Voluntary Furlough Policy

Policy Statement

In response to the economic toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken, Columbia University is offering certain employees the option to take a full or partial unpaid furlough. During a voluntary furlough, the individual remains employed by the University, but does not perform any work or receive a wage or salary. 

In response to the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Columbia University is implementing a voluntary furlough program based on an employee’s individual work situation. The reasons for the policy are twofold: first it provides a cost-saving measure for the University; second, in addition to other leave policies authorized by the University, it permits employees an option to take extended leave to use as they wish, including addressing childcare needs and/or caring for family members affected by the pandemic.

All Officers of Administration, and Non-Union Support Staff.

All Officers of Administration, Non-Union Support Staff, all Human Resource staff, and Senior Business Managers.

The following individuals are not eligible for voluntary furlough:

• Officers of Instruction, Officers of Research and Officers of Libraries

• Union-represented employees 

• Essential onsite workers

• Employees with current or upcoming critical projects  

All voluntary furloughs must first be approved by the employee’s department. No furlough can be taken without prior permission.

In addition to providing the University with cost savings, voluntary furloughs offer all full-time Officers of Administration and Non-Union Support Staff who have been employed for at least 12 months the opportunity to take a voluntary leave from the University to use as they wish, including addressing childcare needs and/or caring for a family member affected by the pandemic. This policy applies to select employees at all campuses.

Voluntary furloughs must have prior approval from the employee’s department.

A full voluntary furlough may be taken for no less than one month, but may be taken for up to three months.  A partial voluntary furlough may be taken in 20% increments. All voluntary furloughs must end no later than December 31, 2020. 

• An employee who takes a full voluntary furlough will not accrue seniority while on unpaid leave.  A voluntary furlough, may be deemed a break in service for purposes of certain benefit plans. 

• An employee on a full voluntary furlough will not accrue vacation; while an employee on a partial voluntary furlough will accrue a pro-rated amount of vacation.

In conjunction with exercising the option to take a voluntary furlough, the employee may use accrued Paid Time Off benefits (e.g., vacation or personal days) at the beginning of this leave. No salary advance will be available.

All benefits-eligible employees may continue certain insurance benefit coverages during an approved voluntary furlough through a direct billing arrangement with the third-party billing administrator, Employee Benefit Plan Administrators, Inc. (EBPA). EBPA will bill for continuation of coverage for Medical, Dental, Optional Long-Term Disability, Optional Term Life Insurance and/or Dependent Life Insurance.  Employee benefits contributions will be charged at the employee’s regular rate.

Healthcare Flexible Spending Accounts may continue to be accessed during the calendar year in which the voluntary furlough begins. Should this policy be extended into another calendar year, the employee will not be eligible to re-enroll in the Healthcare FSA, or receive a rollover balance, until they return from a full voluntary furlough.

Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts, the Child Care Benefit, and Transit/Parking Reimbursement Program accounts are suspended during a full voluntary furlough. No claims may be submitted for expenses incurred during this period. 

Tuition Exemption. If an employee is using Tuition Exemption during the term in which they go on voluntary furlough, the employee may continue using the benefit for that term. The employee will not be granted Tuition Exemption for any subsequent term until they return from the voluntary furlough. Dependents will continue to qualify for Tuition Exemption; College Tuition Scholarship and Primary Tuition Scholarship. 

Retirement Plans. During a full voluntary furlough, the University will not make contributions to an employee’s University and/or Voluntary Retirement Plan accounts. In addition, the time the employee was on a full voluntary furlough will not count towards credited service time for retirement or retiree medical benefits.  

Employees who have exercised the option to take a full voluntary furlough are strictly prohibited from performing any work or receiving a wage or salary. This includes doing any work for the University such as answering email or responding to phone calls. Incidental contact to redirect a manager or co-worker to the appropriate point of contact or needed business record and/or other nominal tasks necessary for business continuity purposes are permitted.

Employees who have exercised a full or partial voluntary furlough are still bound by the University’s normal guidance regarding outside employment.

Employee must complete and submit a Voluntary Furlough Application to their Supervisor for approval and then provide to their local HR for review and final approval.