Friday 29 May 2020

All staff email

Important update - our employee Voluntary Options Programme

Dear colleagues

This week, Charlie wrote to all staff with more information about our financial challenges and some of the steps that the University is taking - in the immediate and longer term - to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Please do read Charlie’s email, as it sets the context for our decision to introduce a Voluntary Options Programme. We are asking all of our staff to consider these schemes, in the context of their own individual circumstances and preferences. Collectively, we believe we can make significant savings on our employment costs if these options are taken up by staff. We want to protect jobs wherever possible and do all that we can to minimise the need for more difficult measures, including redundancies, further down the line.

Launching this programme gives us the opportunity to do this in a planned and supportive way that gives departments time to consider how they might be able to facilitate and agree applications to our voluntary programme. We would like to agree to as many applications as we can, and by launching the programme now, it will allow us - over the coming weeks and months - to consider and plan for a number of possible outcomes and understand the context of requests against institutional strategic priorities.

What happens next

It is very important to us that our staff know they are under no obligation to take up any of these measures and should not feel any pressure to volunteer. These options are intended to support staff who feel they can help to address our current financial situation, if these schemes appeal or align with their personal preferences and circumstances.

It is worth noting that some of the voluntary measures being proposed have been developed in response to members of our community asking if there are any ways they can help the University during these difficult times.

We intend to launch the programme formally during the week commencing 8th June 2020. Before that, we will be consulting with our campus trade unions on the elements within the Voluntary Options Programme, and developing the supporting materials to support the launch. In the meantime, we thought it would be helpful to provide some ‘definitions’ of the different options that will be available. Further information on all of these schemes will be made available on our HR website, when the Voluntary Options Programme is launched, where you will then be able to find terms, FAQs and application forms.

Summary of the Voluntary Options Programme

  • Voluntary Severance (VS)

A Voluntary Severance (VS) scheme offers an opportunity for some employees to apply to leave their employment with the University, on a voluntary basis, to pursue other career or personal interests. In doing so, they are provided with a financial package to support them to leave the University.

Agreeing to a VS request is at the University's discretion, and we will only be able to agree to an application if the request can be accommodated, from a business need perspective (ie can the work be delivered differently, reduced or stopped), and also if the costs of the VS package can deliver sustainable savings for the University.

  • Voluntary Severance with Retirement (VSER)

If you are a member of one of the University's pension schemes, you may be able to retire, from the age of 55 onwards, as well as apply for the VS scheme. When an individual requests this, they may ask for an estimate of how much pension benefit they would receive if they were to retire on a specified date, which would include details of any reductions that may apply for retiring early. Under VSER, it may be possible to use some or all of any severance payment to enhance the pension benefits paid. The rules of the relevant pension scheme determine whether or not retirement is available and if it is possible to enhance benefits.

  • Voluntary reduction in working hours

The University is a very flexible employer and already employs many staff on a part-time basis as a result of staff either wanting to apply for part-time opportunities, or applying to reduce their working hours..

Whilst the University has an existing flexible working policy through which staff can formally request a flexible working arrangement, we are now encouraging staff to consider a reduction in their working hours, either permanently or for a minimum of 12 months. When your working hours are reduced, your salary is reduced pro-rata to reflect your part-time contract, and all salary-related benefits would also be reduced accordingly (e...g. annual leave entitlement; pension benefits etc.).

  • Voluntary reduction in salary (temporary)

The Vice-Chancellor is taking a voluntary salary reduction of 20%, initially for a six month period from 1 August 2020, and all other members of the University Executive Board are also taking voluntary salary reductions of up to 20% over this period.

Some staff have already come forward and said they would also be willing to consider taking a voluntary reduction in salary, which is very much appreciated. As with any other arrangement for a reduced salary, the salary-related employment benefits would also be affected.

  • Flexible Retirement

The Flexible Retirement option supports employees with a gradual move into full retirement. It allows employees to take partial retirement whilst continuing to work for the University. Employees continue working for the University on a reduced number of hours, while also accessing some or all of their pension benefits.

This phased retirement arrangement also provides flexibility for the University to manage its workforce, specifically in the area of retirement planning. It also allows the University to retain employees on a reduced or different working basis, on mutually acceptable terms. Access to flexible retirement is subject to University discretion and eligibility, and whether all or some of the pension benefits can be accessed will depend on the rules of the employee's pension scheme.

  • Unpaid Leave (three months or less)

The University already has a policy for staff who wish to take unpaid leave, for example our 'Parental Leave' policy, which provides for up to 18 weeks unpaid leave, subject to specific eligibility criteria. Under the Voluntary Options Programme, all staff will be able to apply for unpaid leave, up to a maximum of three months, to be taken over the holiday year.

During any unpaid leave arrangement, salary-related benefits may be affected. Any requests for longer than this should be made under the Unpaid Career Break option (see below).

  • Unpaid Career Break

The University already has a policy on unpaid career breaks. Under the Voluntary Options Programme, we will be inviting applications for unpaid career breaks, which would normally be from between 3-12 months. During the career break, all salary payments would be suspended, and salary-related benefits would also be affected.

We will email all staff again when we launch our Voluntary Options Programme during the week commencing 8th June.

We hope these offer a useful summary at this stage. Thank you, again, for your patience as we develop the guidance for all of these schemes, which will soon be available on our HR website.

Best wishes,


Dr Joss Ivory

HR Director

University of York