Parental Leave and Accommodations for JSG Graduate Students
Family Friendly Policy
The Jackson School supports its graduate students outside of the lab and classroom with family-friendly policies, listed below. The Jackson School acknowledges that there are personal circumstances that may require accommodations for a student, including, but not restricted to:
- students who start or expand their families while enrolled in our graduate programs (e.g., childbirth, new-born care, and adoption);
- students that become caregivers of a child, or a disabled, elderly, or ill family member;
- students who experience new, significant disability or illness.
These policies are intended to support students who are balancing their scholarly and parenting or care-giving responsibilities.
Accommodations Available to Graduate Students
We offer many different types of accommodations for graduate students who experience the personal circumstances listed above while in the Jackson School. These accommodations are available to full-time, enrolled Jackson School graduate students (enrolled for at least nine credit hours each long semester and three hours in summer) who are in good academic standing. It is the responsibility of a graduate student anticipating these life changes to inform their graduate advisor and research supervisor of any anticipated accommodation needs as early as possible.
- Academic Accommodations
Eligible students are allowed a one-semester extension of the academic milestones required to fulfill the requirements of their degree. The extension includes coursework, qualifying exams, committee meetings, presentations, and any other required academic responsibilities. The extension may be taken either during or immediately following the semester in which the student experiences the change in personal circumstances (e.g., childbirth, adoption, illness). After an accommodation period, students are expected to resume progress toward degree completion, and faculty are encouraged to remain flexible in their expectations so that students can meet the demands of graduate study while adjusting to new demands. Note that this extension does not guarantee an extension of a particular source of funding and does not “stop the clock” on the student’s time in program.
- Teaching Assistant (TA) Accommodations
The Jackson School strongly encourages departments to provide non-TA support for graduate students during the semester in which there is a change in personal circumstances (e.g., childbirth, adoption, illness). If this cannot be done, the graduate student may request to be appointed to TA positions whose duties can be done in flexible environments and/or on flexible schedules (i.e., Flexible Work Arrangements or FWA). Adaptability regarding the distribution of specific TA duties within a semester is strongly encouraged for supervisors of students anticipating considerable changes in personal circumstances. The student, their graduate advisor (or other supervisor), and the professor/instructor for whom they are TAing should agree to review these TA duties on a periodic schedule to ensure that work is being completed in a timely and satisfactory manner. A TA whose accommodations include performing at least some duties away from campus should review University guidelines regarding telecommuting and may be asked to sign a Telecommuting Agreement. Students should also be aware that flexible work arrangements are not always possible for every class; ultimately, the Course Instructor will need to determine whether they can make appropriate accommodations for the course. If TA duties are not flexible (e.g., required weekend field trips), the student should work with their advisor and the graduate office to find a more appropriate class to TA.
- Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) Accommodations
Some graduate students may be able to carry out modified research duties following a change in their personal circumstances (i.e., FWA) – thereby continuing progress towards the goals of their research, meeting the requirements of the external funding agency, and remaining in compliance for reporting effort on federal grants, if appropriate. Modified duties may include scholarly research and literature compilations, data processing and analysis, scientific writing, or preparation of other scientific communication materials. Students should be aware that flexible work arrangements are not always possible for every project or granting agency; ultimately, the Primary Investigator (PI) or co-PI of the project will need to determine whether they can make appropriate accommodations for a flexible RA position. Students are encouraged to check with the Jackson School graduate coordinator and graduate advisor for information and discuss the feasibility of accommodations with their supervisor.
- Family and Medical Leave
In some cases, a complete break from all employment responsibilities may be most appropriate. Benefits-eligible graduate student employees who continue to meet eligibility requirements for employment are entitled to Parental Leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Family and medical leave is unpaid leave that provides employees with the right to continue in premium sharing while on leave; and in general, to return to the same position or an equivalent position at the conclusion of the leave. Graduate students who have been employed by the state of Texas for a total of at least twelve (12) months and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the twelve-month period prior to the commencement of the requested leave (note: fellowship support does not constitute employment by the state of Texas, only an appointment as a TA or RA), are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA) are also available, which would maintain both pay and benefits. Please contact the graduate coordinator and graduate advisor for assistance.
- Leave of Absence
In some cases, a complete break from all employment responsibilities may be most appropriate (i.e., Authorization for Leave of Absence). This leave is unpaid, and employee health insurance premium sharing is unavailable for any full month of leave (see the Human Resources Parental Leave webpage. Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA) are also available, which would maintain both pay and benefits. An approved leave of absence will “stop the clock” for a student’s time enrolled in the program (i.e., 2 years for an MSc and 5 years for a Ph.D.); this is not the same as an extension (see details below). For example, if a student takes a 1-semester leave of absence in the spring of their 3rd year, when they return, they are still considered to be in the 3rd year of their program even though it is the 4th calendar year. Please contact the graduate coordinator and graduate advisor for assistance.
International students ARE eligible for leaves of absence, BUT they should be aware of any effects not being enrolled for a long semester will have on their status (i.e., the student would likely need to leave the United States). Depending on the visa, a leave of absence could change the student’s status. While on a leave of absence they are not considered a student, so any visa or immigration issues linked to student status would be gone. Before deciding to take a leave of absence, international students should contact their Texas Global advisor or the International Scholar Services (firstname.lastname@example.org) directly so that they can get specific advice on their status and current situation. For example, if it is a medical leave of absence, there is a possibility that the student can remain in the United States as long as they have gotten the authorization to do so.
Students and advisors are encouraged to discuss these accommodations as soon as a personal circumstance arises. If students are uncomfortable starting this discussion or if a mutually acceptable accommodation cannot be made, the student should contact the graduate coordinator and graduate advisor. Students should also be aware that these policies cannot always be applied in every situation; whilst efforts will be made to ensure equity, there may simply be some work arrangements that are not flexible.
For more information, visit General UT Austin parental resources.
Important Notes For Graduate Students
- Program Extensions: Most of the above policies (with the exception of a leave of absence) do not automatically extend the length of a grad student’s residency. For any JSG students at the end of their 5th year in program, the dissertation committee will meet with the student and prepare a plan for completion; all parties will sign the plan. The plan and accompanying request for an extension for 6th year are sent to the graduate adviser for approval. See the Graduate Student Handbook for further details and instructions about extensions beyond the 6th year in program.
- Funding: The above policies do not guarantee an extension of a particular source of funding. See the Graduate Student Handbook for further details.
- International Students: The above accommodations may affect your visa or immigration status and/or have other issues that may impact your program. Before deciding on a course of action, international students should contact their Texas Global advisor or the International Scholar Services (email@example.com) directly so that they can get specific advice on their status and current situation.
|FWA (i.e., TA/GRA Accommodations)
|JSG Alternative Duty Option
|Leave of Absence
|Do I get a salary?
|Do I keep my healthcare?
|Do I still have duties I am committed to?
|Am I still a student?
|Does this “stop the clock” for my time enrolled in program?
Other Family-Friendly Resources
Where can I find a Lactation Room?
Where can I find a changing station?
- JGB 2.302 Women’s restroom
- JGB 2.110A Men’s restroom
Where can I find a gender-neutral restroom?
- JGB 4.160
- Locations across UT
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
- Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA)
- 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.