COVID-19 and Furlough HR Q&A

The SMPH HR and Finance teams have fielded several questions relating to the Wednesday, April 29 announcement from Chancellor Blank about workforce actions, including furloughs, that are being taken at UW–Madison in response to the financial impact of the pandemic. Please continue to refer to the Office of Human Resources furlough website for up-to-date information. Send questions specific to your role or work unit to smphcovid19@med.wisc.edu. General questions may be sent to furlough@ohr.wisc.edu

Appointment Types

Q: How do these policies affect employees who will change employment status during the furlough period? Example: From furlough eligible to furlough ineligible, such as an FTE to RA/PA or postdoc. 

A: The furlough will be prorated based on the length of the position that is eligible for the intermittent furlough. The employee’s HR Business Partner or HR Manager would be able to help with the calculation.

Q: What is an Academic Staff Hourly?

A: Academic Staff hourly positions are rarely used in SMPH. The work is sporadic in nature and there is no assigned FTE to that appointment. This is not to be confused with non-exempt Academic Staff. Non-exempt Academic Staff are subject to furloughs.

Q: Why are AS hourly employees not being furloughed?

A: We cannot calculate an FTE for AS hourly employees, so we cannot fairly calculate furlough days.

Q: Are graduate assistantships (RA/PA) considered student assistants (SA), and hence not subject to furlough?

A: For a complete list of the Student Assistant titles that are excluded from the intermittent furlough, please refer to this link: https://www.ohr.wisc.edu/polproced/UTG/StuAsstApptT.html 

Q: What Furlough Group does someone belong to if they are non-instructional academic staff paid monthly?

A: Non-instructional academic staff paid monthly are in Furlough Group 3. See the table below (also included on slide 22 of the presentation) for more information on the Furlough Groups.

table showing furlough groups

Q: What Furlough Group do academic staff non-exempt fall?

A: Non-exempt Academic Staff are part of Furlough Group 2. See table above and on slide 22 of the presentation for more information on the Furlough Groups.

Q: What Furlough Groups are graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in?

A: Graduate students and postdoctoral appointments (EIT) are excluded from the intermittent furloughs.

Q: My pay rate puts me roughly $20 into the 4-day furlough bracket. Are edge-cases prorated, or am I also subject to the full four days?

A: Unfortunately, no. The number of furlough days is based on your salary as of May 1, 2020.

Q: Are the number of furlough days per month or days in total? For example, for a furlough of four days, is that four per month or four days total throughout the period?

A: Four days total throughout the furlough period. You would have four days to use between May 15-Oct. 31.

Q: How can employees determine which Furlough Group they are in? 

A: See table above and on slide 22 of the presentation for more information on the Furlough Groups. If you have questions on which group you are in, please reach out to your HR Business Partner.

Q: I am on H1B and on research grants that are federally funded. Am I exempt from the furlough?

A: You would be excluded from furloughs based on your H1B VISA status.

Q: I am a faculty member dually-employed with SMPH and UW Health. Where do I get information on how the furlough program would or would not be combined with salary reductions already taken by physicians and leaders at UW Health?  

A: Please contact your department chair and/or department administrator with questions regarding your compensation.

Q: Are UW–Madison employees contracted to the Dept. of Health Services subject to furlough days?

A: All employees (Academic Staff, University Staff, and Faculty) employed by UW–Madison will be subject to furlough days.

Q: Will the pay reduction happen automatically for most employees?

A: The reduction method is based on the Furlough Group an employee is in. If you would like to understand what Furlough Group you are in, please consult with your HR Business Partner. Instructions for entering furloughs are available at the bottom of this page. Also, see the table above and on slide 22 of the presentation for more information on the Furlough Groups.

Q: I’ll be moving from one UW–Madison position to another UW–Madison position in June. If I take all furlough days at the end of my current position, will I be subject to taking furlough days again while in the new position? 

A: In very specific situations such as this, it is recommended to reach out to your HR Business Partner or HR Manager.

Q: The Office of Human Relations indicates that employees with “non-FTE appointments” are exempt. What does that mean?

A: Non-FTE appointments include: Temporary Employees, Academic Staff Hourly (a rarely used type of appointment), and lump sum.

Q: I am a part-time employee. How do I calculate the number of furlough days I will be required to take? 

A: This calculation is complex, and it is best to refer to your HR Business Partner or HR Manager for this information. See also your furlough letter you received via email. Be assured the calculation takes into account your appointment percentage and is as fair as possible.

Payroll and Benefits

Q: Does “leave without pay” maintain benefits, such as retirement, health insurance, any supplemental insurances?

A: There are different impacts on benefits based on the length and percentage of the Leave Without Pay.  You can find more information here: https://hr.wisc.edu/covid19/furlough/

Q: Can we have more information of how our benefits will be impacted by the furlough? Are retirement, health, or other benefits affected by any of this?

A: Here is a link to the benefits information during furlough, if you have specific questions based on your situation, please reach out to your Payroll and Benefits contact.

Q: How does this affect Employee Trust Funds earnings if we are in our highest three years of earnings before retirement? 

A: We are currently working with Employee Trust Funds for more information in this area. We will provide updates as soon as they are available. Please continue to check the FAQ website for current information.

Q: Will benefits, such as paid vacation and insurances, be prorated based on number of furlough days? 

A: During the furlough period, vacation benefits will be earned as they normally would based on FTE. Your furlough days will not affect your leave balance. Insurance premiums will remain the same. The link to the benefits while on furlough page is: https://hr.wisc.edu/covid19/furlough/

Q: For Furlough Groups 1 and 2, which paycheck cycle will start and end the reduction?

A:

  • Group 1:  The salary reduction period is: A basis (monthly payroll): 5/15-10/31, C basis (monthly payroll – academic year only): 8/17-10/31
  • Group 2:  The salary reduction period is: 2020 May B, 2020 Nov A payroll periods (biweekly pay periods)
  • Group 1: If the service center is able to set up the system to begin taking payments for A Basis (monthly paycheck) employees prior to the May payroll calc, these will run 5M, 6M, 7M, 8M, 9M, 10M payrolls via salary percentage reduction across the 6 payroll periods.  C Basis will begin with the 8/17 pay period # 1 and end with Pay period #3
  • Group 2: These will be reduced from 05/10/2020 (May B) through 11/7/2020 (Nov A)

Leave Impacts

Q: What happens if I get sick with COVID-19 after May 16?

A: You will still have other leave entitlements through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Please refer to our SMPH intranet on Medical Leave website: https://intranet.med.wisc.edu/human-resources/medical-leaves/

Q: If I am taking 12 weeks of FMLA for maternity during this timeframe and am a Furlough Group 3 employee, can I use furlough days while on FMLA? I am planning on using sick leave/vacation during this time. 

 A: Yes, you may use furlough days while on FMLA. As a reminder, Group 3 employees cannot take more than 1 furlough day per week (Saturday-Sunday)

Q: I have a staff member that is on a medical leave. They are already taking leave without pay. How will this these policies affect them?

A: When it comes to intermittent furloughs, once the employee comes back into pay status, they will be subject to the intermittent furloughs. Very situational questions like this can be handled on a case-by-case basis with our FMLA office. Please email specific questions to smph-fmla@med.wisc.edu.

Q: It was mentioned before that COVID-19 leave can be taken even if the employee needs to stay home to take care of kids due to school closure. How will it work after May 16?

A: The campus UW-Madison COVID-19 Pandemic Employee Work Location and Leave Policy is ending on May 15, 2020. After this date, if you need to work a reduced schedule due to school/childcare closings or take time off due to reasons related to COVID-19, please complete this form requesting leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). 

Logistics & Institutional Considerations

Q: Can you explain the reasoning for furloughing grant funded positions?

A: The University is applying furloughs broadly across campus, regardless of source of funds. Though we understand the concerns many have raised regarding grant funding, leadership has decided that across the board will be most beneficial and straightforward. There is additional information on the Research and Sponsored Programs website: https://rsp.wisc.edu/COVID/Furloughs.cfm.

Q: What if an employee’s appointment ends during the furlough period? Will furlough be prorated?

A: Furloughs will be reconciled/prorated at separation.

Q: If I am getting laid off at the end of June, will I have to participate in furloughs?

A: The furlough will be prorated based on the length of the position that is eligible for the intermittent furlough.

Q: What’s a TBA?

A: A TBA is a “temporary base adjustment.”

Q: Is the university considering faculty/staff buyouts?

A: The university is not considering faculty/staff buyouts at this time.

Q: Will there be a suggested template for email auto-replies so that people who email me on a furlough day will know not to expect a response or try calling me as a follow-up?

A: You should use a similar auto-reply to when you are out of the office on vacation. You can work with your supervisor for instructions.

Q: Will the furlough notification letters be sent via email?  

A: Yes, the letters will be sent via email.

Q: Are you allowed to take a furlough day on behalf of another employee in your same salary range, if that said employee is going through a financial hardship?

A: Unfortunately, this is not an option.

Q: Why can’t the employees in Furlough Group 3 take more than one furlough day per week?

A: Furlough Group 3 consists of employees who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). By reducing their pay by more than one day per week, their status as exempt could be jeopardized.

Q: If we take all our furlough days in one week, could we file for unemployment that week?

A: We are unable to advise on unemployment. Employees may be eligible for unemployment compensation while furloughed. It is the employee’s responsibility to investigate eligibility and/or apply for benefits. UW-Madison cannot advise or file for unemployment applications on behalf of employees and/or offer a guarantee of unemployment benefits.

Q: If your appointment was scheduled to decrease on July 1 (due to funding changes), how do you calculate your number furlough days?

A: These will be looked at on a case by case basis. Please work with your HR Business Partner.

Taking Furlough Days

A: Will SMPH or campus “schedule” any CWI (campus-wide) furlough days?

A: Neither campus nor SMPH will be scheduling any CWI furlough days. However, your department may choose to. Please check with your supervisor or department administrator.

Q: Can we use the furlough days together? Example: choosing to use all furlough days in one week. 

A: If you are in Furlough Group 3, you will be limited to using one furlough day per week. If you are in Group 1 and Group 2, you are not limited to one per day a week. You should work with your supervisor for approval of your furlough days.

Q: Do we have instructions yet on how to report hours for Furlough Group 3, who typically only report leave?

A: Instructions can be found here.

Q: Can someone who works four 10-hour days use two hours of furlough along with eight hours holiday leave? Example: The Fourth of July.

A: Yes. Furlough can be used in 1-hour increments.

Q: Can someone in Furlough Group 3 take 1/2 furlough day per week?

A: Yes. Employees in Furlough Group 3 can use furlough time in 1-hour increments. Please note that during a week furlough time is used, total hours claimed on a timecard (including furlough) cannot exceed 40 hours. For example, if a half day of furlough is used, the employee can work a maximum of 36 hours during that work week.

Q: Why can’t employees take furlough days on both sides of a holiday?

A: This has been updated. OHR has now announced that employees can use furlough days on both sides of a legal holiday.

Q: What is the maximum amount of furlough one can take in a week?

A: Employees in Furlough Group 3 are limited to using one furlough day per week. Groups 1 and 2 are not subject to this limitation. See the table above and on slide 22 of the presentation for more information on the Furlough Groups.

Q: Can I use a furlough day on Friday and a vacation/personal day the following Monday? 

A: Yes, you can use a furlough on Friday and a vacation/personal day the following Monday.

Q: For exempt employees in Furlough Group 3, is this valid furlough usage: Thursday vacation, Friday furlough, Saturday and Sunday weekend, Monday furlough, and Tuesday vacation?

A: Yes, it is acceptable to use the furlough days on a Friday and the following Monday.

Q: I need to take some days of leave in mid-May. I am considering using the mandatory furlough days. What happens if I take a furlough day but am informed that I am subject to a work sharing arrangement?

A: Our goal is to notify individuals as soon as possible if they will take part in the workshare program. However, if someone takes furlough and then switches to workshare, the overused amount will be reconciled on a future pay cycle.

Q: Can we take either hours of the furlough spread throughout a week by hour? Example: Two hours one day, four hours the next, and two hours the third day; all within three consecutive work days. 

A: Employees in Furlough Groups 1 and 2 can take furlough in increments of 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 hours, etc. Employees in Group 3 may take furlough in full or quarter hour increments.

Q: How do we figure percent for an employee retiring in early July, I think 7/6/2020

A: For a specific calculation, please consult with your HR Business Partner or HR Manager. The HR team will work with OHR to confirm a calculation based on the number of days the employee will hold an active appointment during the furlough period (May 15-Oct. 31). If leave time is used to extend time on payroll between the last day of work and the official retirement date, furlough will be accrued up until the end date. Unused furlough will be prorated based on the amount of time in pay status during the furlough period and deducted from the final paycheck. Overused furlough will be reconciled as well.