can my effort still be charged to my federal grant?

In general, yes, provided you remain engaged in your project. Current NIH and NSF prior approval requirements regarding disengagement from the project for three months or more, and effort reductions of 25 percent or more, remain in effect.   

31. I am a principal investigator and am required to work from home as a result of COVID-19. Can I charge supplies relating to telework (i.e., such as a laptop, printer, office supplies, etc.) to my grant?

Some grants allow institutions to reprogram costs up to a certain percentage of the total award amount. If your grant or your sponsor provide you with this authority, and it is within the allowable cost limit, then the answer is yes you can reprogram and charge costs related to telework on your grant, assuming that you are converting a specific in-person activity (e.g. conferences, steering committee meetings, training, etc.) to a remote or virtual setting. If your grant or your sponsor does not provide you with that authority (or has not implemented special COVID-19 flexibilities related to telework) and you need to work remotely or virtually then please consult with your department or school to identify whether computing resources are available. Keep in mind that these costs might require sponsor approval so it is important to obtain sponsor approval and to keep separate track of all COVID-19 related costs. If you need additional guidance please contact your RF program administrator.

32. I had planned to travel to a conference to present my federally funded results, but the conference was cancelled due to precautions regarding COVID-19. May I still charge the travel-related costs to the grant? Can I charge trip cancellation insurance to my federal grant? Can I return early from a trip if I’m worried about being exposed to COVID-19? 

First, try to obtain refunds on cost travel related to COVID-19. At this point in time, there is no federal guidance relating to charges to awards for travel, conferences and related expenses due to the coronavirus. Please continue to follow any cost principles described in your award or the sponsor’s policies and procedures. (Note, however, that trip cancellation insurance is typically unallowable on grants unless the sponsor expressly states otherwise.)  Please recall that all costs to any award, including costs for travel, must meet the requirements of the Uniform Guidance (2 CFR 200).  In general, in order for a travel cost to be allowable, it must (a) benefit the project, (b) be necessary and reasonable for the performance of the project; and (c) not exceed what a “prudent person” would pay under the circumstances at the time the decision was made to incur the cost.  The Federal government also considers whether (a) the cost was necessary for the proper and efficient performance of the project, and (b) the cost was prudently incurred in view of CUNY’s responsibilities to its employees and students.  

33. Will COVID-19 have an impact on compliance issues related to my grant?

Please access the following link to CUNY’s updates on the COVID-19 impact on the compliance of CUNY research.   

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