Voluntary Shared Work Frequently Asked Questions

The Voluntary Shared Work Program (VSW) is an alternative to layoffs during declines in regular business activity. Under VSW, work reductions are shared by reducing employees’ work hours, and Unemployment Insurance (UI) partially replaces lost earnings. By avoiding layoffs, employees stay connected to their jobs, and employers maintain their skilled workforce for when business improves.

General Questions

What are the benefits of VSW for employers?

What are the benefits of VSW for employees?

What are the eligibility requirements for an employer to participate in VSW?

What is the application process for participating in VSW?

Is the VSW benefit paid from the same benefit fund as regular UI benefits?

How are VSW payments determined?

Employer Questions

What is the “affected work unit”?

Will VSW participation affect the employer’s UI tax rate?

Can an employer provide a training program as part of its VSW plan?

What is considered “seasonal employment”?

Can an employer apply for VSW if layoffs have already occurred?

What responsibilities does the employer have under VSW?

How should a separation of employment be handled for VSW employees?

How is the Weekly Benefit Amount (WBA) determined?

What is the Maximum Benefit Amount (MBA)?

Employee Questions

What are the requirements for a worker to be eligible for VSW benefits?

Does an employee have to use vacation or other paid time off before qualifying for VSW?

What are the responsibilities of an employee under VSW?

What would happen if an employee covered by VSW has his/her hours reduced more than 50 percent?

Does an employee have to participate?

Are part-time employees eligible to participate in VSW?

Are VSW benefits based on hours of work or weekly wage?

Under VSW, can seniority be recognized within the affected work unit?

Is it permissible to have the work schedule change during the VSW plan?

What should an employee do if child support is deducted from both the UI benefits check and the employer paycheck?

General Questions

What are the benefits of VSW for employers?

Under VSW, employers can:

  • Maintain productivity and quality levels (because the same experienced employees are doing the work)
  • Keep the ability to expand operations quickly when business conditions improve
  • Reduce training costs by keeping the workforce intact
  • Avoid costs related to hiring and reassignments
  • Avoid transfers, demotions, and tenure-based layoffs

What are the benefits of VSW for employees?

With VSW, employees can:

  • Keep job skills sharp
  • Maintain a higher family income than with UI benefits alone
  • Keep health insurance and retirement benefits
  • Continue building job tenure

What are the eligibility requirements for an employer to participate in VSW?

To participate in VSW, the employer must:

  • Be current in filing quarterly UI reports
  • Have paid all UI taxes owed in full
  • Not be using VSW for seasonal work reductions
  • The employer will provide notice to employees participating in the VSW Program.
  • The Employer must certify the VSW Program will meet all Federal and State laws.

What is the application process for participating in VSW?

Employers wishing to participate in the VSW program must complete a short VSW Plan Application). The plan must include:

  • Affected work unit designation
  • Number of affected employees (minimum of five employees)
  • Planned percentage of work hour reduction (must be between 20 percent and 50 percent and be the same for all affected employees)
  • Estimate of the number of layoffs that would occur without VSW
  • impact (if any) on employees’ fringe benefits
  • The employer must certify the plan will not affect health and retirement benefits.
  • Expected number of weeks reduced work will be needed
  • Whether affected employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement

Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) staff can help with completing the application. Employers must fully understand and commit to following the plan as outlined. If affected employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, written approval by their representative is also required.

Is the VSW benefit paid from the same benefit fund as regular UI benefits?

Yes. The VSW benefit is paid from the same benefit fund as regular UI benefits. UI benefit payments for VSW and UI generally are charged to employer accounts in exactly the same way. Employers should be aware that, just as when laid off employees collect regular UI, use of VSW may affect the employer’s UI tax rate.

How are VSW payments determined?

Payments are based on the percentage reduction in work hours. For example, if there is a 20 percent reduction in work hours, the affected employee would receive 20 percent of the weekly UI benefit payment they would receive if they were laid off for a full week.

Employer Questions

What is the “affected work unit”?

Affected work unit means a specific plant, department, shift, or other definable unit.

Will VSW participation affect the employer’s UI tax rate?

Employer accounts will be charged in the normal way for benefits paid under the VSW program. Employers should be aware that, just as when laid off employees collect regular UI, use of VSW may affect the employer’s UI tax rate.

Can an employer provide a training program as part of its VSW plan?

Yes. An employer may provide a training program for affected employees to attend during the regular hours worked. IWD will relieve the employer of UI benefit charges if the training program:

  • Is approved by IWD
  • Reduces the potential for future periods of unemployment
  • Increases employee skills

This may include a training program funded under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.

What is considered “seasonal employment”?

Employment is considered seasonal if the production or service provided is significantly reduced at periodic intervals on an annual basis. Seasonal workers are not eligible for the VSW program.

Can an employer apply for VSW if layoffs have already occurred?

Yes, so long as the number of employees covered by the VSW plan remains unchanged during the plan.

What responsibilities does the employer have under VSW?

The program is an employer-based program. Employer responsibilities include:

  • Filing claims for benefits on behalf of employees
  • Submitting the weekly work hours
  • Being available to IWD to resolve issues, concerns and questions

Once the VSW Plan is approved, IWD provides the instructions and forms needed to collect information from employees. To help the employer process VSW claims, a specially formatted Excel spreadsheet is used to report hours.

Each week, the employer must submit the number of hours worked by each VSW employee on the spreadsheet provided by IWD. When completing the spreadsheet, remember:

  • IWD considers weeks to run from Sunday through Saturday.
  • Hours per week must be reported in whole, even numbers.
  • At the employer’s discretion, hours of paid leave (e.g., paid vacation, paid sick leave, paid funeral leave) and hours of unexcused absence from scheduled work can be added to work hours for the purpose of determining the amount of the VSW payment an employee receives.
  • An employee with more than 32 hours in a week is not eligible for VSW benefits, and is reported as 40 hours.

How should a separation of employment be handled for VSW employees?

The employer should complete the Notice of Separation or Refusal of Work web form. 

How is the Weekly Benefit Amount (WBA) determined?

In order for an affected employee to qualify for VSW, he/she needs to first qualify to receive UI benefits. To determine eligibility, IWD will calculate the Weekly Benefit Amount (WBA). The WBA is determined by the employee’s gross wages from all covered employers in the high quarter (HQ) of the base period (see explanation below) and by the number of dependents claimed. 

Base Period

The base period is a four-quarter (one-year) period of time from which the WBA and maximum benefit amount (see question “What is the Maximum Benefit Amount”) are determined. The amount of wages earned in the base period determines the amount of unemployment benefits a claimant may receive.

The base period is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters at the time an initial UI benefits claim was filed. The most recent four to six months before a claim is filed are not used to determine the monetary benefit eligibility.

EXAMPLE: If a new claim was filed in April, May, or June (second quarter), the base period would be the preceding January 1 through December 31.

graphic showing base period flow

Alternate Base Period 

If an employee fails to qualify for UI benefits using the regular base period it may be possible to file a claim using an alternate base period. The most recent four completed calendar quarters are used to determine the monetary benefit eligibility.

EXAMPLE: If a new claim is filed in October, November, or December (fourth quarter), the alternate base period would be the preceding October 1 through September 30.

graphic of alternate base period

What is the Maximum Benefit Amount?

The Maximum Benefit Amount (MBA) is either 26 times the WBA or one-third of the total base period wages, whichever is lower.

The MBA may be increased to 39 times the WBA or one-half the total base period wages, whichever is lower, if a claimant’s last employer permanently closed the business location. However, the WBA will not change. 

Employee Questions

What are the requirements for an employee to be eligible for VSW benefits?

To be eligible to participate in VSW, affected employees must:

  • Qualify for UI benefits
  • Not have an existing UI claim in another state
  • Be able and available to work their usual hours for the VSW employer

If an affected employee does not meet all of the wage requirements, he/she is not eligible to receive UI benefits. In these cases, IWD will review the claim with the worker to determine if there are any missing wages or if an “Alternate Base Period” should be applied. Individuals with a current valid claim in another state are not eligible.

Does an employee have to use vacation or other paid time off before qualifying for VSW?

No, an employee does not have to use paid time off before qualifying for VSW. At the discretion of the employer, any approved paid time off from work (e.g., paid vacation, paid sick leave, paid funeral leave) may be considered as hours worked for determining the VSW benefit.

What are the responsibilities of an employee under VSW?

Employees need to complete the forms provided by their employer. During the VSW plan, affected employees must accept all work provided by their employer.

What would happen if an employee covered by VSW has his/her work hours reduced more than 50 percent?

If an employee’s work hours fall below 50 percent per week due to a lack of work, the employee’s claim needs to be converted to a regular UI claim. The employer should note that the employee needs to be on regular UI on the spreadsheet provided by IWD. The employee is responsible for submitting his/her UI weekly claim and correctly reporting gross wages.

Does an employee have to participate?

Participation is not a requirement. If an employee chooses not to participate, you should inform him/her that his/her work hours will be reduced and they may not receive any compensation.

Are part-time employees eligible to participate in VSW?

Yes, as of July 1, 2014, part-time employees are eligible for VSW.

Are VSW benefits based on hours of work or weekly wage?

VSW payments are based on hours of work, specifically, the percentage of reduction from normal hours. At the discretion of the employer, this may include paid leave and deductible hours for unexcused absence when scheduled.

Under VSW, can seniority be recognized within the affected work unit?

No. The law requires that the VSW reduction be applied uniformly to an affected work unit.

Is it permissible to have the work schedule change during the VSW plan?

Yes, the work schedule can change so long as it is consistent within the affected work unit, and the reduction of hours is 20 percent to 50 percent. It is also permissible to report 32 hours one week (with employees collecting VSW benefits) and 40 hours the next week (with no VSW benefits paid that week). If the hours worked are substantially different than described under the approved VSW plan, the employer may submit an amended plan.

What should an employee do if child support is deducted from both the UI benefits check and the employer paycheck?

If an employee has received notice that child support is going to be withheld from VSW benefit payments and his/her employer is also withholding child support, the employee should contact his/her employer. The employer should then contact the Child Support Recovery Unit by email at csrue@dhs.state.ia.us or by phone 877-274-2580.