4: Unpaid Leave Programs

Swarthmore recognizes that a staff member may need to be away from work for medical or family reasons or to fulfill military service obligations. Some types of absences are affected by federal law such as the Family & Medical Leave Act, some by state laws, and some by Swarthmore policies. This chapter describes various types of leaves, who is eligible, and the conditions under which a staff member may take each type of leave.

Leaves may be paid or unpaid, depending on what type of leave you've requested and whether you have appropriate paid leave available. In general, all paid time off must be exhausted before an unpaid leave is granted. Formal leaves are counted from the first day of absence. Individuals on an approved unpaid leave will not be compensated for time off during holidays.

Family & Medical Leaves

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted to provide job security for individuals who need time off from work to deal with a serious illness or to care for a family member with a serious illness or to accommodate the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. FMLA protects your employment for 12 weeks of leave in any 12-month (rolling) period, measured from the time the employee uses any FMLA leave. Leave time granted under FMLA will not be used in performance actions related to attendance concerns.

In accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008 and 2010 (NDAA) up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave in a 12 month period is also granted to a spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin for either the care of an active duty, reservist or veteran service member who has sustained a serious injury or illness in the line of duty in the Armed Forces or for a qualifying exigency arising out of their being on active duty or being called to active duty status in support of a contingency operation of the Armed Forces. For further information regarding your rights and obligations under NDAA contact the Employee Relations Manger in the HR department at ext. 8398.

In order to be covered by FMLA, a serious health condition is defined as a physical or mental illness or injury of three consecutive calendar days that requires either:

  • Inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential care facility, or
  • continuing treatment by a health care provider

A family member, as defined by FMLA is:

  • the staff member's spouse or domestic partner
  • the staff member's parent
  • the staff member's child (biological child, adopted child, step-child, or legal ward), who is less than 18 years of age, or incapable of self-care due to a mental or physical disability
  • a member of the Armed Services or a veteran who is the staff member's spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin

To be eligible for FMLA, you must have worked for Swarthmore for at least one year and worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. You must request FMLA leave at least 30 days in advance if the reason for the leave is foreseeable. You must also provide appropriate certification of the need for such a leave.

Using FMLA Leave

Time off under FMLA may be taken as a continuous leave, as an intermittent leave, or as a reduced work schedule as long as the need to do so is appropriately documented. Each type of usage is counted toward the 12-week total. Examples include:

  • Five weeks off for an individual health condition, and seven weeks for the birth of a child, within the same 12-month period
  • a few days off every now and then, when a controlled serious health condition requires treatment
  • time off for medical appointments related to a serious health condition
  • reducing your weekly work schedule, e.g., from 40 to 20 hours, because your serious health condition does not permit full duty; the 20 hours not worked would count toward the 12-week total

If a husband and wife are both employed by Swarthmore, the maximum leave for purposes of birth/adoption or care of parents is 12 weeks total for both individuals within a 12-month period. In the case of leave to care for a member of the Armed Services or veteran, if both a husband and wife are employed by the college, the aggregate amount of leave time that is available is limited to a combined total of 26 weeks in a 12-month period.

Your department will not fill your position on a regular basis, or if it is filled, your department will make a comparable position available if you are on an approved FMLA leave (12 weeks or less) and if you return to work by the end of the approved leave.

A comparable position is defined as:

  • the same rate of pay
  • the same pay grade
  • the same or a similar position classification and title for which you are qualified
  • 30 hours or more if you were full time
  • less than 30 hours if you were part time
  • same shift (day, evening, or night)

Supervisors can modify your specific duties or assignments and can change actual work schedules, including days worked to meet the operating needs of the department.

If you are granted a FMLA leave for your own or a family member's serious health condition, you must use all your accrued sick, holiday, and vacation time in that order at a rate equal to your regular weekly schedule before going onto unpaid status.

If you are granted a FMLA leave for the birth or adoption of a well child, you must use all your accrued holiday and vacation time, and the parental leave benefit, if you're eligible, before going onto unpaid status. You may not use sick time for the care of a well child.

You will be required to submit a physician's certification that you are able to resume the essential duties of your position prior to returning to work from a leave due to your own serious health condition. This notice must clear you to perform all of the essential functions of your position, with or without a reasonable accommodation. You will not be reinstated to employment without submitting this fitness-for-duty certification from your physician.

If you are on an approved FMLA leave, Swarthmore will continue to cover its portion of your health care costs during the period of leave, up to a total of 12 weeks, or 26 weeks for the care or support of a member of the Armed Services or veteran, in any 12-month period. You will continue to be responsible for paying your portion of the premium cost, which is deducted from your paycheck automatically while you are being paid accrued leave. But if any part of your FMLA leave will be unpaid, you will need to make arrangements with the Human Resources Office to pay for your premium charges.

If you cannot return and are not eligible for additional leave, your employment will end on the last day of your approved FMLA leave.


Personal Leaves

Staff in good standing (no formal performance action in the last year) may request personal time off for reasons such as educational or community service opportunities, vacation/travel, or to care for a family member in situations not covered under the FMLA. To be granted a personal leave, you must request the leave in writing, explaining your reasons for the request, to your supervisor at least 30 days in advance when foreseeable. A single continuous leave for personal reasons cannot exceed 25 consecutive weeks.

Department heads, in consultation with Human Resources, will review the leave request. While the operating needs of the department must be the first consideration in granting personal leaves, also considered will be the purpose of the leave, the employee's responsibilities and length of service with the College, the potential disruptive impact of the leave and past experience with similar situations.

Personal leaves are approved only for compelling reasons and are a descretionary privilege granted by the College. They are not given for such things as engaging in employment outside of Swarthmore or pursuing an independent business venture.

Personal leaves are unpaid, after all paid time off has been exhausted. During any unpaid portion of the leave that extends beyond one pay cycle (either bi-weekly or monthly) the employee is responsible for the costs of his/her benefits (health care insurance and life insurance). You must make arrangements with Human Resources for payment before your leave begins.

Personal leaves of absence are granted with the understanding that a staff member will return to work at the end of the leave. While the department is not required to hold your position while you are gone, if the position you held is available at the end of your leave, you will have the opportunity to resume the position. If you don't return to work, your employment will end as a discharge unless you make arrangements in advance to resign.


Temporary Layoff Leave

Some departments lay staff members off on a temporary or seasonal basis in accordance with their staffing needs. Most departments for which seasonal layoff is a recurring activity have established policies that are shared with staff members during the employment process.

A seasonal or temporary layoff is a period of layoff of six months or less by the end of which the department expects to recall the staff member to active employment status. A layoff of more than six months or a layoff that is due to the elimination of a staff position with no expectation of recall or rehire is considered a permanent layoff.

Any unused accumulated holiday or vacation time is paid out before the layoff leave moves into unpaid status. Sick time is not paid out but is available again upon recall from layoff.

When the department is ready to recall staff members from layoff status, the staff members should be contacted by phone or by registered mail at least three days in advance to confirm the date when they are expected to return to work. Staff members who do not return to work within three days of recall and who do not have authorization to delay their return will be dismissed.


Military Leave

Swarthmore respects your decision to serve and protect our country. If you leave your position in order to enter active duty in the Armed Forces, voluntarily or involuntarily, you are entitled to reemployment in your civilian position, or a comparable position, after your discharge or release from active duty if you meet the basic eligibility criteria of the Uniformed Services Reemployment Rights (USERRA) Act. Those criteria are:

  • You are not employed in a temporary civilian position
  • You ensure that your employer receives advance written or verbal notice of your service
  • You have five years or less of cumulative service, with some exceptions, in the uniformed services while absent from your position with the College
  • You return to work or apply for reemployment in a timely manner after conclusion of service:
    • Following 31 to 180 days of service — application within 14 days.
    • Following 181 days of service — application within 30 days
  • And, you have not been separated from service with a disqualifying discharge or under other than honorable conditions.

Active military duty that requires an absence of six months or less is handled as a military leave. If the active military duty will be longer than six months, your employment with Swarthmore will be ended, although you have re-employment rights under the conditions above.

While performing military service, you will accumulate seniority and retain previously accumulated benefits at Swarthmore although you will not earn vacation, holiday s or sick time. You are eligible to continue your health insurance at your cost for up to 24 months while in the military. When you are reemployed, you will be reinstated in the group health insurance program without any waiting periods or exclusions except for service-related illnesses or injuries.

When you return, you will be eligible for any approved benefits or general increases that have occurred during your absence. Returning employees will also receive the College contribution to the retirement plan they would have received if employed and, because the retirement plan is a mandatory defined contribution plan, it will be necessary for you to make appropriate, retroactive contributions.

Temporary military leave is also granted for National Guard duty or temporary Reserve duty. If you are called to active duty during a natural disaster or civil disturbance, you will be granted leave with pay for up to five working days.

Talk with your supervisor immediately if any of these situations arise and contact Human Resources to discuss continuation of benefits coverage, where applicable, during active duty.