Northwestern expands parental leave benefits for staff members

Olivia Exstrum, Campus Editor

Northwestern staff members who have recently adopted children or whose partners have recently given birth can now take paid parental leave.

Eligible staff members can take a paid leave of 10 to 12 weeks after they or their partner gives birth. Previously, only mothers who had just given birth were allowed six to eight weeks of paid leave. The new policy, which went into effect Jan. 1, also allows staff members who adopt children to take four weeks of paid leave.

Professors were already eligible for paid leave after their partners gave birth.

“The parental leave benefit really came together as a result of a lot of staff concerns around, ‘Why don’t we as staff have benefits that are more in alignment with what faculty have?’” said Anne Fish, director of benefits in the Office of Human Resources.

Before the new policy, staff members were guaranteed job protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act if they chose to stay at home longer than the allotted six to eight weeks but without pay, Fish said.

Fish said the office proposed the policy changes to University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Daniel Linzer in July.

“We’ve been talking about it for a few years,” she said. “We finally got it on paper. … It applies to new dads or new moms. It applies whether you give birth or adopt. We’re really trying to be inclusive with it.”

However, Fish said, there are parameters around eligibility. Staff members must be in a benefits-eligible position — working at least 37.5 hours a week — and must have worked at the University for at least three years.

“We didn’t want to become the employer of choice for everybody who’s pregnant,” she said. “Even still, people were very receptive to it.”

Lori Anne Henderson, director of work and life resources in the Office of Human Resources, said in addition to the four weeks of paid leave, parents who choose to adopt will receive a $5,000 reimbursement for the cost of adoption. One family can receive up to two of these reimbursements during its time at the University.

“(Adoption) can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000,” Henderson said. “That’s an incredible expense to the family. It’s also emotionally a very challenging time depending on the circumstances.”

Fish said she doesn’t anticipate the new policy will cause a gap in staff services. She said before the policy was enacted, often staff members would come back to work immediately after their leave period ended. Others would exhaust all their vacation time, she said.

The NU Staff Advisory Council, which serves as the representative body for staff members, has been discussing parental leave for some time, said Jonathan Greene, the group’s benefits committee chair. He said the change will put NU “on par” with other institutions.

“It’s essentially a benefit to staff members with no real cost incurred to staff,” he said. “It’s not like in some instances, if we’re pushing for a benefit they might say … ‘What do you want to give up to get this?’ In this case, there was nothing given up.”

Fish said more than 50 percent of NU’s non-student population is staff members.

“To not recognize that they’re key contributors to the success of our students … It was a gap,” she said. “I think what we’ve done over the past number of years is close some of those gaps. People have really applauded the fact we’ve done it.”

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Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the amount of paid leave granted to eligible staff members who had given birth. They were previously allowed six to eight weeks of paid leave. The Daily regrets the error.