After four years, employees say OHR is recognizing job reclassification concerns

About 1,600 positions were reclassified through 2013-2015, causing outcry over benefits and other resulting changes.

Students resume their day outside Anderson Hall on West Bank Monday late afternoon

Daily File Photo

Students resume their day outside Anderson Hall on West Bank Monday late afternoon

by Rilyn Eischens

Following years of frustration stemming from a job reclassification at the University of Minnesota, some employees are finally optimistic about finding solutions.

The comprehensive University job family project began in 2013 to reorganize and redefine about 9,100 positions. Changes occurred between two categories: the civil service group and the professional and administrative group.

About 1,600 people were moved between groups.

The change in benefits caused headaches for some employees. But this year, employees say the University’s Office of Human Resources is working with them to assess lingering impacts and discuss solutions.

The project, which was officially completed in November 2015, was the first University reclassification process since the 1980s, said University Vice President of Human Resources Kathryn Brown.

“We had a job classification system that was woefully out of date,” she said.

Eighteen job families — which include categories like communications and finance — were considered individually. Each employee submitted a job description to their supervisors and human resources, Brown said. These descriptions were used to assess what job family and what level each employee belonged at.

Clash over benefits

Salaries were not altered, except in cases where they were increased to match market rates, Brown said.

However, the two job classes impacted — P&A and civil service — have different benefit systems, which meant employees switched from one class to another faced different vacation time and sick leave provisions, among other changes.

Because of a decades-old rule that civil service employees can’t be moved to P&A unless they request the change, some civil service staff were given a one-time option to remain in civil service, said Ray Muno, incoming Chair of the Civil Service Consultative Committee.

He is one of 961 current employees who decided not to move to P&A and are in positions classified as “no new entry,” meaning once they leave or change jobs, P&A employees will fill their spots.

Any change in job status — like a promotion or department change — will force these employees into the P&A category, he said.

“We’re an island unto ourselves,” Muno said.

Terry Beseman, University Minitex finance director and CSCC member, is also classified as “no new entry.” He said he would have lost nearly four weeks of paid time off if he had moved to P&A as planned.

“I had seven weeks of vacation [because] I’ve been at the University 31 years. I didn’t want to give up my vacation that I’ve earned,” Beseman said.

Civil service employees start with a base of 13 days paid vacation and earn more with time, while P&A employees have about three weeks of non-accruable vacation.

This transition wasn’t appealing for many P&A employees either, said Ian Ringgenberg, P&A Consultative Committee member and University advisor.

Recent P&A hires mapped to civil service started at the civil service vacation floor, meaning they lost nine days of paid time off.

According to OHR, P&A employees mapped to civil service would be able to use the remaining balance in their “vacation bank” after they were reclassified. Additionally, their years of service in P&A count towards vacation accrual in civil service.

Further, P&A employees have virtually unlimited sick leave while civil service employees have sick hours, Ringgenberg said.

A report by the P&A Benefits and Compensation Subcommittee states that some employees set to go on parental leave were granted flexibility in sick time, but many others were left without any sick time at all.

Brown said P&A employees have “two weeks of sick time, generally speaking.”

Employees were also faced with varying terms of employment and retirement plans between job classifications, which was confusing and stressful for many, Muno said.

Discontent over transparency

This year, officials from OHR have been working with the P&A and civil service senates to address any unintended consequences from the study, Brown said.

“We’ve been looking for answers for four years, and I don’t know that we’ve clearly gotten answers … except we’re hopeful that we’re moving into a new phase,” Muno said.

Beseman said it’s encouraging that OHR has acknowledged there are issues and is open to working with staff to find resolutions.

Both civil service and P&A employees became increasingly frustrated after seeking clarification and answers from OHR without much success.

“Due to the job family study, the employee morale has probably been at an all-time low,” Beseman said.

The P&A Senate sent a copy of the Benefits and Compensation Subcommittee report to OHR in January 2016 but didn’t receive an official OHR response until February this year, after Brian Burnett, senior vice president for finance and operations, got a copy at a P&A committee meeting, Ringgenberg said.

Since the job family study took several years to complete, individuals who were addressed early in the process might feel like it’s taken a long time to get to this point, Brown said.

“We wanted to get everybody through the process and then address these concerns so everybody would be handled the same way,” Brown said.

Employees who thought they were reclassified incorrectly had the option to appeal the decision — a “process that was difficult to understand, opaque and with little support from Office of Human Resources staff,” according to the report from the subcommittee.

OHR was unwilling to explain why employees were reclassified, Ringgenberg said.

It’s challenging to make a successful appeal without any information about the decision in question, he said.

“The process was kind of designed with a mistrust of the employee in mind,” he said. “The thought was, ‘If we tell the employee why we made the decision, they’ll have too much information.’”

Some employees felt OHR decisions were inconsistent throughout the process.

LaVon Beseman used to work in finance at the University. She said she thought her job was classified incorrectly, but her supervisor was unwilling to sign an appeal, and when she asked OHR if she could submit it without supervisor consent, they said yes.

However, Beseman said, the next day, an HR representative informed her that she could no longer make an appeal without her supervisor’s signature.

“The rules were always changing,” she said. “They’d tell you one thing, and you’d go by that, and they’d say, ‘Oh, well, we changed the rules.’”

The way the situation was handled played a part in Beseman’s decision to leave the University after the job family study was completed, she said.

Additionally, employees were dissatisfied with OHR response when staff informed officials of perceived gender discrimination in the job family study, Ringgenberg said.

Positions that were predominantly held by female employees were mapped to lower jobs, he said. The report says that while the subcommittee doesn’t believe OHR “intentionally enforced these inequalities, their response that ‘gender was not considered’ is not sufficient.”

Going forward, OHR will continue discussions with the P&A and civil service governance committees, representatives from all parties have said.