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May 2008

Delphi questions

Reclassifications, hiring freeze

Delphi Question #585 (received March 13): On Monday, March 10, some employees were given memos stating that there was a reclassification from exempt status to nonexempt status beginning that same day. The only explanation in the memo was that Human Resources had completed a Federal Labor Standards Act audit and that clarification to the changes resulted in HR’s determination of our positions being subject to FLSA wage and hour guidelines. The audit and change were not discussed with supervisors or lab associate directors before the Thursday or Friday prior to the Monday when affected employees were told.

This action raises the following questions:

  • Was this change mandatory and, if so, why?
  • Who decided the reclassification was necessary and how was this decided?
  • Why was this not communicated earlier—at least to supervisors and associate directors?
  • Why was there no input from supervisors or associate directors regarding classifications and ranges?
  • How were the ranges decided—especially since some of the ranges are lower than the original ranges (thus having the appearance of a demotion)?

UCAR professes leadership, yet the way HR handled the reclassification is a poor example of that leadership and communication. How can a company that is supposed to be considered one of the “2007 best companies to work for in Colorado” not take into account the impact this could have on the affected employees? We understand that laws and policies may change, but we would expect better communication from HR. Better communication means less shock and anger on an employee’s part.

Some employees are wondering what else will change without notification—benefits, retirement?

Response (received March 19): I think I hear a couple of things in this question. First, a request for additional information concerning the change; second, disappointment in the effects of the change and the way it was ­communicated.

Regarding the change, it was made as a result of external requirements over which UCAR has no control. It was not made because of any internal desire to change the status of certain jobs. If it were up to us, we would have left the jobs unchanged. The Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prescribes standards for the basic minimum wage and overtime pay, and affects most private and public employment. Following recent guidance from the Department of Labor, many organizations are changing the exempt status of certain jobs.

Human Resources reviewed several job categories. Some of the positions we reviewed remained exempt, while others were changed to nonexempt. The affected jobs are Software Engineer I, Systems Administrator I, Network Engineer I, Executive Assistant I, and Web Developer I and II. Other Boulder employers have also recently changed the status of jobs similar to ours.

Before making the changes, we had external attorneys review the jobs to ensure we were required to make these changes. Other than the change in exempt status, there was no change in the jobs, and the classification stayed the same.

UCAR has a separate salary range for nonexempt positions, so all of the affected positions were moved to that salary range. This means there were minor changes in the midpoints for all of the affected jobs, but these were less than $300. No employee’s rate of pay was changed, and no one was demoted. (We are aware of one major employer that did reduce pay rates by 15% concurrent with the change to nonexempt status, but UCAR did not.) Those who moved to nonexempt positions will be eligible for time-and-a-half pay for all hours worked over 40 in a work week, as required under the FLSA.

Concerning the disappointment in the effects of the changes, I think the ­disappointment is real. The FLSA is written to “protect” some employees and ensure they receive overtime pay, but its actual impact feels different. These changes were not made based on employee ­performance, value to the organization, or any other internal motivation. Based on our internal and external review of the jobs, and on the recent Department of Labor guidance, we had no option but to make the change.

Regarding the communication, senior management was made aware of the issue prior to the announcement. Some ­managers who had multiple employees affected were briefed on the changes from the Department of Labor and the likelihood of UCAR changing the status of some jobs to nonexempt. Because of the sensitivity and uncertainty of the issue, these discussions were confidential. Until we were certain which jobs would be impacted, we did not want to unnecessarily alarm employees in jobs not affected by the changes.

You are correct that most supervisors were unaware of the change until a few days before it went into effect and that employees in the affected jobs were given no advance notice. Because the change was legally required, we wanted to put it into place as soon as practical. Meetings and discussions were held with administrators, supervisors, and/or directors, depending on availability, the week of March 3. However, in retrospect, we could have done better in communicating the necessary changes to affected employees and supervisors.

As to the future, there are likely to be other legally required changes to some of our policies and plans. Every year we have some minor changes and they are included in our communications to employees. Benefit plans are reviewed every year, and we have seen some changes. The last major change was the implementation of the High Deductible (HSA) Health Plan. This change was widely communicated months in advance.

—Bob Roesch
Director, Human Resources

Delphi Question #586 (received March 13): I heard in a meeting with the director of a lab that there is a UCAR­-wide hiring freeze in place to help save UCAR money, considering the impending budget shortfalls. (It was the same meeting where we discussed the four-month delay in raises recently set by Rick Anthes.)

Yet I see many positions advertised and being filled. I have no problem with people being hired; some of them are my friends. I’m glad for that. But I’d like straight talk from the administration. If there is a hiring freeze, enforce it. If there is effectively no hiring freeze, don’t say there is. It gives the appearance of preferential treatment when you say there is a hiring freeze, but some people are hired anyway. It makes it look like those people are special exceptions instead of qualified applicants filling important positions. (I’m not confusing hiring with promotions.)

So, is there a UCAR-wide hiring freeze or not? Is it a limited hiring freeze? Perhaps limited to certain labs, or classes of positions, or to new positions but not replacement positions?

Response (received March 26): Thanks for the question. It is an involved issue and some clarification is needed.

The hiring freeze is actually an “NCAR external hiring freeze” and applies only to NCAR. It was initiated by the NCAR director last August in response to FY08 and FY09 budget pressures, the continuing resolution, and the omnibus bill.

The goal of the external hiring freeze is to coordinate and optimize internal assignments and redeployments of existing staff as an important and proactive part of our budget and program management. It covers all NCAR external hires, but provides for exceptions based on demonstration of the insufficiency of the internal applicant pool and the programmatic need to fill a position. All exceptions are approved by the NCAR director or the NCAR deputy director.

Since the freeze went into effect, no position has been opened for an external posting without this review and approval. NCAR plans to revisit this temporary policy after confirmation of the FY08 Target by NSF and in light of projections for funding for FY09 later this calendar year.

UOP has no hiring freeze in place and positions are filled based on programmatic needs and the availability of funding for the position.

While F&A does not have a hiring freeze in effect, open positions may not be filled without the specific approval of the F&A vice president. This requirement went into effect in January in response to the changes in NCAR’s budget.

—Bob Roesch
Director, Human Resources


In this issue...

A close look at one geoengineering scheme

Talks and treats for National Library Week

People, planet, and productivity: Sustainable UCAR

Multimedia Services helps staff collaborate across time and space

“The Stories Clouds Tell” gets a facelift

Delphi questions

Warren M. Washington Digital Collection

Just One Look


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