exterior of CWRU's Crawford Hall

CWRU makes policy change to ensure staff keep vacation days

Case Western Reserve today announced a change in policy that would prevent staff from losing vacation days as a result of the university’s compliance with new federal labor guidelines.

Upon the recommendation of Elizabeth “Libby” Keefer, university general counsel and senior vice president for administration, President Barbara R. Snyder last week approved using salary grades—rather than overtime eligibility—to determine the number of vacation days employees accumulate per year.

And, while they and other officials were examining vacation day practices, they elected to shorten the time that those in salary grades 9 and below will be able to accumulate 21 vacation days; they’ll now be able to do so five years earlier than they do now.

Compliance with Federal Guidelines

The vacation day allotment drew particular attention this year because of changes required under new regulations for the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The rules significantly raised the annual compensation threshold under which an individual would be eligible for overtime pay (from $23,660 to $47,476), a move that required careful analysis of several hundred university positions to ensure correct classifications.

The distinctions between the positions that are eligible for overtime and those that are not include standards involving both compensation and position responsibilities. As a result of those reviews, many positions previously classified as exempt shifted to non-exempt, a transition that would not lower employees’ pay—but in many cases would reduce their vacation time by five days.

Several administrators expressed concern that such a rollback would feel like an undeserved punishment that hurt morale. Others said that keeping the existing vacation day totals for those who became non-exempt would mean treating people in the same job category differently. That result could make those with fewer days feel unfairly treated.

The Solution

Ultimately, Keefer came up with a solution designed to address concerns about those losing vacation days without creating inequities for others. Rather than link vacation days to exempt or non-exempt status, she said, why not instead tie them to salary grades? Under that model, some people in lower grades might actually gain days, while others would not see vacation time shrink.

“It was such a relief when Libby offered this alternate approach,” said Vice President for Human Resources Carolyn Gregory. “It maintained consistency in how we treated employees in similar categories, and also avoided negatively affecting any individual group.”

The change required a modest cost increase, but consensus among members of President’s Cabinet was that the funds required represented an enormously worthwhile investment for staff. After one final review of the numbers, President Snyder directed Vice President Gregory to begin implementation of the new vacation-time model.

“President Snyder said it was the right thing to do,” Gregory said, “and I could not agree more. I am grateful to both of them for developing and supporting this creative solution to a significant concern.”

What the Change Means

Individuals whose classification will change are scheduled to be notified late this month and in November. The new categorizations take effect Dec. 1.

Staff can learn more about the changes in general at town hall meetings Human Resources is sponsoring:

  • Thursday, Oct. 20, at 1 p.m. and
  • Monday, Oct. 24, at noon.

Both will be held in Ford Auditorium at the Allen Memorial Medical Library.

The vacation days available to employees in all categories—including those who become nonexempt effective Dec. 1—will not change during this fiscal year (July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017). The changes based on salary grades will take effect July 1, 2017.

Under the new approach, all employees in salary grades 10 and above who have fewer than five years’ experience can accumulate up to 16 days of vacation per year, while those with five or more years’ experience can accumulate up to 21 days of vacation per year.

Meanwhile, those in salary grades 9 and below now can accumulate 21 days of vacation once they complete 10 years of service. Previously, non-exempt employees (those eligible for overtime) with fewer than five years’ experience could accumulate up to 11 days of vacation per year; those with five to 14 years could earn up to 16 days per year; and those with 15 or more years were eligible for up to 21 days of vacation per year.