Special leave without pay

To achieve budget savings and meet the budget reduction target, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners and county administration encourage all employees to use the special leave without pay program (SLWOP).

Eligibility

With supervisor approval, regular and temporary employees are eligible for up to 160 hours of SLWOP per payroll year to:

  • Take as a continuous block of time
  • Use in increments of one hour or less
  • Bank to use later within the payroll year

NOTE: Banked SLWOP must be used before the end of the payroll year. Unused banked SLWOP is automatically paid out in the last pay period of the year and does not contribute to budget savings.

SLWOP runs concurrent with other types of leave such as FMLA, Hennepin County leave for childbirth or adoption and Minnesota Parental Leave Act.

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Frequently asked questions

Why does Hennepin County have special leave without pay (SLWOP)?

The program was established as a means for the county to reduce expenses by providing an incentive for employees to voluntarily take time off without pay that they might not otherwise take.

What is the incentive for employees to use the SLWOP program?

PTO and vacation/sick leave benefits continue to accrue as if the employee worked during SLWOP use. Retention pay eligibility and seniority also continue to accrue. If the employee takes the SLWOP in a block of 160 hours, the county makes one contribution toward health and/or basic life insurance premiums that otherwise would not have been made while on unpaid leave.

Can an employee be required to take time off under the SLWOP program?

No. SLWOP is a voluntary program.

When can an employee take time off under the SLWOP program?

With supervisory approval, SLWOP can be used in situations which result in a net reduction in the county's compensation expense. SLWOP is usually used when the employee would otherwise have worked, or used paid vacation, PTO or sick leave. Use of SLWOP is inappropriate when the employee's absence incurs additional expense in requiring someone else to perform the employee's work in his/her absence or the employee to work overtime (including comp time) before or after the absence. For example, instead of using vacation, sick leave, or PTO, an employee may use SLWOP for time off, doctor appointments, etc.

Can a probationary employee use SLWOP?

While not prohibited, departments are discouraged from approving SLWOP for a new employee, so that the entire probationary period can be used to observe the individual's performance.

Is what an employee plans to do while on SLWOP a factor to be considered by the employee's supervisor in determining whether to approve the employee's request?

Generally, no. The criterion for approving SLWOP is to determine if granting the request complies with the program's budget reduction objective. What an employee plans to do while on SLWOP is not a relevant factor in making this determination.

Can banked hours be saved from year to year?

No. This constitutes a prohibited deferred compensation arrangement. Banked hours can be saved only through the end of the payroll year. Hours remaining at the end of the year are automatically paid to the employee, at his/her current rate of pay, with the last paycheck of the year.

How much SLWOP can be used?

Subject to supervisor approval, up to a maximum of 160 hours of SLWOP can be used per payroll year.

Does an employee's sick leave, vacation, or PTO balances have to be exhausted before he/she can use SLWOP?

No.

What happens if a holiday occurs during a period of SLWOP?

The employee is expected to record holiday hours that day.

What code is entered on the timesheet when SLWOP is used?

There are 3 timesheet codes for SWLOP:

  • Enter SLWOP-absent unpaid when SLWOP time off is taken in the pay period.
  • Enter SLWOP-banked when SLWOP hours are banked for later use within the payroll year. You do not receive pay for banked SLWOP hours.
  • Enter SLWOP-banked used when SLWOP banked hours are used in the pay period. You receive pay when banked SLWOP hours are used.

Why is there a balance of SLWOP hours under Leave Balances on APEX?

This balance shows SLWOP hours available during a payroll year. The balance starts at 160 hours; the maximum number of SLWOP hours available in the payroll year. The balance is reduced by SLWOP hours that are taken or banked. Hours remaining at the end of the payroll year are not paid out.

Impact on PERA pensions

  • PERA grants service credit for a full month, even when using unpaid leave, provided that the employee has some paid time in the month (even one hour).
  • Employee payment of PERA contributions for unpaid leave can be made at year end.
  • Hennepin County will pay the employer PERA contribution once the employee contribution is made.
  • PERA impact will be minimal for employees who are not in their last five years of service before retirement.
  • Additional information regarding PERA is available on the Human Resources Benefits intranet site or by contacting PERA directly.

NOTE: PERA has a program to accept one-time post tax payment via payroll deduction to accommodate employees who wish to make up PERA contributions at year end.

If you use SLWOP, ask yourself…

  • Am I within five years of the date I plan to retire (whether based on meeting PERA’s Rule of 90 or not)?
  • Should I pay my "make-up" employee contributions to PERA for the time I used SLWOP?

If you are within five years of the date you plan to retire

  • SLWOP reduces your earnings which, in turn, reduces your monthly pension amount.
  • According to PERA, the reduction in your pension may be insignificant. This depends on your particular circumstances – whether you are within five years of retirement, your age at retirement, and your years of PERA-covered employment.
  • Recommendation: To fully understand how your pension is impacted contact PERA at 651-296-7460.

PERA repayment process

  • Before the end of January, PERA sends an invoice for repayment of missed contributions for time taken as SLWOP. Repayment of missed contributions is optional; you are not obligated to pay this invoice.
  • PERA’s repayment invoice gives instructions on how to proceed. The invoice includes interest so the sooner you submit your repayment the less interest you will pay.
  • PERA contacts the county once you've submitted your repayment and the county then submits the employer contributions.
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