VRS - Procedure

NB your HR Business Partner in Personnel Services is available to advise at any stage of this procedure.

1. Identify possible post closures/reorganisation opportunities

Departments are asked to review their staffing and activities and consider any areas of work where activity might be reduced, carried out in a different way, or stopped altogether such that staffing costs could be reduced by closing posts[1]. Departments are encouraged to think broadly and identify as many areas of activity as possible where staffing could be reduced, or where a reorganisation of activity might result in an overall reduction in staffing, so that a final decision about which posts are closed is taken in light of information about which staff would like to take voluntary severance. 

Divisional offices will work with departments where reorganisation of roles/services between departments might lead to the potential for staffing reductions. Options for reorganisation of services may require the regrading of some existing posts, or creation of new posts.  However, in order for the departure to be considered to be redundancy the requirement for the work must have demonstrably diminished (or ceased altogether).

See also: Guidance for Heads of Department on reviewing departmental activity  and guidance on managing a reorganisation

[1] It is recognised that some departments will have reviewed their departmental activities and may not wish to carry out a further review at this stage.  In such cases there is no obligation to follow all the stages of this procedure, however departments should be aware of the arrangements for ‘bump severance’ so that they are prepared to respond to any of their staff wishing to volunteer to leave through this scheme.

2. Identify a ‘pool’

Once areas of activity have been identified for inclusion in the scheme, departments should consider all the employees who are currently engaged in such activity in order to establish who should be included in a ‘pool’ to be offered the option to resign in return for a VRS payment, remembering to include staff who are currently away from the workplace. Generally, employees who perform the same or interchangeable roles should be included in the same pool. For example, if multiple staff within the department are engaged in finance, HR or general administrative activities at the same grade then it is likely that all should be included in the pool. If the role under consideration is a unique role, a pool of one is likely to be appropriate.

Equally, there may be multiple options for reconfiguring departmental activities depending on which (if any) staff wish to resign in return for a VRS payment, and voluntary redundancy could therefore be offered to multiple staff at different grades, even though only one post needs to be made redundant. 

3. Avoiding bias and potential discrimination

In seeking to identify areas of activity within departments that can be reduced or stopped altogether, it is essential to focus on posts and activities and not the individuals who are the current postholders.  Care must be taken not to appear to be selecting individuals, particularly on grounds which might appear to be discriminatory such as:

  • being a part-time or fixed-term employee (NB it is likely that few fixed-term posts will be eligible under the scheme since externally-funded posts are excluded and the business case will require evidence of cost savings over a minimum period of five years for which the post must be closed);
  • performance or attendance – your HR Business Partner can advise you about appropriate procedures where poor performance, capability, or attendance need to be addressed and this scheme must NOT be used as a proxy for following an appropriate procedure;
  • any protected characteristic (age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation);
  • acting as a recognised trades union representative.

Departments are expected to pay particular attention to equality issues and to record the objective justifications behind their decisions, to ensure that unconscious bias is not influencing those who are given responsibility for selecting posts for possible inclusion in the scheme. The EDU website guidance includes a checklist for recording steps and outcomes.

4. Make a business case

A business case pro-forma is provided which aims to help departments to explore each potential case and to identify whether both an operational and a financial case can be made which meets the scheme requirements.  The business case forms part of any eventual application to ISAP for approval which will require information about:

  • the financial case, including costs of the VRS payment and any other costs associated with the case (including any consequential regradings or new posts, and any Mandatory Employer Payment (MEP) that may apply (see Early retirement in the Scheme outline for details);
  • the potential impact on other staff; and
  • the department’s ability to meet its strategic objectives and cover its core activities after the proposed changes have taken effect.

A voluntary severance calculator is available to calculate individual VRS payments.  If employees who are members of USS are to be offered VRS payments, departments must also explore with their HR Business Partner whether a Mandatory Employer Payment will apply (see early retirement ) as this cost will need to be factored into the business case.

It is important that business cases are as objective as possible: departments must be careful not to select particular employees because of any personal qualities, their contract type (for example, part-time staff) or against any criteria which may appear discriminatory (see supplementary guidance for Heads of Department).

Decisions about which posts to include should be ojective, documented and transparent: a brief minute of consideration meetings may suffice

Seek advice

HR Business Partners will be available to provide advice to departments at any stage of consideration and compilation of the business case, but must be consulted before progressing to notifying staff.

5. Notify affected staff – preliminary meetings

Once potential posts for closure are identified, Heads of Department and/or Departmental Administrators should arrange to meet with each affected employee to explain that their post has been identified for inclusion in the VRS, and to explain that no compulsory redundancies are planned[1].  A pro-forma letter is available from your HRBP. It is for departments to consider whether this meeting is most appropriately held on an individual basis, or (where multiple posts are in scope) whether an initial group meeting for all affected staff should be held as a first stage. If a group meeting is held it should be followed by individual meetings to explain the rationale for including the individual post, and to explain the VRS benefits to which the individual would be entitled if a case for voluntary redundancy is approved.  

Affected employees should be advised of the Bump Severance arrangements  and how they can apply for any suitable posts offered through the Bump Severance register.

Where appropriate, individuals should also be reminded that they may wish to explore their options for early retirement under the terms of their pension scheme.

Staff should also be encouraged to come forward with any suggestions they have about alternative ways for the department to cut its costs into the future.

[1] In the event that compulsory redundancies are planned, the department must work with their HRBP, to ensure that the standard redundancy procedure is followed in place of this scheme.

6. Issue letter confirming VRS arrangements

The meeting should be followed up with a formal confirmation letter setting out the voluntary redundancy enhanced payment which would be due. A pro-forma letter will be provided by your HR Business Partner.

7. Consideration period

For many staff, considering whether to accept a VRS package will be a difficult decision, and it will be necessary to give all staff a reasonable period of time to explore the offer. Staff should be given up to a maximum of three months to consider whether they wish to resign under the VRS, although if no pensions quotes are needed a shorter period may be considered.

Where a number of staff have been offered a VRS package, but only a small number of departures are required or can be accommodated, it will be important to fix a consistent deadline by which staff need to respond to ensure that the wishes of all staff are taken into account in the final decision. Any staff who are eligible to take early retirement, under the terms of their pension scheme, may wish to explore their pensions options and should be advised to do so as early as possible since pensions quotes may take up to two months to complete.  

8. During the consideration period

During the consideration period conversations with staff should continue, particularly in the event that circumstances change (for example, normal staff turnover may offer opportunities for other post closures to be considered).

Staff who have been made VRS offers and who have expressed an interest in moving to another post under Bump Severance should be reminded to review the Bump Severance register regularly for opportunities arising.

Unless a very clear picture emerges of the wishes of all the individuals in scope of the VRS within the department no decisions should be made until the agreed deadline for decisions in order to ensure that all possible volunteers are considered before a final decision is made. Where an outcome is clear sooner than the given deadline (for example where all staff offered VRS have given firm answers and only one volunteer has come forward), there is no need to wait until the end of the agreed consideration period.   

Departments should continue to explore any other options for saving costs.

9. At the end of the consideration period

The Head of Department should review the cases of any staff who have indicated that they wish to accept voluntary redundancy.   Where more individuals come forward for the VRS than the department can agree to, departments should seek advice from their HR Business Partner about how a fair selection process should be run. 

Where the requirements of department and wishes of the individual align, an application form should be completed together with business case using the template pro-forma (updated as appropriate in light of the agreed departure date). 

10. Approvals

Where a department and individual member of staff agree a VRS resignation/departure, the case must be authorised by the relevant Divisional (UAS cases should be sent to Katharine Thomas, HR Team leader) and then sent to Julian Duxfield, HR Director who will forward to ISAP for final approval.  ISAP will consider the business case supporting the application as well as the broader impact of the case on the University’s strategic plans and effective operation.  Departments must await formal ISAP approval before making a formal agreement with the employee about their departure.

11. Confirming departures

If ISAP approval is given for the departure, HR Business Partners will provide departments with the formal confirmation and a pro-forma agreement for the Head of Department and/or Departmental Administrator to complete together with the employee concerning final arrangements for the resignation.  The departure date must be no earlier than the date of ISAP approval and no later than three months after this date.

It may be appropriate to enter into a settlement agreement with the employee: your HR Business Partners will provide advice on a case-by-case basis.

A new leavers code has been set up in CoreHR 'Resignation VRS 2016/17' which should be used for all VRS departures.