Voluntary Furlough Program FAQs

Updated May 20, 2020

Like all institutions of higher education, The University of Texas at Austin has been forced to make shifts in the ways we teach and work that have come with increased costs. Coupled with facing declines in expected future revenues and uncertainty about many facets of our operations, these forces have significantly altered UT’s immediate financial outlook. In addition to previous measures put into place in April to address the pressure on the university's finances, the university has announced the next phase of financial mitigation efforts. This program is being offered as part of these efforts to offset revenue losses while continuing to provide participating employees with certain benefits. Your supervisor or local human resources representative will communicate directly with you if your department has been approved to participate in this program. Only employees whose departments have been approved to participate may apply for the voluntary furlough program.

The next phase of measures also includes the removal of emergency leave as an option for employees after May 31. Employees who are currently using emergency leave because they have no work available either physically on campus or through remote work may be considered for the voluntary furlough program, which would allow employees to retain access to certain benefits.

What is a voluntary benefits-eligible furlough?

A furlough is a temporary period of time in which an employee works a reduced number of regular work days and enters a designated schedule of unpaid time off. At this time, participation in the furlough is voluntary for the staff member.

During the temporary, voluntary furlough period, the benefits-eligible staff member:

  • Chooses to participate in a reduced work schedule of either 32 hours/week, 24 hours/week, or is scheduled for 5 days during the month.  During the unscheduled time, the employee should not perform work and does not receive pay.
  • Remains a university employee.
  • Is eligible to file for unemployment insurance compensation.
  • Continues to receive the university contribution toward their health insurance.
  • Retains accrued vacation and sick time.
  • Returns to their position after a minimum 30-day furlough period or on a later date mutually agreed upon between the unit and employee.
What is a voluntary non-benefits eligible furlough?

A voluntary non-benefits eligible furlough is a temporary, unpaid leave of absence. During the temporary, voluntary furlough period, the non-benefits eligible staff member:

  • Remains a university employee.
  • Is eligible to file for unemployment insurance compensation.
  • Returns to their position after a minimum 30-day furlough period or on a later date mutually agreed upon between the unit and employee.
How do units participate in the voluntary furlough program?

Units interested in offering a voluntary furlough program for their employees must approve their furlough plan in advance with their Dean or Vice-president, as applicable, and submit their plan to Human Resources (HR). The plan will include the categories of employees eligible to participate based on business need. Depending on the number of employees interested in participating, units may need to deny an employee’s request to participate if the request would impede the unit’s ability to provide their essential services or critical operations. Units interested in offering a voluntary furlough program should contact HR Strategic Workforce Solutions to learn more and apply.

Can an employee change their mind after their voluntary furlough option is approved?

Yes. An employee has three (3) calendar days to notify their supervisor in writing of their intent to withdraw their request to participate in the voluntary furlough program.

Are certain categories of employees currently excluded from the voluntary furlough program?

Yes. At this time, faculty, TAs, AIs, GRAs, school teachers and aides, and undergraduate student employment positions are not eligible to participate in the voluntary furlough program.

How does a furlough differ from a layoff?

A furlough is a temporary period of unpaid time off for a benefits-eligible employee or a temporary unpaid leave of absence for a non-benefits eligible employee. While on furlough, participating staff remain an employee of UT Austin. Benefits-eligible furloughed employees retain their leave and health insurance benefits. In contrast, a layoff is a termination of employment.

Are furlough participants subject to the hiring justification process?

No. Furloughed employees remain employed with UT Austin and they do not need to be rehired into their position at the conclusion of their furlough period.

Are there job protections associated with the furlough program?

The unit will hold a position for the participating employee to return to at the conclusion of the furlough period, including any mutually agreed upon extensions. If business circumstances change to such an extent that a reduction-in-staff or reorganization activity is warranted, impacted employees would be notified and the relevant policy provisions would apply.

Are furloughed employees subject to being recalled back to active status?

Yes. As the university prepares to reopen more on-campus services, additional staffing resources may be required to meet the business needs of the academic, research or administrative mission of the university. Units would provide two weeks’ notice to employees being recalled back to their full work schedule to allow for a smooth transition.

Can furloughed employees use accrued leave to offset the unpaid time off during the furlough period?

No. Employees may not use vacation leave, compensatory time, sick leave, or other paid leave on a furlough day to offset the unpaid time off.

Are unpaid furlough days required to be taken in full-day increments?

Yes. Unpaid furlough days must be taken in full-day increments.

What is the status of employment benefits during the temporary furlough period?

During the period of furlough, benefits-eligible employees will maintain their leave and health insurance benefits.

Will furloughed employees continue to earn vacation and sick leave during the period of furlough?

Yes. Benefits-eligible employees will continue to earn vacation and sick leave during the period of furlough. Standard rules for state compensatory time expiration and vacation roll-over limits apply.

Can an employee take a furlough and then use the new Expanded Family and Medical Leave (EFMLA) upon their return to full work hours, if K-12 schools and daycare centers remain closed?

Yes. EFML is available as long as schools and daycare centers are closed for concerns related to COVID-19.

Can an employee take a furlough and then use the new Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) for COVID-19 qualifying reasons?

Yes. EPSL is available if an employee has a COVID-19 qualifying event during a day they are scheduled to work during their furlough period. The employee cannot use EPSL to offset the unpaid time off during the furlough period.

Will furloughed employees receive holiday pay?

It depends. To receive holiday pay, a benefits-eligible employee must work or be in a paid status on the last scheduled working day before a holiday and work or be in a paid status on the next scheduled day after a holiday to be eligible for the holiday. If the employee is on unpaid furlough the day before and the day after the holiday, they will not receive holiday pay for that holiday.

Will furloughed employees receive longevity pay?

It depends. In order to receive longevity pay, a full-time benefits-eligible employee must be in a paid status on the first day of the month. If the employees is unpaid on the first day of the month, they will not receive longevity for the month.

How does a furlough affect TRS service credits?

Employees remain enrolled in TRS. No hours and earnings will be reported on furloughed days. A benefits-eligible employee will still receive a full year of creditable service as long as they have worked in a benefits-eligible position for at least 20 hours per week for four and a half months in the fiscal year.

Are furloughed employees eligible for unemployment insurance benefits?

The university does not determine unemployment insurance eligibility. The university will not contest a claim for state unemployment insurance benefits as long as the employee did not decline an offer to be redeployed to another position.

Eligibility for and the amount of unemployment insurance benefit is determined by the State of Texas. Information on unemployment insurance criteria and eligibility can be found on the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) website at https://www.twc.texas.gov/jobseekers/unemployment-benefits-services.  

For additional information regarding Unemployment and COVID-19, please refer to the state website at https://www.twc.texas.gov/news/covid-19-resources-job-seekers or the federal website at https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus/unemployment-insurance.

Can furloughed employees apply for unemployment insurance benefits?

Yes. Anyone can apply for unemployment insurance benefits. For more information on applying for unemployment and eligibility, please visit https://www.twc.texas.gov/news/covid-19-resources-job-seekers.

Can part-time furloughed employees apply for unemployment insurance benefits?

Yes. Anyone can apply for unemployment benefits. For more information on applying for unemployment and eligibility, please visit https://www.twc.texas.gov/news/covid-19-resources-job-seekers.

Have unemployment insurance benefits expanded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes. As a result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, impacted workers may receive additional unemployment benefits. The CARES Act extended the period of time an individual may receive unemployment insurance benefits through December 26, 2020. In addition, it created a temporary Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) fund. FPUC is a temporary emergency increase of $600 per week, in addition to the standard unemployment insurance weekly benefit.

The additional FPUC weekly supplement ends July 25, 2020. FPUC provides an additional payment to most individuals who are collecting benefits. No separate application is required to receive this additional benefit; it is provided automatically to those who qualify. For more information, please refer to the state website at https://www.twc.texas.gov/news/covid-19-resources-job-seekers or the federal website at https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus/unemployment-insurance.

Are unemployment payments and payments from the federal CARES Act programs subject to income taxes?

Yes. Individuals receiving benefits may have federal income taxes withheld from their unemployment insurance benefit payments. Tax withholding is completely voluntary; withholding taxes is not required. If an individual asks the TWC to withhold taxes, they will withhold 10 percent of the gross amount of each payment before sending it to the requestor.

What is the university’s role in the application process for unemployment insurance benefits?

Unemployment insurance claims are processed by the TWC. The university’s role is to answer the TWC’s request for information in a timely and factual manner.

Where can questions about unemployment insurance benefits be directed?

Unemployment benefits are administered by the TWC. Answers to many questions can be found on their web site at https://www.twc.texas.gov/news/covid-19-resources-job-seekers.

The TWC site is also available in Spanish at https://www.twc.texas.gov/news/recursos-para-solicitantes-de-empleo-covid-19.

The TWC can also be reached directly at 800-939-6631 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Central Standard Time, every day.