RSP PROJECT: Certification of Effort During Authorized Absence
Submitted by: Ellen Reinsch Friese
Date: March 31, 1997
Statement of the Problem/Issue
The Principal Investigator of an externally sponsored project is unwilling to certify the effort of his unclassified employee on an A-21 Effort Report because she will be on paid maternity leave during the affected quarter and in essence not "working" on the project. The grant under which she is being paid is one which involves billable hours. The employee is entitled to paid maternity leave, according to the Handbook for the Unclassified Staff because she will be using accrued sick leave.
The PI states that he cannot attest to the fact, by signing the
A-21, that she "worked" on the project, although she
will be fully compensated for her absence from the grant. To get
the work done, other staff members on the project will have to
"pick up the slack."
What reasonable efforts can be used to certify this employee's
The employee in question was hired by Wright State University
in April 1993. Prior to that, she was a graduate student in the
A.B.S. Program, College of [ ]. She has been fully grant funded,
starting from the time of her employment. She is currently paid
from account no. [ ], an agreement with [sponsor] on a project
According to the Handbook for the Unclassified Staff, pages 20-21,
"Sick leave may be requested for the following reasons: ...
disability due to pregnancy and/or childbirth or related conditions."
(See attachment 1.)
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-21, "Cost
Principles for Educational Institutions," establishes principles
for determining costs applicable to Federal grants, contracts
and other sponsored agreements with education institutions. Section
J.8 of OMB Circular A-21, addresses the area of "Compensation
for personal services." (See attachment 2.) According to
An acceptable method for documenting the distribution of charges
for personal services is the "after-the-fact activity record,"
which is used by Wright State University. The system at WSU reflects
the "after-the-fact reporting of the percentage distribution
of activity of employees." Charges are made initially on
the basis of estimates made before the services are performed,
provided that such charges are promptly adjusted if "significant"
differences are indicated by activity records. These reports "reasonably"
reflect employees' activity are they are compensated by WSU. To
confirm that the distribution of activities represents a "reasonable
estimate" of the work performed, WSU requires that the activity
record must be signed by the employee and the principal investigator
or responsible official having direct knowledge of the work performed,
if the activity involved 6-ledger, or sponsored programs effort.
Other effort (not involving 6-ledger accounts) requires only the
signature of the responsible official. The activity reports are
issued each quarter, in keeping with OMB Circular A-21, which
requires that the "report will be prepared each academic
term, but no less frequently than every six months."
Paid sick leave is earned by all university employees. The rate
of accrual for full-time unclassified staff is 10 hours or 1.25
days per pay period when in an active status.
Sick leave with pay may be requested only for sick time already
earned. Supervisors have the right to approve or reasonably disapprove
sick leave usage. All sick time should be recorded and a Sick
Leave/Vacation Request form should be completed by the employee
and signed by the supervisor each time sick leave is used. Sick
leave may be requested for the following reasons:
The university may require a physician's certificate after an
absence of five consecutive days, when the physician has been
seen, or in cases of patterned or excessive use. The certificate
should include the reason why the employee is or was unable to
perform his/her essential job duties.
Accrued sick time is transferable from one Ohio state agency to
another provided that the time between separation and reappointment
does not exceed ten years.
With ten years of service and upon retirement or death, an employee
or the employee's estate receives a cash settlement equivalent
to one-fourth of the value of accrued but unused sick leave up
to a maximum of 240 hours. Payment is based upon the employee's
salary at the time of retirement or death. Such payment eliminates
all sick leave credit of the employee.
Cash payment is made to retiring employees one time only. Employees
returning to state service after a cash payment has been made
can accrue and use sick leave as before, but cannot receive a
cash settlement for the unused sick leave at the time of a second
For additional information, refer to Wright Way policy #4202.
OMB Circular A-21, Cost Principles for Educational Institutions
What is the definition of "significant" in terms of
prompt adjustment of "significant" differences in an
employee's activity? One acceptable method of payroll distribution,
according to A-21, is the "Plan-Confirmation." One of
the standards of this system is that "short term (such as
one or two months) fluctuation between workload categories need
not be considered as long as the distribution of salaries and
wages is reasonable over the longer term, such as an academic
period." In this case, a six week maternity leave would be
considered a "short term" fluctuation, as the long-term
distribution of salaries and wages (the other 46 weeks of the
year) is reasonable.
In addition, OMB Circular A-21 addresses the subject of "fringe
benefits," in Section J.8.f.(l):
The recipient institution is responsible for ensuring that costs
charged to a sponsored agreement are allowable, allocable, reasonable
and consistently treated under the cost principles of OMB Circular
A-21. (See attachment 3.) Do the costs meet the test?
Allocable: Is the cost of the leave allocable to a particular
sponsored agreement? This is a bit trickier, as the sick leave
has been accrued over a period of months, and the employee has
been paid from different sources, some of which have now expired.
The cost of six weeks' leave of absence, at an annual salary of
$38,038, is $4,387 in salary plus $1,148 in fringe benefits.
Reasonable: The costs are reasonable with respect to the leave
time authorized by physicians for the birth of a child and recovery
Consistent: WSU consistently treats the payment of leave time for childbirth in the same manner, as indicated by the policies and procedures of the institution.
To assist me in analyzing this situation, I posed the question
of the "PI unwilling to certify effort" to my former
supervisor at the San Diego State University Foundation and to
the research administrators' discussion group. I received nine
responses, either via the group or by telephone, ranging from
outrage at the supervisor's "contempt" to the unfairness
of charging one project solely for leave time accrued on other
The most popular suggestion was the establishment of a "leave
pool" account for sponsored agreements. As employees earn
leave (vacation and sick), the project from which they are paid
is charged for the expenses and the funds are transferred to the
"leave pool" account. When the leave is actually used,
the pool is then charged for the cost of the wages and concomitant
fringe benefits, and no one project suffers from being hit for
all expenses for an extended paid leave, such as the absence for
While the "leave pool" concept is something that WSU
may want to consider for the future, the situation facing my "unwilling
PI" must be resolved rather quickly. Several of the discussion
group respondents suggested that the employee's department chair
or dean might be asked to sign the effort report.
Thus, I would suggest that the costs for the employee's maternity
leave are allowable under the tenets of A-21. In the absence of
a "leave pool" system or any other method, the payment
for the leave will be distributed fully to the sponsored programs
account under which she has been employed. In essence, just because
the employee is not technically "working" on the project,
but is being paid, does not mean that the costs for the leave
are not allowable. The PI can certify the effort report by signing
it and noting "Maternity Leave, dates: ___ through ___"
or asking the chair or dean to sign.
OMB Circular A-21, Cost Principles for Educational Institutions
The purpose of this project is to provide a "researched"
response to the PI's concerns about certifying his employee's
A-21. Attachment no. 4 is a draft memo to the PI summarizing the
principles of the effort reporting system and (with luck) giving
him enough information or options to give him a comfort level
in signing his employee's effort report.
Attachment 4 - DRAFT MEMORANDUM
Date: March 31, 1997
To: [Principal Investigator]
From: Ellen Reinsch Friese
RE: Effort report certification
As you requested, I have further researched the question you posed
with respect to certifying an effort report for your employee,
[ ], who will be on paid maternity leave for six weeks of the
effort reporting period.
As you are aware, Wright State University policies and procedures,
as outlined in the Handbook for Unclassified Staff, allow this
classification of employee to use earned sick leave for "disability
due to pregnancy and/or childbirth or related conditions."
Thus, the expense itself is an allowable one by university policy.
As I understand from our conversation, you have no argument with
the payment of the accrued sick leave for this purpose.
Wright State University is guided by the Office of Management
and Budget (OMB) A-21 "Cost Principles for Educational Institutions."
The university is responsible for ensuring that costs charged
to a sponsored agreement are allowable, allocable, reasonable
and consistently treated, as defined by OMB A-21. In addition,
the effort reports are a direct outgrowth of these principles,
requiring Wright State University, as the recipient institution,
to document the distribution of charges for personal services
by using the "after-the-fact activity record." Thus,
WSU faculty and unclassified staff face the challenge of documenting
their percentage distribution of activity at the conclusion of
each academic quarter. Now you know why!
Payment of accrued sick leave during a maternity leave is an allowable,
allocable, reasonable and consistently treated expenditure, in
accordance with university policy and OMB A-21. The fact remains,
however, that you feel uncomfortable certifying the effort of
this employee during the quarter in which her maternity leave
will fall. One option would be to sign the effort report and add
the statement, "Maternity leave" and give the dates
of the leave. Another option would be to ask your supervisor/dean
to sign the form on your behalf.
I hope this additional information will be helpful to you. If
you would like to discuss the issue further, please contact me
at Research and Sponsored Programs, ext. 2425.
cc: [college business officer]