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Vanderbilt to launch new flexible paid time off system for employees

As Middle Tennessee’s largest private employer, Vanderbilt University and Medical Center is home to a dynamic workforce of more than 24,000 full-time employees whose years of work experience span more than seven decades.

In order to more effectively meet the broadly diverse work/life needs across employees’ life phases, Vanderbilt is moving to a modernized benefits plan called flexPTO (Paid Time Off) that offers greater flexibility for time away from work by combining all accrued leave hours into a single, centralized bank.

Existing vacation and sick time already accrued by staff will not be taken away. Already accrued vacation time will be migrated into the new flexPTO system. While no hours of vacation time that have been accrued go away with the new flex PTO system, the number of total hours of time off that can accumulate will be reduced. Over the coming months staff will be provided the opportunity to use already earned vacation time should their balances already exceed newly established thresholds. Sick time already accrued will be grandfathered and tracked separately, and can be used until it is exhausted, thus offering reassurance for long-term employees who have built up sick hours over time to use in case of a personal or family illness.

“The way vacation, holiday, personal and sick time are currently addressed involves programs that are separate with unique procedures, requiring employees to navigate four different sets of rules to determine how each type of time off can be used. Current policies have limitations based on reasons for the absence,” said Traci Nordberg, associate vice chancellor and chief human resource officer. “We’ve been carefully evaluating options to modernize our benefits offerings. With the new flexPTO plan, we are able to offer a more streamlined process to access paid leave time that better meets the needs of our diverse workforce, who each face unique circumstances outside the workplace spanning everything from parenting young children to caring for elderly parents, and every phase of life in between.”

Vanderbilt’s flexPTO combines vacation, holiday, personal and sick paid time off for eligible staff, providing more flexibility for employees to use accrued paid leave hours as they best fit their current life needs. Consistent with the university’s present system, flexPTO’s leave accrual rate will be based on years of service.

Because Vanderbilt’s flexPTO will be implemented in a phased process, the new plan will be eligible to Medical Center staff on Jan. 1, 2014, while University Central staff will be eligible for the new plan on July 1, 2014. Staff will continue to accrue the same number of vacation, personal and holiday hours as they do today, as well as a portion of hours that would have been counted as sick time in the past.

PTO programs are common in many peer organizations including the Johns Hopkins Health System, Duke University Health System, Princeton University, Rice University and the University of Virginia. Among top U.S. corporations, more than 50 percent utilize similarly structured programs to manage time away from work.

An additional positive of the Vanderbilt flexPTO plan will be a new, enhanced short-term disability insurance benefit providing for free partial salary continuation during extended illnesses, with the ability for eligible staff to participate in a low-cost “buy-up” option to make their salary nearly whole in the event they need this benefit.

In addition, a two-week paid parental leave will be available to eligible birth and adoptive parents/spouses/partners. For birth mothers who qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), this will serve as the two-week short-term disability waiting period (the time that must pass before benefits are paid). Birth mothers then may access up to six additional weeks of paid time off for a normal delivery through the short-term disability benefit. This change represents another example of Vanderbilt modernizing its benefits similar to those at peer institutions such as Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Yale and other family-friendly universities and health systems.

“This and other initiatives to modernize benefits offerings are part of our ongoing efforts to retain and attract talented staff, as well as demonstrate Vanderbilt’s commitment to the well-being of its workforce,” Nordberg said.

As the launch date for flexPTO approaches, Human Resources will provide further updates on the new program, including a guide that can be printed, a schedule for leave hour accrual rates and limits and useful examples of common work/life scenarios.

For more information about the flexPTO plan please go to: You will need your VUNET ID and password to access this site.

  • Angel C.

    And this is the catch: “as well as a portion of hours that would have been counted as sick time in the past.” As I calculate it, those of us who have been here over 10 years will lose 56 hours of time off..I’m assuming from the sick time column. In fact every one is losing hours depending on how long they’ve been here. The short term disability add on will be of no help to most of us who will never use it. If I had wanted short term disability, I would have paid for it. Now I’m being forced to give up 56 hours of time off so that whoever uses the short term disability will have them instead. While I’ve been all for the flex-time model, I’m horrified that we’re losing so many hours and have no recourse in this matter.

  • GK5000

    Although many great benefits of the plan are mentioned, this article makes no mention of the fact that there will be around a 20% reduction in how much leave can be earned each month. This is a very important aspect of the transition and deserves to be spotlighted.

  • gopher

    These changes to my understanding do not apply to faculty.

    • Sarah

      I wondered about that as I kept seeing faculty mentioned in the exceptions. So does this mean faculty gets to continue on with the old system? If so, there’s nothing like creating some nice stratification amongst employees. Faculty are no more important than staff.

  • JSmd

    Everyone will lose 7 days time off and reduce limit of 8 or 10 days depending on length of service. In other words, cutting our benefits. Offer options to buy more PTO hours or cash out PTO hours if flexibility is the true reason for this change and not a cost cutting measure. Also, people will start coming to work sick, contagious and unproductive just to save their PTO hours for vacation since there is no distinction anymore. At the very least provide the same PTO hours as before and not short change your employees.

  • pp

    Regardless of the many institutions that use PTO, and the rhetoric in the communications we receive – if all employees were touched, this would be easier to swallow and raise the morale of us all.

  • Sarah

    What I really like is the nice spin on things. We already know this is all about saving money and that VUMC is in a rough spot (to say the least) right now. So don’t insult us with these little zingy marketing tactics–names like “flexPTO” and cute little clip art pigs. Please. This isn’t being offered because it’s cool or hip or modern or because the university cares about “modernizing” our benefits, but it’s about saving money. We already know that and have gotten letters from Balzer to this effect. So just say it like it is, instead of acting like this is something we should be excited about. We are adults; we can do without the cutesie attempts at spin.

  • Jared Ingersoll

    While all of the information released to date takes pains to emphasize that FlexPTO takes nothing away that is already earned, I find that fact relatively unimportant beside the question of future accrual. Once current staff have used up their legacy “grandfathered sick-time,” we will still accrue leave at a reduced rate. Per the FAQ:

    “You will continue to accrue the same number of vacation, personal and holidays as you do today, as well as a portion of hours that would have been counted as sick in the past.”

    The “portion of hours” cited reduces the accrual rate for sick leave from 12 days per year to 5. During my career, I have used fewer than 5 days in some years, but even in the full vigor and health of my youth I usually used more. Now, I am more often sick on my own, and introducing a child into my home has increased my exposure to contagious nasties of all sorts. I succumb more often than I imagined I would.

    True, we can do more with time accrued under FlexPTO, but only if we are sick for fewer than 5 days in a year. If, say, my child brings three colds into the house, then I may have a day home for her, one for myself, and I’m already left with less leave available for vacation time. The “Parents in a Pinch” option costs about $100 per day. I am at the higher end of the pay scale: I would find this a significant bite, but could manage it if I absolutely had to. This is not a regularly sustainable option for lower-paid staff.

    This past winter, with flu swirling, staff were encouraged to stay home if we were even slightly under the weather. For many staff, the new policy would push the decision point toward coming to work sicker than they currently would. Thus, the workplace will become a significantly more productive vector for pathogen transmission. An active flu season could be significantly more active.

    Vanderbilt is already so uncompetitive in its leave policies that the library has to make unusual arrangements to supplement. Additionally, New hires won’t have the initial cushion of the “grandfathered sick time,” so will immediately be subject to the new strict limits. How competitive does this leave Vanderbilt, particularly as we seek to hire for positions requiring national searches?

    The 7 days that staff no longer accrue as sick time represents about 3.2% of a working year. There is no monetary compensation for this reduction in benefit. If the “flexibility” of FlexPTO is the part that bears value for the staff, my opinion is that it comes at too steep a price. I am all for flexibility, but FlexPTO gives me so much less to be flexible with that I don’t find it flexible at all.

  • Katz

    This plan has some positives and negatives. On the positive side, VU is offering paid maternity/parental leave. On the negative side, the number of days we accumulate each year before reaching the maximum number VU allows us to have in our ‘banks’ is lower than it is currently, and our 7 paid holidays and our personal and sick days apply toward that cap, whereas only vacation days applied to the cap in the past. And if you reach that maximum, you just stop accruing paid time off until you use some days.

  • Ann E.

    A couple of additional points.
    1) I have recently completed a term 3 years on the Hardship Committee. With less total leave available, I believe VU is setting itself up for many more hardship cases.
    2) Short term disability leave has to be approved once you have a policy. Not everyone who has a policy actually gets disability. I know of one case such firsthand.
    3) The article mentions Duke University Health System as following this model. Yes, but it fails to mention that DUHS is much more generous with its leave. Monthly staff start with 35 annual days, jumping to 40 after 4 years. Hourly staff start at 240 hours , accruing 280 hours for years 4-9 and 320 hours above 9 years. (Duke’s other benefits are also more generous and their HR policies are public, not hidden behind a password).