University transforms maternity and paternity policies



Margaret Keane

In an email to faculty and staff on Jan. 11, the University announced several changes to its parental leave policy. Starting on Aug. 24, paid parental leave will increase from six to eight weeks for staff members, and from six to 15 weeks, or a full semester, for faculty members.

The policy currently in place offers faculty and staff members six weeks of paid parental leave and six weeks of unpaid leave. This time off is covered by the employees’ sick days, vacation time and disability benefits. Any additional time off beyond those 12 weeks is considered personal leave and must be granted by department chairs or managers. 

Under this policy many faculty members are able to take a full semester off from teaching, but during the extra time off they must complete other tasks for the department. This policy only applies to employees who have worked for the University for 12 months and completed 1,250 work hours. Both male and female employees are entitled to parental leave, but only if the employee is the primary caregiver.

The new policy offers more paid leave and does not tap into the employee’s sick days. New benefits are also available to both mothers and fathers, regardless of status as primary caregiver. Under the new policy, parental leave will be accessible to employees starting at their date of hire. 

For many faculty and staff members, this change is long overdue. In April 2015, the University Senate proposed 12 weeks of paid parental leave for faculty and staff members.

Raymond Duffy,  Senior Director of Benefits, Compensation, and Employment at the University’s Human Resources Department, said that parental leave for staff and faculty members cannot be identical because the nature of their work is not identical.

“Staff work needs to be covered by coworkers,” Duffy said. “Anything beyond an eight-week leave would have created large burdens for the department. Although not equal, the benefits for faculty and staff are fair, based on the nature of their work.”

Staff members also have certain benefits that faculty members do not have. Staff members get 12 sick days a year that can accumulate year to year, without a cap. Faculty members get 30 sick days a year, which can accumulate up to 90 days. Staff members also get vacation time, while faculty members do not. These additional benefits are considered necessary because staff members generally work year-round.

In a statement made by the University Staff Council in December 2015, the Council argued that, although staff work differs from faculty work, the needs of new parents and their children remain the same. In this statement, The Council supported 12 weeks paid leave for both faculty and staff members. The Council met with the Human Resource Department this week to discuss the new policy.

According to Duffy, the changes were not made in direct response to staff and faculty petitions. The new policy had been on the Human Resource Department’s agenda for years, and was only delayed by Department expenditure on other programs, including disability benefits.

“We’re a tuition driven university,” Duffy said. “We look for ways to enhance benefits, but we don’t want to spend tuition dollars irresponsibly.”

While creating the new policy, the Department worked closely with the Benefits committee, made up of faculty and staff members. The Department also benchmarked this policy against other universities and the local Philadelphia workplace.

The new policy was drafted and implemented in an effort to fulfill the University’s Catholic mission.

Dr. Jean Lutes, a professor at the University, led an effort to expand parental leave in 2008 and was excited to learn about the new benefits.

“This new policy shows that we are living up to our Catholic ideals,” Lutes said. “Our ideal is that family and love are central to the human person. Supporting work life balance shows that we practice what we preach.”

Even with a full semester of leave, Dr. Amanda Knecht says that it is still difficult for a professor to plan a family. Knecht, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, had her first child in August of 2013 and is expecting her second this upcoming April. 

“By the time you get your PhD, you’re 27 to 30,” Knecht said. “Then you start your tenure track which takes about six years. Having a baby while working for tenure is difficult, but waiting until 36 to have kids is very risky.”

The University tries to assist faculty members who are pursuing tenure and having children. These efforts include delaying the tenure track for one year when a faculty member has a baby, and offering a Child Subsidy Program that provides employees with $1,000 for childcare. 

In recent years, businesses across the country have been increasing parental leave benefits as they compete for top workers.

Federal government is working to improve employee benefits nationwide. The 2016 budget dedicates $2 billion to encouraging state legislature to develop paid family and medical leave programs.

Despite Federal efforts and those of Villanova, parental leave in America is worlds behind other countries.

The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t require paid maternity leave by law. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, an employer with more than 50 employees must guarantee 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for employees who have been with the company for a year. In Cuba, new mothers receive 18 weeks of fully paid leave. Only 12 percent of workers in the U.S. have access to paid family leave through their employer. Without sufficient leave, new parents often have to put their newborns into daycare, where they are more exposed to disease.

Photo courtesy of Wall Paper Modern