GW offers sufficient time for family, medical leave, faculty say

Media Credit: Lillian Bautista | Contributing Photo Editor

Officials said the District-wide laws and initiatives opened up medical and family leave options for more employees.

When William Winstead found out his mother had terminal cancer, he knew he needed to dedicate precious time to caring for her.

Winstead, a political science professor, said he was “extremely grateful” for the support he received from colleagues and felt the University’s leave policies allowed him to make the most of the time left he had with his mother. About six weeks after finding out about his mother’s diagnosis, Winstead took a full spring semester off work.

GW offers fewer weeks of family and medical leave for staff members than most of its peers, but the school is on par with its peers in the amount of time off granted to full-time faculty. Full-time faculty who have needed to take time off said they were satisfied with GW’s policies because the process of asking for leave is relatively “easy” and they face little “stigma” from colleagues for requesting leave.

“It can provide much needed support during a quite difficult moment in one’s life – like caring for a sick relative who needs real attention,” Winstead said in an email. “I hate to think of how I would have managed without GW’s leave policy in place.”

University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said the introduction of new laws and programs at the District level has expanded the size of the population eligible for unpaid and paid medical and family leave options.

The D.C. Council introduced in 2016 the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act, which requires most employers to cover an amount equivalent to 0.62 percent of employees’ wages while on leave. The act will go into effect July 2020.

Under the act, “covered employers,” or any institution that exercises control over employees’ wages, hours and working conditions, must pay unemployment insurance on behalf of its “covered employees.” The act defines “covered employees” as individuals who spend more than 50 percent of their work time working for a District employer and less than 50 percent of their work time at the same employer in a location besides D.C.

Nosal said the human resource office, benefits consultants and vendor partners annually review all health and welfare benefits, including leave. She said officials examine benefits the law requires and trends related to leave to evaluate the quality of the University’s leave programs.

“The ability to take paid leave to care for a family member, such as paid parental leave, is a highly valued benefit among faculty and staff,” Nosal said in an email. “The University recognizes that each benefit may impact a particular family differently so we continually work to harmonize and coordinate the programs available.”

Jennifer Lopez, the associate vice president of the resource office, said faculty and staff typically provide feedback to benefits team members about the University’s family and medical leave policies through phone, email and in-person meetings.

She said the Benefits Advisory Committee – on which six faculty members, six staff members and one medical resident serve – acts as a “vehicle” to collect and solicit feedback about leave policies from faculty and staff.

“This group meets during the year to provide feedback from around the campus community and share ideas that maximize the quality of GW’s benefits, including family and medical leave policies,” Lopez said in an email.

The University of Pittsburgh and Tulane University each offer up to four consecutive weeks of paid leave for full-time staff and regular part-time employees, while Wake Forest University offers six weeks of paid leave for staff members and one semester off for associate and senior-level faculty.

GW offers six weeks of paid family and medical leave for full-time staff members and medical residents and provides one paid semester off – about 14 to 15 weeks – to full-time faculty members, according to the faculty code.

Northeastern University offers eight weeks of partially paid leave to faculty and staff. Tufts University offers 12 workweeks of paid leave to eligible employees who have been employed for at least a year and worked at 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.

New York, Syracuse and Georgetown universities and the University of Rochester offer 10 to 12 weeks of paid or partially paid leave to eligible full-time and part-time staff. Syracuse and Georgetown universities offer one semester of leave to full-time faculty, and New York University covers the salaries of full-time faculty for up to six months.

Tufts University offers 12 weeks of paid leave to eligible employees who have been employed for at least a year and worked at 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.

Boston University allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for most employees. Employees’ leave must exhaust their paid sick days, personal days and vacation time to cover the first portion of a leave of absence, and the rest is unpaid. The University of Miami allows 12 weeks of unpaid leave for eligible employees. 

Faculty who have gone on family or medical leave said they were largely satisfied with their experiences because the leave-requesting process is simple, and fellow colleagues did not stigmatize the practice of taking time off.

Kathryn Kleppinger, an associate professor of French, francophone studies and international affairs, said she took one semester of leave in spring 2018 after she gave birth in December 2017. She said she was “particularly pleased” that officials expanded leave policies to specialized full-time faculty, who were ineligible for leave until fall 2019.

“For full-time faculty, the leave policies around the birth or adoption of a child are excellent,” Kleppinger said in an email.

But she added that the University should extend family and medical leave benefits to adjunct and part-time faculty so everyone can spend time bonding with newborn children or caring for their own or a family member’s health.

“An important policy priority should be to expand benefits to reflect the realities of our faculty workforce,” Kleppinger said.

Celeste Arrington, an assistant professor of political science and international affairs, said she took one semester of leave twice – each time to care for newborn children. She said the process of requesting leave, which involved sending an email to the political science department chair and receiving written approval, was relatively “easy.”

Arrington, a tenure-track professor currently under consideration for promotion to become an associate professor, said her department chair paused her tenure clock twice to accommodate her while she was caring for her newborns. She added that she was initially hesitant to request leave to care for her second child because taking longer than normal to achieve tenure has traditionally been viewed negatively in the academic community.

But she said she ultimately decided to take time off because her department chair included a note in her tenure file – consistent with national trends – that she was still approaching tenure consideration at an average pace despite technically taking longer to become eligible.

“The process of asking for it was great and all of the colleagues in the department respect parental leave,” she said.

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