Fermilab at Work

U.S. Department of Energy

Self-Select Voluntary Separation Program (SSVSP) - May 2012

Questions & Answers

General

Q. Will an involuntary separation phase be necessary? When will it take place?

A. As announced in June, Fermilab management was able to accept 27 of the total of 32 individuals who applied and did not rescind their application for the self-select voluntary separation program. The involuntary separation process that will complete the workforce reduction has begun, and is anticipated to be complete no later than the end of September.

The involuntary separation process at Fermilab involves many steps that take months to complete. It is guided by instructions from DOE, and Fermilab cannot communicate the details to employees until DOE approval is received in the final phase. The process starts with a detailed assessment of business needs and the budget and resources available in each of the Divisions, Sections and Centers. Next there is a careful review of all positions that have been identified as possibilities for reductions in force. A plan is then submitted to DOE for review, and there are a number of DOE requirements that must be met. Once DOE approves the plan, Fermilab acts as quickly as possible to notify affected employees.

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Q. Why are we carrying out the workforce reduction now, when we don’t yet know our final budget for next year?

A. We expect to receive a reduced budget from DOE for the 2013 fiscal year that starts October 1. The workforce reduction process is a lengthy one, and to be able to meet reduced budgets in October we must begin the voluntary separation phase now.

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Q. Will Divisions/Section/Center heads be able to transfer staff to cover holes left by employees who are accepted into the SSVSP?

A. Yes, internal transfers within the same Division/Section/Center will be allowed when needed to fill vacant positions.

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Q. Why is Fermilab still hiring new employees? Will there eventually be a hiring freeze?

A. There are no current plans to implement a hiring freeze. We need to keep the lab running and continue to meet the laboratory’s scientific goals, and for that we need to retain certain skills within our workforce. When positions open for those necessary skills, we try to fill them with our own staff. In some cases, if we don't already have the critical skills needed within the laboratory, we need to fill those positions from outside. We hire new staff to maintain our progress and commitments to DOE, and we’ve continued to bring in people for temporary summer-time positions such as physics internships and necessary seasonal work such as lawn mowing.

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Q. In Pier's all-hands presentation in February, he stated that a $30 million reduction would translate into 150 jobs lost. What happened to the other 70 jobs?

A. Thanks to recent Congressional actions on the annual funding bill for DOE, Fermilab's funding prospects for the next fiscal year look better than they did in February. This has allowed us to minimize the size of the workforce reduction. Even with some funding restored to the laboratory, however, we still expect to receive an overall reduction in our budget starting on October 1. With that knowledge, and the knowledge that federal budgets will not be final for at least a few months, we must move forward with a reduction of about 80 employees.

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Q. Can accrued vacation and severance pay be used to bridge any timeline gap, and make it so that I can take the SSVSP to initiate my retirement?

A. You must be eligible to retire on your separation date. You cannot use severance pay or accrued vacation to bridge the time gap.

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Q. Are all employees who are members of a bargaining unit eligible for the SSVSP?

A. No. Only members of the Machinist and Welders unit and the Drivers unit of the IAM union are eligible for the SSVSP due to a clause in their collective bargaining agreement which specifically covers voluntary separation programs.

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Q. Will there be a tally count of the number of applications submitted for SSVSP posted on the website?

A. No, we will not be posting a tally. Because the important number for this voluntary separation program is the number of applications that are accepted, we will not post a running tally of the number of applications submitted. The number of applications that have been accepted will be announced in late June after the affected employees have been notified.

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Q. Has the laboratory considered alternative ways of saving money that would avoid workforce reductions?

A. Yes. Staff reductions are always a last resort. The laboratory faces tight budgets and has taken steps wherever feasible to save money across laboratory operations, for example by reducing spending on materials and supplies.

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Q. Who is eligible to apply for the SSVSP?

A. All active (not on a paid or unpaid leave of absence or long-term disability), regular, full-time and part-time employees. Part-time employees must be regularly scheduled to work at least 50% of the hours of a full-time employee. Those who are not eligible include: temps, terms, those on phased retirement and inactive employees.

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Q. If I am on an approved Family Medical Leave and receiving sick pay, amd I eligible to apply for the SSVSP?

A. Employees on paid sick leave or approved FMLA leave are considered active; therefore, eligible to apply for the SSVSP.

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Q. What is the minimum number of volunteers needed for the SSVSP?

A. A reduction of 80 staff members is required to bring the lab’s workforce into balance with available funding and to match the skills needed for the laboratory’s future projects and programs. Not all volunteers may be approved for the program, however, so more than 80 volunteers may be needed to reach the target for this SSVSP.

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Q. How will the lab’s work get done with fewer people? Will we be expected to reach the same goals on the same timelines?

A. No, continuing employees will not necessarily be expected to meet the same goals on the same timelines. The effect of the workforce reduction on continuing employees will vary among individuals and among divisions, sections and centers. Once it is known which employees have volunteered for and been accepted into the SSVSP, Division/Section/Center management will determine which job responsibilities may need to be reassigned or which work may need to be discontinued.

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Q. Why are most employees eligible for the SSVSP this time?

A. The SSVSP is being made available to most employees to increase the chances of reaching the target of 80 volunteers who are accepted into the program, and thus minimize the impact on employees of a involuntary reduction program.

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Q. What happens if not enough people volunteer?

A. The laboratory may move to an involuntary reduction process if fewer than 80 people volunteer and are accepted into the program.

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Q. How many employees will be approved for the SSVSP?

A. Fermilab will approve up to 80 employees for the program.

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Q. What are the criteria used to decide which employees who have applied for the SSVSP are accepted?

A. Criteria for acceptance may include the laboratory’s need for an employee’s skills taking into account retraining possibilities, the number of individuals with the required skills, whether or not the position will need to be filled following the departure of an employee and the individual’s documented performance.

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Q. Will there be any immediate effect on our current subcontractors?

A. There are no current plans that would have an immediate effect.

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Q. My department has openings for which we are interviewing candidates. Might those openings be taken away?

A. There are no current plans to cancel job openings. We need to keep the lab running and we need to shape our programs with a certain set of skills.

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Q. What if I have additional questions?

A. More information can be found on this website, or you can contact individuals in WDRS such as the Benefits Office or the HR Generalists.

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Q. What if I am not here on June 12?

A. If you will not be here on June 12 or if you work at CERN, please contact Christine Johnson in HR and we will make arrangements for you.

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Q. If a scientist chooses the SSVSP and is working on an ongoing experiment, will there be a mechanism to continue working, including taking shifts and analyzing data?

A. Yes, under certain conditions. The scientist must be eligible for retirement and must apply for and be granted retired guest scientist or scientist emeritus status by their Division/Section/Center head. Retired guest scientists and scientists emeriti may be permitted to retain their email accounts, have access to computer work stations and office space, and continue participation in experiments, should they desire.

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Q. Can an employee who accepts the SSVSP return as an on-call?

A. It is possible for an employee to return as an on-call, but with the following restrictions:

  • A former employee cannot be hired as an on-call if that person has already worked 1000 hours in the year.
  • If an employee who accepts the SSVSP is hired back in any capacity within one year of accepting the SSVSP, that person must pay back all or a prorated portion of the severance.
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Q. Can employees who accept the SSVSP maintain their Abri Credit Union membership? What happens to their checking account, savings account, ACU credit card and loans?

A. Abri Credit Union assures us that membership in the credit union only terminates if the account owner closes his/her accounts. If an employee who accepts the SSVSP has loans that are being repaid through Fermilab payroll deduction then that employee will need to contact the credit union to make other arrangements for payment. Further questions should be directed to the Abri Credit Union at (815) 267-7700, or visit the ACU office on the ground floor of Wilson Hall.

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Q. In what form will continuing employees be notified of the names of those colleagues who accept the SSVSP offer?

A. Due to privacy issues, no notification of individual names will be published.

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Q. I’m a supervisor. When will I find out if my employees have volunteered and been accepted for the SSVSP?

A. Division/Section/Center Heads will be informed on a regular basis of those who apply. They will approve/disapprove applications with the concurrence of senior laboratory management and the head of WDRS.

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Application

Q. Where can I find the SSVSP package and the forms I need to fill out?

A. You can find them on the SSVSP website (download), or if you do not have access to print a package you can obtain a hard copy from the Benefits area on 15W or from your Human Resources Generalist. For their locations go to http://wdrs.fnal.gov/section/hr-generalists.html

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Q. If I want to apply for the SSVSP what form do I fill out and who do I turn it in to?

A. You should fill out the SSVSP Application Form, and turn it into the WDRS Head Kay Van Vreede, 15W, Mail Station 107, by 5:30 p.m. on May 24, 2012.

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Q. If I am on vacation during the SSVSP application period, how will I have a chance to receive and review the materials?

A. Materials will be available on the web starting May 3, 2012.

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Q. I am an H-1 Visa holder and am interested in applying for the SSVSP. Do I need to make arrangements with the Fermilab Visa Office?

A. Besides following the procedures for application, any eligible foreign national in a nonimmigrant status (H-1B, J-1 or F-1) should contact the Visa Office to discuss his or her visa status before making a decision about the SSVSP program.

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Timeline

Q. What is the timeline for the SSVSP?

A. Important dates and relevant timeline information are available in the packet and on the SSVSP Timeline webpage.

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Q. How much notice will employees receive to decide whether to apply for the SSVSP?

A. Employees will have until 5:30 p.m. on May 24, 2012 to apply for the SSVSP.

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Q. Once you've applied, when do you find out if you've been accepted in the SSVSP program?

A. Email messages will go out from Human Resources on June 6 and June 7 informing employees whether or not they have been accepted into the SSVSP.

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Q. If I elect to accept the SSVSP, when do I need to leave the laboratory?

A. Employees will separate from the laboratory between June 26, 2012 and July 13, 2012, depending on business needs. Division/Section/Center heads will work to determine the date an employee will separate.

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Waiver

Q. What is a general release and waiver?

A. A general release and waiver is a contract. Employees should review the waiver and may consult an attorney. By signing the document, an employee agrees to voluntarily give up his or her right to file certain claims against the employer in exchange for severance benefits. The scope of which rights a release and waiver may require employees to relinquish is limited by governing law. Employees should carefully read and consider the document before signing.

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Q. Why is there a general release and waiver associated with this program?

A. The general release and waiver helps close out the employment relationship with departing employees by offering a financial benefit in the form of severance in exchange for the relinquishment of potential claims. The certainty provided by employee-executed release and waivers helps the laboratory minimize financial risk to future planning.

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Q. Will signing the general release and waiver affect my right to intellectual property or my obligations under other laboratory policies?

A. By signing the general release and waiver, you agree to abide by all laboratory policies pertaining to the protection and use of intellectual property and all confidential or proprietary laboratory information. After termination of employment, you must continue to comply with applicable laboratory policies regarding intellectual property and confidentiality.

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Q. Can an employee edit, amend or in any other way modify the general release and waiver?

A. No. In order to receive the severance benefit all employees terminating under the program will sign a general release and waiver that is the same for everyone.

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Q. Must I submit a signed general release and waiver to participate in the SSVSP program or have my application accepted?

A. No. Employees are not required to sign the general release and waiver to participate in the SS VSP program or to have their applications accepted. However, consistent with Fermilab's Personnel Policies, employees must sign and not later rescind the general release and waiver in order to receive severance benefits under the SSVSP program. See http://wdrs.fnal.gov/policies/policy/workforcereduction.html

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Severance Pay

Q. Do years of service on a term contract, for example as a post-doc or associate scientist, count toward the determination of the number of years of service for the calculation of severance pay?

A. Yes, if you did not subsequently leave employment at Fermilab. The calculation of years of service for severance pay begins with your most recent hire date. If you were a post doc and/or associate scientist at Fermilab and did not subsequently leave employment at the Lab, that time would be included in the calculation.

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Q. If I accept the SSVSP will I be eligible for unemployment compensation?

A. The laboratory does not make decisions about who collects unemployment. That decision is made by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). View the IDES website to contact your local office with further questions.

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Q. Can an employee who accepts the SSVSP receive his or her severance pay in calendar year 2013?

A. No. Because the employee will have the right to the severance payment in 2012, the pay would be taxable in 2012, regardless of when it is received.

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Q. Under the proposed plan will employees who accept the SSVSP receive severance pay? How is the severance pay determined?

A. If employees sign and do not rescind (revoke) the SSVSP General Release and Waiver they will receive severance pay based on the table found in the Summary Plan Description.

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Q. Severance pay is based on years of service. How are years of service determined for an employee who has been at Fermilab for more than one period of time (rehired)? Is it the cumulative years of service for all periods or the years of continuous employment for the current period?

A. Severance, and seniority, is determined by the most recent date of hire by URA/FRA, not the original hire date.

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Q. How will severance pay be taxed and where can I find a tax table?

A. The SSVSP severance pay will be paid with Supplemental tax rates, which mean 25% for Federal and 5% for State. To locate a federal income tax table, view the IRS website: http://www.irs.gov/

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Q. Will I receive two weeks “notice pay” if I accept the SSVSP?

A. No. Notice pay is only given when an employee is involuntarily laid off.

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Q. If an employee who takes the SSVSP has not contributed to a Supplemental Retirement Account (SRA) this year, can this employee take a full year’s maximum contribution for an SRA out of the severance pay?

A. No, by law SRA contributions may not be taken out of the severance pay. However, terminal payment of accrued vacation time may be deferred to the SRA.

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Q. What is the difference between accepting the SSVSP and being laid off, in terms of severance pay and medical insurance?

A. The amount of severance and medical insurance would be the same under the SSVSP or if you would be involuntarily laid off.

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Q. If I accept the SSVSP, will I get paid for sick and vacation time not taken in addition to the weeks in the severance package?

A. Employees who accept the SSVSP will be paid out any accrued vacation that they have not taken. They will not be paid for unused sick time.

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Q. If I accept the SSVSP, would the floating holiday be paid, or should it be taken before the separation date?

A. Floating holidays do not accrue like vacation does; employees who accept the SSVSP will not be paid for floating holidays not taken.

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Q. When will I receive my final wages, accrued and unused vacation time and the severance payment?

A. You will receive your final wages and accrued but unused vacation time as follows: monthly employees will be paid on their next regular pay date that is at least 10 days beyond their separation date. Weekly employees will be paid out the first regular pay date that is more than 10 days from their voluntary separation date. Severance pay will be paid out after your seven day rescission period for the SSVSP General Release and Waiver has expired.

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Q. Will Fermilab contribute its share of monthly employee retirement benefits equal to the employees severance schedule on severance pay?

A. No, severance pay is not eligible for the 10% retirement contribution.

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Q. If an employee works part-time will the severance pay be based on the part-time salary?

A. Severance is based on a person's actual base salary. So if a person is part-time, severance is based on the part-time salary.

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Q. Will Fermilab contribute its share of monthly employee retirement benefits equal to the employees severance schedule?

A. No.

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Benefits

Q. Do the same qualifying events in place for employees' health plans apply to separated employees, whether under DWMBP or COBRA? Specifically, can the plan be converted to a family plan in case of birth or adoption occurring after separation?

A. The same qualifying events apply to all participants in the health plan regardless of DWMBP or COBRA status. Family coverage can be elected due to birth or adoption provided the change is made in the 30-day period for qualified status changes.

Link with additional information on status changes:
http://wdrs.fnal.gov/benefits/status_bulletin.pdf

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Q. How is a dependent, at present covered by my medical insurance, affected if I accept the SSVSP?

A. Dependents covered under the plan can be continued under the Fermilab coverage, as long as they are eligible dependents. Participants that are retirement eligible can continue coverage under the Retiree medical coverage for themselves and their dependents. Participants that are not retiree eligible can continue coverage for themselves and their dependents under COBRA. The coverage is the same as currently in effect.

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Q. What will happen to my medical insurance if I am accepted into the SSVSP?

A. Each person will have the opportunity to sign up for continued medical coverage, either through employee-paid COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, passed in order to provide continued group health insurance coverage that might otherwise be terminated) or, if the person is eligible for retirement, through retiree medical insurance. More specific information will be provided on the SSVSP website and via the Benefits Department for individual questions.

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Q. A portion of my salary currently goes to the Flexible Spending Account for medical expenses. If I am laid off, will (or can) the laboratory continue this deduction from the severance pay? If not, what other opportunities are there to continue in this program?

A. Contributions for Flexible Spending Accounts cannot be taken from severance pay. Flexible Spending Accounts are terminated on an employee's last day of employment. Healthcare Flexible Spending Accounts may be continued under COBRA for the remainder of the calendar year. Dependent Care Accounts are not eligible for continuation under COBRA.

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Q. If I have used all of my Medical Reimbursement for the entire year already, will the uncontributed portions for the remainder of the year be deducted from the severance package?

A. No additional deductions for the Flexible Spending Account reimbursements will come out of the severance pay.

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Q. What happens if Fermilab approves tuition assistance for a quarter or semester, but the employee accepts the SSVSP before that quarter or semester ends? Will the employee have to pay the lab back? If not, will the employee still have to submit a zero balance form and proof of grades?

A. If you received a tuition advance, you must pay Fermilab for the amount you received before your last day at the lab. Then, when you successfully complete the course, submit your final grade report, together with all other required documentation as described in the Tuition Assistance policy, and Fermilab will reimburse you for the completed course tuition, fees and textbooks. All paperwork must be submitted within 60 days of completing the course.

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Q. If I accept the SSVSP and my child is currently receiving an FRA scholarship, will my child still be eligible for the scholarship?

A. Per the FRA Scholarship Program Policy Guidelines, if the employee is terminated as a reduction in force, any child who already has a scholarship may continue it to completion; however, other children are not eligible.

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Q. If I accept the SSVSP and my child is currently receiving The University of Chicago Tuition Remission, will still be eligible for the scholarship?

A. Unfortunately no. The University of Chicago policy states that the tuition benefit terminates: "the date you are no longer employed by Fermilab."

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Retirement

Q. If I am eligible for retirement and I accept the SSVSP, can I still retire? Will I receive severance pay? Retiree medical benefits? Will I be able to retire if I am involuntarily separated?

A. Yes. In both the voluntary and involuntary cases, if you meet the eligibility requirements for retirement, you can retire. In both a voluntary and involuntary separation situation, you will receive severance if you sign and do not revoke a General Release and Waiver. In both cases you will be eligible for standard retiree medical benefits.

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Q. What are the criteria for retirement eligibility?

A. To be eligible for retirement, employees must be at least 55 years old. They must have at least 3 years of continuous service. An employee’s age plus years of service must be equal to or greater than 65. For example, an employee who is 55 must have 10 years of service to be eligible to retire. If you were hired on October 1, 2008, or later you must be at least 55 years of age and have 15 years of service in order to be eligible to retire.

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Q. How do employees initiate the retirement process (if they meet the retirement criteria) after they receive the SSVSP application materials

A. Employees interested in the retirement process should contact the Benefits department to set up a meeting. During that meeting, employees who are eligible for retirement can begin the retirement process.

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Q. Will employees who accept the SSVSP and retire receive medical benefits?

A. Yes, they will receive the same medical benefits as anyone else who retires. The benefits representative will discuss insurance continuation when meeting with the employee.

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Q. Is life insurance conversion available as in standard retirement?

A. Fermilab’s life insurance plan has a conversion and portability provision. This allows a person to continue coverage as an individual policy after leaving Fermilab, whether through retirement, layoff or resignation. If employees convert within 30 days, they do not have to provide evidence of insurability.

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Q. My years here and my age give me the ability to retire if I accept the SSVSP. I will still be eligible for severance pay, but will I be able to collect unemployment for the six months that are available to me?

A. The laboratory does not make decisions about who collects unemployment. That decision is made by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). View the IDES website to contact your local office with further questions.

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Last modified: 07/12/2012 |