Updated Sept. 1, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest crisis our college community has faced in most of our lifetimes.
Since spring, we have held monthly townhall meetings with staff, faculty and students to keep our community informed of the financial impact of the crisis. The possibility of furloughs was addressed in these sessions, though we were able to hold furloughs off for six months.
The continuation of remote instruction for fall semester and closure of campus mean furloughs are now necessary, and our aim is to help affected employees through this difficult period and get employees back to work as soon as possible.
Why is the College carrying out furloughs now?
As the coronavirus crisis deepened in the summer, public health conditions in Southern California made it clear we could not bring students back to campus for fall semester.
In the scenarios we’ve presented to our community in recent months, continuing remote instruction into the 2020-21 academic year has brought the most severe financial impact.
Now that we have had to take that path, we face an annual budget shortfall of more than $37 million.
Without students living on campus for fall, there are no charges for room and board. That brings one of the largest financial impacts of this ongoing crisis.
What financial steps have we already taken?
In the spring, as the crisis first hit, we took steps such as sharply cutting non-personnel budgets, freezing hiring and salaries, drawing on reserves and pausing construction projects to free up funds. Salaries and benefits, however, make up the largest share of our budget.
What is the difference between layoffs and furloughs?
A furlough allows us to keep employees on our payroll system with the intent of returning employees quickly when our operations begin again.
In contrast, a layoff entails separating an employee from the college as a termination of employment.
We value all our employees and appreciate your hard work and dedication to Pomona, and we want to make sure that we can bring people back to work as fast as we can.
Who will be furloughed?
This unprecedented pandemic has affected staff workloads unevenly throughout the crisis. Some employees have more to handle than ever before during our temporary shift to remote teaching. For others, the pandemic has forced the closure of their work area, leaving them without work to do at this time or in coming weeks.
The furlough affects staff members who work in:
- College functions that are completely closed or shutdown so that employees cannot perform their work either on-site or remotely; or who work in
- College functions that are dramatically curtailed so that employees cannot work a full schedule either on-site or remotely.
Will everyone furloughed lose all work hours?
No. We are implementing a mix of full and partial furloughs, depending on whether a function has been fully shutdown or curtailed, lasting until Dec. 31.
These different levels of reductions, some full and some partial, have been determined not only in response to work needs with the campus closed but also to minimize loss of income and maximize available public assistance for our employees.
Our hope would be that the public health situation improves to the point that students would be able to return to campus in spring, in which case we would expect the furloughs could come to a close. If we must continue remote education through spring semester, the furloughs that are currently partial may need to, in most cases, become full furloughs at that point, as our financial challenges would escalate.
How were employees notified?
We notified all affected staff on September 1 with in-person meetings by division and office along with formal letters to each employee. Furloughs will be effective on October 1.
What are you doing to help employees who have been furloughed?
We have been paying all staff since March. Moving forward, we will pay all affected employees through the end of September. After that, employees who are furloughed for all of their usual work hours will be paid for their accrued vacation and personal time; those whose hours are reduced by 50% will continue to receive half of their wages.
The College will continue pay for health coverage – including the employee contribution – for all furloughed employees through Dec. 31, at which point we will reassess the continued need for furloughs.
In support of our community, the Pomona College Board of Trustees has passed a resolution backing the continuation of health benefits for employees furloughed for fall semester.
The College also will continue to honor any ongoing tuition remission obligations.
Employees with full furloughs will receive a payout for accrued vacation time.
Can furloughed employees collect unemployment?
We expect employees with full furloughs will qualify for unemployment insurance, and we plan to seek participation in the California Working Sharing Program, which could allow partially furloughed employees to receive partial unemployment benefits as well. We also will assist eligible employees in applying for California’s newly-announced Lost Wages Assistance Program, which could provide addition financial support of up to $300 per week beyond standard unemployment insurance.
What will happen to my sick time?
For fully-furloughed employees, sick time will remain on the books at the College. Employees who have been furloughed and taken off schedule will be able to use their sick time when they return to scheduled hours. Employees whose hours are being reduced by 50% will continue to accrue sick leave at 50% of the regular rate.
How long will furloughs last?
Furloughs will be effective Oct. 1 with affected employees being paid for the month of September.
We expect furloughs would last through Dec. 31, assuming we will be able to return students to campus in the spring.
There may be instances when staff who are furloughed are asked to come back to work early to prepare for reopening.
As always, please make sure we have the most updated contact information (home address, home/cell phone and personal email) for you, which can be found on your Workday profile under contacts.
Will furloughs extend into the spring?
At this point, we are planning for furloughs to last through December. It is possible we will have to be online again in the spring, which would compel us to continue furloughs, but we are not ready to make that decision yet.
If we must continue remote education through spring semester, the furloughs that are currently partial would in most cases become full furloughs at that point, as our financial challenges would escalate.
With Pomona’s large endowment, why does the College have to furlough staff?
The College is fully utilizing the endowment, within our internal guidelines and legal boundaries.
The endowment funds most of our operating budget and has already allowed us to pay all faculty and staff through this crisis, meet the urgent financial demands of the crisis like increased financial support to students, protecting employee benefits such as health coverage and supporting faculty efforts to convert the curriculum to online instruction.
The purpose of the endowment is to support the College today, tomorrow and in perpetuity; spending more from the endowment now will impact our budgets down the road.
We feel an obligation to prioritize our academic mission as the very reason the College exists. We feel a deep commitment to affirming the dignity of all our employees. As the pandemic and resulting economic factors lead to temporary furloughs, our aim is to bring affected employees back to work as soon as possible.
How many people are being furloughed?
We are furloughing 154 employees who work in functions that are completely shut down and 110 employees whose hours will be reduced by half because their workload has been curtailed.
Did you consider salary cuts instead of furloughs?
We did consider reducing salaries for faculty and staff across the board. But in a difficult situation, we determined it would be fairer to temporarily furlough those employees with no work to do or who can only now work partial hours because of sharply curtailed activity in their work area. This approach maintains the connection between work and pay, instead of paying employees not to work while reducing the pay of those who would still be working.
Are you going to cut administrator salaries?
President Starr and the vice presidents who report directly to her will take a pay cut for as long as the furlough lasts. For all other staff and faculty, we are freezing salaries at last fiscal year’s level.
What about job sharing instead of furloughs?
Vice presidents can consider job sharing arrangements whereby staff are partially furloughed, but decisions must be based on the needs of the College.
Will the College offer an early retirement program?
We are considering offering an early retirement program and are thinking through the parameters. We will provide more information in the coming weeks.
Can I volunteer to accept a furlough if that means that somebody else can continue working?
No. We would furlough staff whose jobs have been shut down or who can’t work full time because their functions have been curtailed. Those who are not furloughed are expected to work. Should a situation arise when a staff person can no longer work, they should contact their supervisor and HR for further discussion.
Will the College cut benefits to meet budget shortfalls?
We have no plans to reduce benefits for faculty and staff. A salary freeze is in effect.
Can I take an emergency loan from the retirement plan?
Due to the pandemic, the federal government has made provisions by which some may qualify to take emergency loans from retirement benefits. Employees are now eligible to withdraw up to $100,000, but this withdrawal is not tax-free to the employee. Due to a provision in the CARES Act, employees may temporarily withdraw from the employer portion of the retirement plan as well. Each situation is unique and any employee seeking this option should contact TIAA and their tax preparer for more information on whether they qualify.