Parental Leave Accommodations for JSG
What options are legally available?
To begin, all colleges and schools at UT that have parental leave accommodations stem their policies from the governing statute. It reads:
TITLE 6. PUBLIC OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES
SUBTITLE B. STATE OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES
CHAPTER 661. LEAVE
SUBCHAPTER A. STATE EMPLOYEE SICK LEAVE POOL
Sec. 661.912. FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT. (a) To the extent required by federal law, a state employee who has a total of at least 12 months of state service and who has worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period preceding the beginning of leave under this section is entitled to leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (29 U.S.C. Section 2601 et seq.).
(b) The employee must first use all available and applicable paid vacation and sick leave while taking leave under this section, except that an employee who is receiving temporary disability benefits or workers’ compensation benefits is not required to first use applicable paid vacation or sick leave while receiving those benefits.
(Added by Acts 1999, 76th Leg., ch. 279, Sec. 19, eff. Sept. 1, 1999.)
Note that UT Austin has adopted Parental Leave policies for employees, but these do not extend to students. This is explicitly stated in the Handbook of Operating Procedures (5-4330). The focus of the statute is on FMLA statute and applies to state employees. Grad students with GRA or TA appointments are considered state employees by UT Austin, and thus are eligible for some benefits, described below, with specific eligibility requirements. Undergraduates are not considered employees, so this statute does not apply to them.
We identified three options that are available and legal for graduate students, including 1. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 2. Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA), and 3. Leave of Absence (aka Unpaid Status).
- Family Medical Leave (FMLA)
Students can apply for FMLA status because of several conditions, including birth of a child, adoption, care for a child/spouse, etc. A process exists for requesting FMLA, which can be found at the link above. Here are some points to consider:
- Eligibility requires 1250 hours employment during previous12 month period for minimum qualification for seeking FMLA status, which needs to be applied for (FMLA is NOT granted automatically). The means, effectively, that first year grad students would not be eligible, and second year, or longer, students would be eligible, if students at 30 hours per week during summer.
- 12 weeks leave can be taken during a12 month period, or during a single block of time
- Students maintain benefits, job restoration with UT upon end of leave, building access, training certification, library access, etc.
- Salary is not covered during FMLA
- No sick/vacation leave are earned
- Health insurance is covered by UT Central fringe pool during FMLA, not through PI’s specific project
- Student needs to be a matriculating student that semester, or they would not be considered eligible for GRA/TA and hence not employees
- UT HR is likely to change this policy, to make it more flexible. The pandemic has shown that many job functions can be done from home.
- A formal process is available from the web link above, but this is generally used by full time employees.
- For grad students, FWA is generally applied informally on a case-by-case basis
- More often arrangements are made between the PI/Advisor and the student, with buy-in by the School
- Leave of Absence (Unpaid Status)
- Essentially withdrawing from employment and course work
- University is not obligated to cover any salary or benefits
- This policy provides us (JSG) with discretion around granting unpaid leaves of absences when a grad student does not qualify for FMLA and is not interested in a Flexible Work Arrangement.
- This policy provides a stipulation that allows a grad student to be reinstated to the same or an equivalent position when they return.