UM System Board of Curators to vote on improved PTO system for employees

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The University of Missouri System Board of Curators is gearing up to vote on an improved paid time off (PTO) system providing MU employees more flexibility – and in many cases more time off.

The proposed changes to the policy would consolidate time off for vacations, sickness and certain personal reasons such as bereavement leave into a single bank of PTO days. Under the current system, PTO is divided by those categories, plus holiday PTO, and employees earn a specific number of hours to use for each. 

With the proposed changes, employees would not have to designate the reason for using their PTO as they are currently required to do.

“That way, people can just say ‘I’m going to take a day off’ and not have to provide a particular bucket of reasoning of where that day is going to come from,” MU spokesperson Christian Basi told KOMU 8. 

Under the changes, hourly employees would get 18 PTO days and salaried employees 23 PTO days to use for vacations, sickness and/or personal reasons. The current nine holiday and four winter break days of paid leave also would remain the same, which would give hourly staff a total of 31 paid days off and salaried staff 36 paid days. 

The current system more restrictively breaks the days into separate silos, allowing 12 vacation days, 12 sick days, four personal days, nine holidays and four days of winter break for hourly employees, giving them a total of 41 days of PTO. While the proposed change may seem like a PTO cut on the surface, the consolidated bank of PTO would vastly increase employee flexibility as well as the amount of paid leave offered for short-term disability and caregiver/parental leave. 

Currently, MU employees are required to draw PTO hours from the existing categories to take time off for short-term disability or caregiving purposes. But the suggested changes, proposed at the Board of Curators meeting in June, would allot PTO days specifically for short-term disability and caregiver/parental leave. 

If approved, short-term disability would offer employees 60% salary for up to 21 weeks, the Columbia Missourian reported, while caregiver/parental leave would give staff four paid weeks off, in addition to the 31 days of PTO. 

Another advantage of the proposed changes is that the number of PTO days in an employee’s bank would increase in their third and 10th years of employment with the university, as opposed to the current system, which increases employees’ PTO in their fifth and 15th years with MU. 

While the new proposal certainly has advantages compared to the current PTO system, dozens of members of the Laborers Local 955 union protested the potential changes on campus Saturday – perhaps because some of the members may be misinformed on what the changes would entail.

“I came here for the benefits,” a first-year painter for the university told the Columbia Missourian. The individual claimed to have higher pay at his previous job, but “gave that up to come here, to have benefits, to have something to leave to (my kids).”

However, the proposed PTO changes would not affect employees’ pensions, nor any other benefits that could be left to employees’ children. 

The painter’s statement also raises a question: As a state-sponsored university funded by Missourians’ tax dollars, does MU exist to provide government jobs, or does it exist to provide quality education and research?

“The University is there as our flagship state university to provide the highest possible quality education,” state Rep. Dirk Deaton told The Heartlander. “For Missouri to be all it can be, you need your flagship university to perform these activities and to do them well. That’s certainly got to be the primary focus.

“If I’m understanding it right, it sounds like the university has taken a look at this and tried to readjust things in a way that makes the most sense and probably is the best thing for the university and its employees. To that extent, that’s what they ought to be doing. 

“Just like any organization, you have to continually remember to keep the main thing [as] the main thing. I believe they’re doing that, and certainly that’s what we would all want.” 

MU employees might also enjoy their new flexibility. Ji Chuan Leong of Aon Consulting, a firm involved in recommending the proposal, said the potential changes are based on data showing that, on average, employees use only four of their current 12 available sick days. 

Therefore, if employees, on average, don’t use eight of their sick days, they’re actually gaining more PTO compared to the current system, which doesn’t allow those extra sick days to be used for other purposes as the new system would.

“Right now, if I’m a staff member, and I take a day off, I have to decide ‘Where am I going to pull those from?’” Basi said. “Am I going to take a vacation day? Or am I going to take a sick day?”

Board documents say the new program aims to offer potential hires competitive benefits and retain current employees by offering positions in “key life stages.” 

The changes give employees added privacy as well. The Columbia Missourian reported the new PTO bank system “would be more inclusive of employees’ diverse needs, promote trust and empower employees to take time off without having to disclose the reason.” 

In a presentation to the Board of Curators, UM’s Chief Human Resources Officer Marsha Fischer said roughly 13,000 UM System employees would switch to the PTO bank system if the changes are approved.

The Board of Curators could vote on the proposal as soon as its Sept. 7 meeting, and is seeking feedback from all parties involved. The University is hosting a handful of virtual sessions this month for those interested in more information, starting Friday, Aug. 19. 

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