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March 22, 2007

SAC reviews handbook changes for re-hired staff

Changes in the Staff Handbook regarding former Pitt employees who are re-hired were the focus at last week’s Staff Association Council (SAC) meeting.

SAC members’ discussion of recent changes in the practices that govern staff employees who leave the University, either voluntarily or involuntarily, focused on the rationale for the changes, and on how to get the word out to employees about the revised guidelines.

According to SAC President Rich Colwell, prior to the changes, a staff member leaving the University voluntarily had a one-year timeframe to be “re-employed” in order to be credited with accumulated years of service toward whatever benefits he or she had accrued. Those benefits include vacation time; sick days; vesting in the defined contribution retirement plan; disability benefits, and Family Medical Leave Act eligibility.

Under the revised guidelines, Colwell explained, if a staff employee resigns a position voluntarily and then returns to employment at Pitt, he or she essentially “starts over,” that is, would be considered the same as a new hire for purposes of accrued benefits.

“When you quit the University, you don’t have a year to come back. You automatically lose your seniority,” Colwell said, adding that he was made aware of the revised guidelines in December via a memo from Human Resources.

Similarly, Colwell said, staff who are separated involuntarily formerly had one year to be re-employed and retain accrued benefits. Now that timeframe is 180 calendar days.

Involuntary separation, as defined in the handbook, includes both “those who have been separated involuntarily from the University due to position elimination, and those who have been separated involuntarily from the University due to inability to return to work while on approved disability leave.”

According to the revised guidelines, whether an employee leaves Pitt voluntarily or involuntarily, “sick days, eligibility for pre-September 1994 tuition reimbursement and pre-July 2004 retiree medical benefits will not be carried forward.”

Re-employed staff members have 30 days from their new starting date to file a written appeal with the HR Benefits office requesting reinstatement of their benefits, the handbook states.

The online Staff Handbook — in the section “Reemployment After Separation From the University” — was updated in February to reflect the guideline revisions, Colwell said.

(The guidelines can be accessed online at:

Many of the SAC members at the March 14 meeting were unaware that any guidelines on re-employment existed. Several members expressed surprise that they were not notified within their units of what some considered a significant change in benefits.

Colwell said the SAC officers had discussed the changes in January with Ron Frisch, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources.

Colwell said, “I made the point that we used to be more involved when policy changes were made, before they were made. We used to have more input. Ron agreed that we will be informed in the future of any changes, and I will report on them at the SAC meetings.”

Members agreed that SAC would publicize the re-employment revisions in their spring newsletter.

Frisch, who did not attend the March 14 meeting, told the University Times, “The University offers a very comprehensive and extremely competitive benefit package to continuing, returning and new staff. The University consistently competes to attract the best and most qualified talent. Therefore, we must consider a wide array of recruitment, including former staff employees, as well as effective retention efforts. Human Resources implemented this best practice several years ago when we had staff moving between Pitt and UPMC. Fortunately, this activity has slowed down.”

Frisch said an analysis last fall on the impact of staff turnover revealed that of 149 former staff employees re-hired in fiscal year 2006, 73 of them were hired more than one year after their termination date, and thus were starting over in terms of their benefits accrual.

“This is just one indicator that individuals are willing to return to the University regardless of service recognition,” he said.

Frisch confirmed that now when a staff employee resigns from the University, he or she waives the privilege to maintain Pitt benefits, except those covered by the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1985. COBRA requires that a group health plan must offer each qualified person who would otherwise lose coverage the opportunity to pay for continuation of the same coverage he or she had while an active employee or dependent.

Frisch added, “Employment decisions are very personal, and we certainly welcome anyone who decides to seek re-employment at the University. We do not change the Staff Handbook without confirming all processes and wording with (Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome) Cochran. I meet once a month with SAC officers to update them on new HR developments.”

In other SAC developments:

• The salary and job classification committee is developing a proposal regarding salaries for long-term staff versus new hires. Chair Tammeka Banks said, “We’ve had complaints that new staff are getting more [pay] than staff in the same position who have been here more than three years.”

She said the proposal could suggest modifications to the current salary allocation system that would include an equity increase component for longer-term staff, or might introduce a “step system” that would raise the salaries of longer-term staff to a minimum standard based on years of service.

Banks also reported that her committee had sent a letter on behalf of SAC to HR’s Frisch, with recommendations on staff salary increases for the upcoming fiscal year. She declined to specify what those recommendations were. The letter included a request that Human Resources do a benchmarking analysis of the job classification salary ranges to ensure marketing competitiveness, Banks said.

• The safety and security committee announced its fourth annual CPR certification drive, offering a four-hour class, “Health Care Provider Course With AED” (automated external defibrillator). The one-session course will be offered in 669 Benedum Hall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., May 5, and will be repeated May 12. The course covers adult and pediatric CPR along with choking care and the use of the AED. Completing the course earns a two-year CPR certification.

The course is open to Pitt faculty, staff, students, family and friends. The fee is $25. The deadline to register and for payment (cash only) is April 25. For registration information, contact the SAC office at 412/624-4236 or

• The annual council of campuses meeting is scheduled for May 24 on the Greensburg campus. Officers of staff associations at the five Pitt campuses host the meeting on a rotating basis.

• SAC members agreed to request that a staff member’s response be added to the honors convocation program, which currently includes responses only from faculty, students and alumni. Outstanding staff members are recognized at the convocation, but do not have a role in the program, SAC members noted.

—Peter Hart

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