By Lucy Frost-Helms, Copy editor
Determining when to have children or how to afford to miss time at work due to a family or medical emergency is a strategic art. It requires calculations—it takes extensive financial and social planning. To ease the tensions that come from family and medical-related planning, the University of Montevallo passed a policy in May that offers eight weeks of paid family and medical leave.
Currently, 8 to 12 weeks of unpaid leave is a general standard under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, and it is what a majority of college institutions follow. UM still utilizes this policy, but eight weeks of leave will now be paid.
Faculty who have completed at least one academic year of work, or two consecutive semesters, and staff who have completed at least 1250 hours of work within the preceding year are eligible for paid parental leave under this policy.
The policy allows for eight weeks of paid leave for the birth of a child, adoption of a child under the age of 18, placement of a foster child, miscarriage or any pregnancy-related medical emergencies. UM’s new policy is also parent-focused, meaning that both the mother and father are eligible.
2022 Faculty Senate President Dr. Claire Edwards, of the Department of Communication Science and Disorders, who facilitated the creation and passing of the new policy, emphasized that the end result was truly a collaborative effort.
“It wasn’t just one person. It was a collaborative effort between Faculty Senate, Staff Senate and administration to create this policy,” Edwards said.
Development of the policy began in fall 2022, and it was approved the following spring at the May 3 Board of Trustees meeting. Initially, 12 weeks of paid leave was suggested, but, after negotiations, eight weeks of leave were passed.
“We had a lot of great people working on it, and so they were very determined and everybody was invested because it not only helped faculty, but it also helped staff. And so, it’s pretty much helping all faculty and staff, all university employees,” said Edwards.
Edwards, explained that multiple influences were considered. Federal policy, policies at other liberal arts institutions in Alabama and even policy at international institutions were utilized.
In regard to standards and the initial proposal of the policy, Edwards said, “Initially, we wanted 12 weeks—just because that is one of the standards that happens in lots of places. And, in fact, we also looked at other countries and places like Sweden—they have amazing policies. We’re trying to model that, and so we came in at 12 weeks and then we kind of realized that maybe that wasn’t sustainable, maybe that wasn’t as fiscally responsible, and so, then we kind of amended it to more of an eight weeks—is where we landed finally.”
Edwards believes that, although 12 weeks of paid leave was proposed, eight weeks of paid leave is a step in the right direction. Faculty and staff at UM no longer have to consider how many sick days they have left to plan for the birth of a child or consider potential medical emergencies that may occur. The policy has the opportunity to grow and extend in the future, though.
UM’s policy is also unique in that it covers adoption, miscarriage and placement of a foster child while prioritizing both parents.
Edwards said, “And it also is for adoptions and foster placements as well. The other thing is it’s not maternal leave, it’s parent leave. So, if you are the spouse of the person who is physically having a child, then you get that benefit.”
Overall, Edwards said, “This policy helped bring staff and faculty together in a way that hasn’t been achieved in my time here at the university.”
Dr. Ray Ozley, chair of the Department of Communication at UM, also served a role in the development and passing of the new policy.
Ozley said, “I was serving as the chair of the Faculty Senate personnel handbook committee and we had some other tasks that we were going to work on and had heard that Staff Senate was really concerned and wanting this— and some faculty had requested it before, and it was a natural assignment to our committee. That’s kind of where it landed in my lap. I also had served the previous year as Faculty Senate President, so I had some of the relationships and connections in place to be able and try to talk about it.”
Ozley played a key role in listening to the desires of faculty and staff in regard to family and medical leave, saying, “As chair of the committee, I collaborated with my committee members and with the representatives of Staff Senate to just seek understanding of what people wanted—and then I kind of coordinated convening meetings with various representatives and also with administration.”
Understanding what would best benefit faculty and staff was important to Ozley and his co-workers, but he also emphasized that the Department of Human Resources, the university’s attorney, UM President Dr. John Stewart, department chairs and other administrators were included in the process to provide a wide array of discussion and feedback.
Ozley emphasized different benefits of the policy other than paid leave, focusing on Montevallo’s culture and the long term success of faculty and staff.
“There is research to support that when you address these types of needs you have less stress and burnout in the workplace. So, even if we’re not talking about recruitment and retention of employees, productivity increases when you don’t have to worry about stuff like this,” he said.
In regard to the culture and community of UM, Ozley said, “This is a piece of what I hope is a larger ongoing puzzle to continue making Montevallo a stronger culture— strengthening the relationships between staff and faculty.”
Lucy Frost-Helms is the copy editor of The Alabamian. She’s majoring in social science and minoring in philosophy. She enjoys being a goober, eating chicken salad for breakfast, watching “National Treasure” and telling you that she will “definitely pay you back for that.” Lucy has the worst memory of all time and will forget major, important details of stories you tell her.