Monday, March 28, 2016

Changes to the Faculty Professional Expense Reimbursement Process

By Lynne Taylor, FAUW Treasurer

Every year, the University of Waterloo makes available to individual faculty members an allowance for out-of-pocket expenses related to the performance of teaching, research and professional duties known colloquially as the “professional allowance” or the Faculty Professional Expense Reimbursement (FPER). In the past, this claim could be made once annually at the end of the fiscal year for expenses incurred between 1 May of the previous year and 30 April of the current year, and was due by 30 April. Any allowable expenses that exceeded the maximum FPER in a particular year could be carried forward for up to three years, and be applied against future FPERs. This practice continues.

However, as of the latest salary settlement (effective 1 May, 2015), in addition to the ongoing practice of carrying forward all allowable expenses that exceed the maximum FPER, individual faculty members will also be allowed to carry forward all unspent FPER balances for up to three years. Thus, if an individual faculty member does not spend their entire FPER balance in a particular year, that unspent amount will be available to be spent for another three years. (This means, very pragmatically speaking, we don’t need to dash out to spend the remaining balance in the last weeks of the fiscal year, in order to claim the full allowance or lose a portion of it. Instead, we can let that amount carry forward to the next fiscal year and even accumulate for three years.) Simply put, any unspent balance will automatically be carried forward to the next year.

With the introduction of Concur, the new online system for submitting expense claims (which is being rolled out across campus as I am writing), individual faculty members now will be able to make two FPER electronic claims annually, at any point between 1 July and 30 April. It is limited to two claims, because the actual calculations must still be done manually and Finance does not have the resources to manage more than two claims per faculty member. We have been assured that these claims will be reimbursed in a timely manner (the expectation on Finance’s part is that it will be within approximately 10 days of submission). The period 1 May to 30 June is blacked out in order to allow Finance to calculate the amounts for the upcoming year.

What about expenses incurred in April of a fiscal year that cannot be submitted by the 30 April deadline?

Some confusion has arisen around a clause in the March 16 email from Finance to faculty and administrative staff regarding the FPER. In it, we were informed that claims for 2015/16 would not be accepted after April 30. The effect was to decree that any legitimate expenses incurred in the two weeks prior to 30 April (an estimated window) could neither be claimed in the 2015/2016 fiscal year, nor in the following fiscal year (2016/2017). Instead, the faculty member would have had to absorb those legitimate expenses themselves. 

This would happen because of the way in which the paperwork must flow – before an FPER claim can be submitted, it must be reviewed and approved at the departmental level, which often takes two weeks. At least one department was requiring that the form be submitted by 20 April at the latest, in order to meet the 30 April deadline. To use that department as an example, any expenses incurred by a member of that particular department between 20 and 30 April would not be able to be claimed, simply because of the time lag imposed by the flow of the paperwork.

This concern was raised by FAUW with Finance and, as of 25 March, 2016, a resolution has been reached. Concur has been reconfigured to allow any expenses incurred in April of a given year, that are not able to be submitted due to the timing of internal submission deadlines, to be claimed with the following year’s FPER claim.

NOTE: This is only for expenses incurred in April of the given fiscal year. See the “General” section of the official FPER guideline.

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