Working during COVID-19

FAQS: Furloughs and temporary FTE reduction

Page updated October 2, 2020

Management of temporary layoffs

When can I discuss furloughs with contract covered staff?
In advance of discussing furloughs or other staffing reductions directly with contract covered staff, UW Labor Relations must notify the union(s) and provide them an opportunity to discuss the impacts. If an employee approaches you to discuss potential furloughs prior to Labor Relations involvement, explain that the UW will need to discuss the impacts of the furloughs with their union and encourage them to contact their union representative.

May furloughed staff perform any work during the furlough period?
Not for their employing unit. Furloughed employees are not authorized to perform any work for the employing unit during the furlough period (including checking and responding to their work email and remotely accessing their workstation except for the purpose of receiving communications about the end or extension of the furlough) and may not volunteer to perform unpaid work for the employing unit. Furloughed employees may check and respond to email relating to their return to work date and their UW benefits.

May staff identified for furlough use paid time off instead of unpaid time off?
During furlough, employees cannot substitute paid time off for scheduled furlough time except to maintain employer-paid insurance. Since an employee receives their full pay when using paid time off, having employees use paid time off during this period defeats the essential cost reduction goal of the mandatory furlough.

Can an employee use sick time off during a furlough if they become sick?
No. Sick time off may not be used because the employee is not considered as being scheduled during their furloughed period. Under certain circumstances, sick time off may be used to maintain benefits coverage during a furlough period. Consult with your human resources consultant.

Can an employee voluntarily choose to go on furlough?
Voluntary furlough is allowable, subject to the manager’s approval and consistent with the voluntary temporary layoff policy.

Will an employee whose furlough period includes a paid holiday be paid for the holiday?
Yes. During the COVID-19 crisis, employees will be paid for the holiday, whether or not they are furloughed or in unpaid status the day before the holiday. As a result, although a furlough period may include a paid holiday, managers should consider in their planning that there will be no associated salary savings for that day. Holiday pay received by an employee who is receiving unemployment benefits for that week will reduce the amount of the employment benefit received by the employee for that week. (See “How are unemployment benefits calculated?” below.) Holiday pay is not automatic – Holiday Paid (hours) must still be entered into Workday or Kronos to be paid for the holiday, as usual, to ensure holiday credit is not banked.

Furloughs don’t affect accruals, months of service toward a higher vacation accrual rate, progression start date, seniority, and time off and company service date. What transactions do I need to make to make sure this happens?
For furloughs, in Workday, a leave of absence for furlough (lack of funds or lack of work) “opens” unpaid time offs that do not impact progression or accruals. As long as “Unpaid Time Off – Temporary Layoff (hours)” is transacted, accruals and progression will not be impacted. Using these time offs will ensure that seniority is not impacted if calculations are made at a later date. The dates will remain untouched.

For a reduction in FTE, UWHR and the ISC will perform monthly audit upon the conclusion of a temporary layoff reduction in FTE to true up months of service, vacation and sick time off accruals, and progression adjustments. Departments do not need to take any action.

What is the effect of furlough on retirement plan contributions and employer-paid insurance?
UW employer-paid insurance will continue during any month in which the employee is in pay status for at least 8 hours. Employees who would be off the payroll for a full calendar month or more because of furlough will be allowed to use 8 hours of eligible paid time off in the month to ensure employer-paid health care insurance continuation during furlough. Employees remain responsible for their contribution.

Retirement contributions will continue based on pay received by the employee, however a reduction in paid hours may impact the employee’s service credit accumulation. To learn more about how a retirement plan accumulates service credit, review information about your retirement plan.

Can an employee who is on a leave of absence under FMLA or because they are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 be furloughed?
Employees who are on a leave of absence due to a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 or taking FMLA must be treated the same as employees who are not on leave. An employee has no greater right to reinstatement of employment than if the employee had been continuously working.

When does the employee return to work from the furlough?
Employees on furlough are expected to return to work on the date specified in the furlough notice. Furlough notices will state that the employee should be prepared to receive a return to work notice before the anticipated end date, should circumstances allow.

If the employing unit is able, or has an operational need to end a furlough earlier than anticipated, the employee will be notified of the return to work date as soon as it is known. Notice of early return to work should be made verbally and confirmed by email if possible. If verbal notification is not possible, notice may be provided by email.

Can I furlough a professional staff employee who holds two positions: one professional staff and one academic personnel? (added June 3, 2020)
Employees with a 0.5 FTE FLSA exempt professional staff position and a 0.5 FTE faculty position may be furloughed for their professional staff position. Furlough of the employee’s professional staff position has no impact on their faculty position; the employee’s faculty position is unchanged and the employee should continue the work of the faculty position.

The temporary layoff policy uses the term inverse seniority. What does that mean for temporary layoffs? (added June 3, 2020)
Inverse seniority for temporary layoffs is determined by looking at the most recent company service date in order of most recent to oldest. Employees with the lowest “seniority” are those in a probationary period, followed by permanent employees with the lowest seniority to those with the highest. Departments must use inverse seniority when making temporary layoff decisions involving contract covered and classified non-union staff.

Can I furlough an employee who is in their probationary period? (added June 3, 2020)
Yes, departments may choose to furlough an employee in their probationary period or can choose to initiate a probationary period rejection. Either option is available as approved by UWHR in the department’s workforce reduction plan.

May an employee who furloughs for a week that includes a holiday accrue the holiday? (added June 3, 2020)
Furloughed employees are entitled to holiday compensation if their furlough falls on a holiday. They may choose to accrue the holiday as holiday credit for future use or be paid for the holiday. Holiday accrual happens automatically, but to be paid for the holiday, employees need to enter “Holiday Taken time off” in their timekeeping system.

Unemployment

Is unemployment benefit eligibility the same for furlough and temporary reduction in FTE?
No. Since unemployment benefits are determined on a weekly basis, full-time workers whose hours of work are reduced by one work day each week usually will not be eligible for partial unemployment benefits because they earn too much in the week to be eligible.

Can an employee receive unemployment if they volunteer for a layoff or furlough?
Employees who volunteer for a temporary layoff in the form of an FTE reduction or furlough may be eligible for unemployment compensation through the Employment Security Department (ESD) if:

  • The temporary layoff is initiated and announced in writing by the employer; and,
  • The employer makes the final decision about which volunteers are temporarily laid off; and,
  • The employer takes the final action to furlough temporarily reduce the employee’s FTE. The employer “takes the final action” when it retains the discretion to choose which employees will be laid off or furloughed from those who volunteer.

According to ESD, if these conditions apply and are followed, an individual would be eligible for benefits if they are otherwise eligible. ESD makes the final determination of benefits for all unemployment claims.

When a furloughed employee applies for unemployment compensation with ESD, how do they indicate they have been furloughed? (added June 9, 2020)
ESD’s application for unemployment compensation asks the employee to choose a reason why they are separated from work. Furlough is not a listed option. Instead, for the question “Why did you separate from this employer?” select “Laid off” and for the follow-up question “Choose more information about this separation” select “Other reason not listed.”

What is standby? Does a furloughed employee need to request standby? (added June 9, 2020)

Standby defined
Standby is a status used by ESD to describe individuals who are temporarily unemployed but expect to return to work within a period of time of two to eight weeks. When on standby, employers must approve or deny standby and individuals are not required to meet work search requirements.

Standby and COVID-19
Due to the COVID-19 emergency, applicants are automatically placed on standby and all work search requirements are waived. Once work search requirements are reinstated, ESD will again require workers to request and employers to approve or deny standby.

How are unemployment benefits calculated? (updated June 18, 2020, September 13, 2020)
If an employee who has been furloughed for at least a week applies and is qualified they should receive a weekly benefit anywhere from $201-$844 (based on their normal income). Washington State ESD’s formula for calculating the regular weekly benefit amount is:

Weekly benefit (subject to the minimum and maximum noted above) = .0385 x the average of gross wages for the two highest quarters in an individual’s base year (the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters)

Examples of weekly benefit amount calculation
Average of two
highest quarters
Multiplied by .0385
weekly benefit
Amount
$2,800 $107.80 $201
$7,100 $273.35 $273
$10,508 $404.59 $404
$21,000 $808.50 $844

The weekly benefit amount may be reduced if an employee has received pay during the claim week. The ESD calculates the earnings deduction using the chart found on their website. For additional information, including an estimated benefit calculator, see the ESD Estimate Your Benefit web page.

Is there a one week waiting period for unemployment eligibility? (October 2, 2020)
Washington State law requires an unemployed individual to be unemployed for a waiting period of one week before being eligible to receive unemployment benefits. However, Governor Inslee’s Proclamation 20-21 waives the requirement that an individual be unemployed for one week before they can receive unemployment benefits. This waiver is in effect through November 14, 2020 unless otherwise extended. This FAQ will be updated if and when this is extended.

How does the waiting week for unemployment compensation work with furloughs if the waiting week waiver expires? For example, if an individual is furloughed for one week in June and another week in September and in the interim the waiting week waiver has expired, do they need to wait a week in September? (updated May 28, 2020)
Under normal circumstances if an unemployment claim is approved it is valid for 52 weeks from the start of the claim and the waiting week during which unemployment compensation is not paid is the first week of the claim. No matter how many times an individual restarts a claim within that 52 week period, only one waiting week is required.

If the waiting week waiver is in effect at the time they initially apply for unemployment compensation, the waiting week is waived regardless of how many times they restart their claim. If the waiting week waiver is not in effect at the time they initially apply, they are required to wait one week to receive unemployment compensation. No matter how many times they restart the claim within that 52 week period, only one waiting week is required.

What should be considered when scheduling the start date for a furlough? (added June 9, 2020)
The UW’s standard workweek under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is Monday to Sunday. Because any FLSA exempt employee furloughed midweek becomes overtime eligible for the entire workweek, all FLSA exempt staff are furloughed for a full UW workweek and may not work any hours from Monday to Sunday.

ESD uses a Sunday to Saturday workweek to calculate the weekly benefit for unemployment benefit purposes. Saturday and Sunday fall in the same UW work week, but for ESD weekly benefit calculations the Saturday falls in one workweek and the Sunday from that same weekend falls in the next workweek. Because any pay received by an employee who is receiving unemployment benefits for the ESD workweek will reduce the employee’s weekly benefit, when operationally feasible, managers and employees should make their best efforts to select furlough periods that maximize the ESD benefit received by the employee.

Lost Wages Assistance Program

Are furloughed employees eligible for the $300 Lost Wages Assistance benefit (added September 13, 2020)
Lost Wage Assistance is a federal program that adds $300 for each week the program remains federally funded. Employees who have received unemployment benefits for certain weeks and are unemployed or working fewer hours due to disruptions caused by COVID-19, including those on furlough related to COVID-19, may be eligible for these benefits as determined by ESD. View more information at ESD’s Lost Wages Assistance website about answering eligibility questions, approval, and issuance of payments.

Other Impacts

Can I still apply for WA State Paid Family & Medical Leave (PFML) when furloughed?
Yes. Eligibility for WA State PFML is not impacted by furlough, however, an individual cannot collect WA PFML and unemployment compensation concurrently.

What happens with my parking when I’m furloughed?
Please consult with UW Transportation Services regarding hold or cancellation options.

Can I change contribution amounts to my Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP) because expected childcare expenses have changed or for other reasons? (added June 9, 2020)
DCAP contributions can be adjusted due to a change in expected expenses, including reducing future contributions to $0. However, contributions already made cannot be reduced separate but can continue to be used for reimbursement for eligible expenses. Visit the ISC user guide for changing contributions to a DCAP through Workday.