UT System family leave policy causes employees to adapt

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Photo Credit: Christiana Peek | Daily Texan Staff

When Dr. Gurur Biliciler-Denktas was planning to have her second child while working in the UT System, she didn’t opt to use the 12 weeks of unpaid family leave provided by the system. Instead, she saved her paid vacation and sick leave.

“You have a new child and you have another child at home. And even though you’re a physician, you still need to pay bills, right?” said Biliciler-Denktas, chair of the UT System Faculty Advisory Council.

The Family Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, allows all eligible employers to acquire 12 weeks of unpaid leave for circumstances such as medical emergencies or new children. However, UT System employees must use all available paid leave while taking the leave.

The UT System does not have additional maternity or paternity leave, which Biliciler-Denktas said leads to some eligible faculty saving up vacation time and sick leave in anticipation of a new child.

 

“We lost a lot of female faculty to other institutions,” said Biliciler-Denktas, a pediatric cardiologist at UTHealth Science Center at Houston.

In an emailed statement, UT System spokesperson Karen Adler said the policies are maintained by each individual UT institution and are guided by the UT System Board of Regents’ Rules, which comply with federal law. 

“The Chancellor and Board of Regents always look forward to hearing the (Faculty Advisory Council’s) findings and recommendations related to policies and issues of concern,” Adler said in an email.

Adler said the Faculty Advisory Council was established to identify issues among faculty, analyze those issues and share recommendations for action with the Chancellor and Board of Regents. She did not provide further comment.

The Faculty Advisory Council hopes to make recommendations to change the faculty family leave policy following complaints from faculty on other UT System campuses, Biliciler-Denktas said.

“We have to look at the system and find out why which regulations are there and how we can actually change it,” Biliciler-Denktas said.

Theresa Koehler, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at UTHealth, said she did not utilize the act during her pregnancy. Instead, she took six weeks off and brought her newborn to her office.

“I just think that most institutions these days have maternity leave, and it’s incomprehensible that the UT System doesn’t have it,” Koehler said.

Biliciler-Denktas said FMLA also does not extend a faculty member’s tenure. She said extension of family leave is especially important on academic campuses, where most faculty are tenured. 

“You’re losing that three months,” Biliciler-Denktas said. “That’s an important amount of time that you might be working on your research and producing.”

UT-Austin changed their policy Sept. 1 to allow married couples working at the University to each claim 12 weeks of unpaid family leave. Sandra Catlett, chair of the Staff Council at UT-Austin, said married couples would previously have to share the time.

Before the policy change, UT-Austin employees Meagan Jones and her fiance, Kyle Fricke, decided to postpone their wedding when they found out they were pregnant with their first child. 

“We’re grateful that we were able to stay home, but not having unpaid leave does make it more challenging,” Fricke said.