New UMN parental leave policy under consideration

Various groups at the University have advocated for parental leave reform.

Helen Sabrowsky

Following advocacy from University of Minnesota student and employee groups, a top University committee will vote on a new parental leave policy draft early next month.

Governance committees at the University have pushed for parental leave reform in recent years, voicing concerns over potential inequities in current policy. If approved, any employees who work at least part-time would be eligible for six weeks of paid parental leave in the event of birth, adoption or surrogacy as soon as they begin working for the University.

Under existing policy, only eligible female employees are allowed six weeks of paid parental leave. Other parents, like fathers and adoptive parents, receive two weeks of paid leave.

While employees on fellowships and grants are eligible for leave under existing parental leave policy, the new proposed policy explicitly states that benefits extend to these employees, aiming to reduce confusion surrounding parental leave policy, said Scott Lanyon, vice provost and dean of graduate education.

“There’s been a misunderstanding for a while about whether or not graduate students on fellowship and graduate students employed by the University are eligible for the same amount of leave, and we’re clearing that up,” Lanyon said. “There isn’t a difference in leave options between the two.”

Additionally, under the proposed policy, eligible employees will receive benefits as soon as they begin working for the University. Current policy states only those employed at least nine months are eligible, Lanyon said. This made some graduate students ineligible for parental leave, as they frequently change job categories at the University, he said. 

“As people switched back and forth between categories of employment, it got messy,” Lanyon said. “The proposed solution cleans that up by making people eligible from day one.”

Last year, the University Professional and Administrative Senate passed a resolution that called for six weeks of paid leave for all parents, citing concerns that the policy excluded some employees, said Ian Ringgenberg, chair of the P&A Senate.

“The proposed changes match well with what we’ve been putting forward from P&A Senate, especially responding to the experiences of parents in same-sex couples and adoptive parents, who weren’t getting paid time off to support new children in their families,” Ringgenberg said. “It’s a huge step forward for working parents at the University.”

The Council of Graduate Students also voiced concern over the original policy’s gendered language, said COGS Speaker Zach Sheffler.

Instead of using gendered language like mother and father, the policy has been revised to birthing and non-birthing parent, said Sheffler.

The policy will go to the University’s Policy Advisory Committee and then to the March 2 meeting of the President’s Policy Committee, said Kathy Brown, vice president for human resources, in an email. If approved by the committee, the policy will be posted for public comment for 30 days. If no changes or further reviews are required, the policy will be implemented, she said.

“It’s a start, and it shows a commitment from the University to support working parents,” Ringgenberg said. “But it’s still a process that goes in inches and not yards.”