Parental Leave Policy


Approved February 16, 2005

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides that an eligible employee is entitled to up to 12 weeks of job protected leave in a 12 month period. To be eligible an employee must have worked for the employer for the previous 12 months and in that period worked at least 1250 hours. If an employee meets these eligibility criteria she/he would be entitled to FMLA leave for a qualifying condition, such as child birth or care of an newly born or newly adopted child. FMLA leave does not guarantee continuation of salary, but during the period of FMLA leave, the employee's health insurance continues as if she/he were not on leave. FMLA leave for care of an infant does not require the employee to be the primary care giver. For example, an eligible father could take FMLA leave to assist his wife with care of a newborn, even if the wife is the primary care giver. The medical component of pregnancy/childbirth is treated as sick leave. A mother can use her accumulated sick leave for these medically based conditions and accumulated vacation leave for childcare after she has recovered from childbirth. These paid leaves run concurrent with any FMLA leave to which she may be entitled.

Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Research Fellows

The status of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in terms of their academic/employee designation can be complex and confusing. Postdocs on training grants or on individual fellowships (roughly 25% of VUMC postdocs) receive a stipend and are specifically excluded from the employee classification. They do not pay FICA and do not receive employee benefits. Their health insurance is provided and purchased separately. The remaining 75 % of postdocs are term employees. They are granted 3 weeks (15 work days) vacation leave, plus Vanderbilt holidays, as well as 12 work days of sick leave. Sick leave accrues from year to year, but vacation leave does not. There is currently no official mechanism in place to document sick or vacation days taken. Tracking is left to the Principal Investigators to whom they report.

The situation with graduate students is even more complex. In the first year all IGP students are awarded stipends. In the second and third year about 80% continue to receive stipends through the training grant mechanism and some 20%, who are not awarded training grant slots, are supported as part time graduate research assistants (not a regular employee category). As part time student employees they do not receive staff benefits. Their medical insurance is covered under separate policies. Finally, as part time student employees they do not pay FICA. All graduate students become part time student employees after their third years. These student employees are not covered by either the VUMC staff or faculty parental leave policies.

Until now there has not been a defined parental leave policy for graduate students or postdoctoral fellows in either the Medical Center or University Central. In the absence of a policy, what has happened is that the degree of support for maternal and paternal leave has been determined between the graduate student/postdoc and their mentor on an idiosyncratic basis. Frequently this was benign and indeed sometimes advantageous to the new mother. However, this is not uniformly the case and disparities in how this is applied have created concern.

It is important to note that the NIH has defined permissible vacation, sick leave and parental leave policies for recipients of training grant support. These provisions are different from those accorded to regular employees. Graduate students with NIH grants may receive stipend support for 15 calendar days of sick leave and 30 calendar days of parental leave per year. Because of the complexity of reconciling leaves for NIH supported graduate students and others, the chairs of the basic science departments have elected to follow the NIH guidelines for administration of the training grants.

The following policy has been developed and recently unanimously supported by the Chairs of the basic science departments.

Policy Proposal for Parental Leave for Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows Within VUMC

It is proposed that both Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows continue the current approach of being allocated 12 days of sick leave and three weeks (15 calendar days) of vacation leave annually. Sick leave accrues from year to year, but vacation leave does not. It was also agreed that this leave allotment should continue to be on an honor system where the graduate student or postdoc should determine with their respective mentors the accumulation, accounting and use of these leaves. It was agreed that following childbirth or adoption of an infant, the primary care giver (whether female or male) would be allowed to take 30 work days (6 weeks) of parental leave with full stipend and continued health insurance coverage. This leave can be viewed as composed of the 30 calendar days allowed by NIH training grant policy* (see below) together with two weeks of vacation or sick leave time. Graduate students or postdoctoral fellows may then elect to use any residual sick or vacation time to extend the period of paid leave. In the event of a postdoc or graduate student employee wishing to extend the leave beyond this period she/he has the option of leave without pay, but can continue health insurance benefits by arranging with HR to continue payment of the employee contribution. Insurance for non-employee postdocs is purchased in three month increments with no contribution made by the trainee. In the event that a trainee's three month's of coverage expires while on parental leave, payment of policy should be negotiated at the mentor/department level. Graduate student health insurance is purchased in academic year increments so they would not need to make extra payments for continued health insurance during an extended leave.

In sum, the proposed parental leave policy for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows would grant up to 12 weeks of leave to a primary care giver, of which 6 weeks would be paid, for care of a newborn or newly adopted infant.