May 11, 2020

Expense-reduction town hall: More of your questions answered

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In a virtual town hall May 7, President Ray Watts and other senior leaders explained expense-reduction measures to address the impact of COVID-19 on UAB. Staff and faculty submitted nearly 300 questions and comments during the hour-long event. The majority were answered in the town hall or in the comprehensive wrap-up that the Reporter published the following day. Here are answers to the rest of the questions received.

(Jump to answers to specific categories of questions below, or read on.) 


Expense reductions

Essential workers on campus

Re-opening campus

Other questions


Furlough questions

Q: How can we help those who have been furloughed?

There are many ways you can help. Visit to learn more.

Q: What are the effects of furloughs on employees who are in their first six months of employment?

Employees in the six-month probationary period are UAB employees (on unpaid leave status) if they are on furlough. Any time on furlough does not count toward completion of an employee’s probationary period. Contact HR for more information. 

Q: If you are furloughed do you lose educational benefits?

No. Furloughed employees are on unpaid leave and are UAB employees and will retain the benefits of their employment. Access more information and resources for furloughed employees online. 

Q: I was initially in Group 3, then moved to group 2 – will I still be furloughed?

A limited number of staff in Group 2 have been furloughed, and those decisions were  made by supervisors. Furloughed individuals are those who — by the nature of their work — cannot do their job remotely or who serve in a role for which demand decreased or would decrease to a critical point during the furlough period due to the limited business model. Supervisors, who are asked to assess current and anticipated workloads and be responsible stewards of state resources, have discretion in assessing the essential or non-essential nature of someone’s work. If you think a mistake was made, you can talk to your supervisor and/or your dedicated HR representative.

Q: What are the effects of furlough on tenure?

No effects are anticipated. No faculty have been furloughed — only a limited number of staff in Workgroup A.

Q: When will compensation reduction for employees in Workgroup C be reflected on their paychecks?

Salary reductions for Workgroup C are effective May 10. Implementation dates for clinical faculty may vary slightly by department.

Q: Can furloughed employees use services from the Employee Assistance and Counseling Center?

Yes. Furloughed employees on unpaid leave are UAB employees and retain the benefits of their employment.

Q: International staff/faculty, if they lose their jobs, have to leave the United States per visa status. Any thought on taking this into account in layoffs?

Prior to any layoff, HR reviews visa status with the International Student and Scholar Services office to ensure compliance with all regulations.

[See more furlough questions and answers from the town hall. Also, read these FAQs for furloughed employees from Human Resources.]

Other expense-reduction questions


Q: How will tuition benefits for hospital staff be affected?

No changes to education benefits have been made and none are anticipated. Access more information and resources for furloughed employees online.

Q: Is COVID-19 affecting the timeline of the RCM budget rollout?

RCM phasing is scheduled to proceed as planned. The university’s Budget Advisory Committee is monitoring and will advise on any implications to budget planning.

Q: I see sprinklers on all around campus. Is that necessary?

The cost of replacing the landscaping would exceed the cost to maintain it, so it is important that we continue to take steps to preserve it. We do take cost-efficiency into consideration in our irrigation practices and work to keep costs down. For example, our sprinklers use the lowest-cost water available that is metered separately from more expensive water sources.

Q: What can we do to help the university’s fiscal health?

We ask employees to be good stewards of state resources in any way possible. This includes conserving energy for those on campus (e.g., turn off lights not being used and manage HVAC use conservatively). Expenses should be limited only to those that are essential. Faculty and staff should remain as productive as they can, and supervisors should make honest assessments of workloads if employees are unable to work effectively in a remote environment.

Q: Are there plans to bring back 403(b) if budget milestones are hit? [Note: As explained in an April 30 email to campus, employer matches/contributions to voluntary 403(b) retirement plans are temporarily suspended or reduced starting in May and lasting through Sept. 30 for university employees. For health system employees this action will last through Dec. 30.]

Yes. Our hope is that all expense reduction strategies can be reversed as soon as it is fiscally responsible to do so.

Q: Is there any consideration being given to voluntary salary reductions?

We did consider salary reductions as a strategy. At this time, voluntary salary reductions on the base salary are not an option. If additional expense reduction strategies become necessary, salary reductions will be considered.

Q: Will there be reductions in scholarships?

No reductions in scholarships are planned at this time.

Q: Is there a freeze on staff promotions? What about faculty promotion and tenure?

Like hiring, promotions for staff may only be processed through an exception granted by the unit leader and Office of the President. Learn more about the exception process online. For faculty, we are providing promotion and tenure increases for those who are granted promotion and/or tenure in the regular cycle.

[See more expense reduction questions and answers from the town hall.]

Questions from essential workers on campus

Q: What are the guidelines on social distancing for those riding Blazer Express buses?

Masks are required on Blazer Express buses and riders are asked to maintain a safe distance from others. Bus capacity (on a 35-person bus) is being limited to 10 people, including the driver. Heightened cleaning and disinfecting strategies are also in place. If riders have concerns or observations, please talk to your driver and/or call UAB Transportation at 205-934-3513.

Q: Is there a way to create shared parking while on Limited Operations, for those employees who don't have any parking at UAB? Can we borrow someone's spot, who isn't coming to campus?

Sharing parking passes is against policy. However, access has expanded to many parking options during this time; employees still working on campus with questions about options available to them are encouraged to call UAB Transportation at 205-934-3513 (Monday-Friday 7:30-11:30 a.m. and 12:30-4:30 p.m.).

Questions on re-opening campus

Q: Will freshmen be required to stay in dorms this fall?

Strategies for safe residence hall use are being discussed in task forces. Decisions have not been made at this time.

Q: Are there specific guidelines for social distancing for lab operations — say one person per bench, etc.?

Guidance for researchers is available online at Work is well underway on plans to safely increase on-campus research, and results of that planning process will be shared as soon as possible.

Q: Will the research guidelines allow for graduate students and postdocs to return to labs? What about undergraduate students and volunteers working in labs?

Planning is well underway, and announcements will be made as soon as possible.

Q: Is the School of Ed still moving into the Business-Engineering Complex?


Q: Would employees and students be queried before we’re all integrated back onto campus some of the following: a) Have you tested positive for covid-19?; b) Did you come in contact with someone who tested positive for covid-19?; c)What was your relationship to the positive person? a. Family member, b. Hospital worker

Testing and tracing considerations, including questions like these, are an important part of the ongoing task force work/planning taking place to support a safe return to campus. Updates will be shared when available.

[See more questions and answers about re-opening campus from the town hall.]

Other questions


Q: Will campus merit raises be included in budgets?

Due to financial projections and current expense-reduction strategies in place, there are no plans for merit raises this fiscal year.

Q: Can staff transition employment from one department to another?

Yes, you can apply for vacant positions that have been approved through the hiring suspension exception process.

Q: Any decision regarding business travel for fall?

At this time, we have no changes to communicate regarding the emergency policy travel restrictions issued by the University of Alabama System Office.

Q: Will (medical) flex accounts be extended into 2021 due to canceled medical appointments in 2020?

This year, the IRS extended the deadline to file any eligible 2019 claims from March 31 to April 30 due to the COVID-19 impact. Those 2019 claims had to be incurred prior to 12/31/2019. For 2020 participants, claims would need to be incurred prior to 12/31/2020 and filed for reimbursement no later than 3/31/2021. The CARES Act extended eligibility to allow over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and medicines without a prescription and feminine hygiene products. There was no deadline announced for these eligibility additions. For a full listing of eligible healthcare flexible spending account expenses, please visit

[See more questions and answers about budgeting from the town hall.]