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Unpaid Leave Programs

Family Medical Leaves | Personal Leaves | Military Leaves | Benefits Continuation During Unpaid Leave

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 (FMLA), 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. 

In general, all paid time off must be exhausted before an unpaid leave is granted.  Leaves of absence begin from the first missed day of work. Individuals on an approved unpaid leave will not be compensated for time off during holidays (even if the unpaid leave is covered by vacation time or sick leave).

Family Medical Leaves

Swarthmore College abides by the federal FMLA, which allows qualified staff members to take time off when certain medical situations arise or for qualifying exigencies as described below:

To be eligible for FMLA leave, a staff member must satisfy each of the following requirements:

  • They are employed by a covered employer under the FMLA;
  • They have s been employed for at least 12 months;
  • They have  worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12-month period; and
  • They work at a worksite with 50 or more staff members within a 75-mile radius.

Under the FMLA, eligible staff members may take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave (or up to 26 weeks for military caregiver leave) during a 12-month period for the following reasons:

  • The birth or adoption of a child or the placement of a child into the staff member’s family for foster care;
  • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent) with a serious health condition;
  • The staff member’s own serious health condition which renders them unable to perform the essential functions of their position.
  • Military caregiver leave to care for an ill or injured service member.
  • Qualifying exigency leave for families of members of the National Guard and Reserves when the covered military member is on active duty or called to active duty as defined by the law. 

A serious health condition is an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that:

  • Involves an overnight stay in a medical care facility or continuing treatment by a health care provider for a condition that either prevents the staff member from performing the functions of their job;
  • Prevents a qualified family member from participating in work, school, or other daily activities; or
  • Involves a chronic condition that causes occasional periods when you or your family member are incapacitated and require treatment by a health care provider at least twice a year.

Subject to certain conditions, the continuing treatment requirement may be met by a period of incapacity of more than three consecutive calendar days combined with at least two visits to a health care provider or one visit and a regimen of continuing treatment, or incapacity due to pregnancy (including prenatal medical appointments, incapacity due to morning sickness, and medically required bed rest) or incapacity due to a chronic condition.

The FMLA requires that most staff members be reinstated to the same or an equivalent position with the same pay, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment upon their return from leave, unless the staff member would not otherwise be entitled to reinstatement at that time.

Staff members seeking leave under the FMLA should provide written notice to Human Resources as soon as the staff member learns of the need to take leave. Swarthmore College will continue group health insurance coverage for staff members who are on FMLA leave under the same terms as if the staff member continued to work. 

Staff members on FMLA leave should speak to their manager periodically to alert them of their status and intent to return to work. Before returning to work, the staff member must contact Human Resources following a medical leave due to a serious health condition. The staff member may be required to provide certification from their health care provider that they are able to resume work.

If the need for leave is not foreseeable, you must provide notice to your manager as soon as possible. During leave, you must keep the College informed of the estimated duration of leave and your intended date to return from leave. You also must make reasonable efforts to work with the College to schedule leave for planned medical treatment so as not to unduly disrupt the College’s operations. 

The College will require you to provide appropriate certification of the need for FMLA leave. If you are requesting leave because of your own or a covered family member’s serious health condition, you and the relevant health care provider will be asked to supply appropriate medical certification. You may obtain Medical Certification forms by contacting Human Resources. Failure to provide requested medical certification in a timely manner may result in denial of FMLA-covered leave. If you are requesting military caregiver leave, the College also reserves the right to require certification from the covered military member’s health care provider. You may also be required to provide periodic recertification supporting the need for leave.

Using FMLA Leave

FMLA leave occasioned by a serious health condition may be taken intermittently (in separate blocks of time due to a serious health condition) or on a reduced leave schedule (reducing the usual number of hours you work per workweek or workday). In addition, leave to care for or bond with a newborn child or for a newly placed adopted or foster child may be taken intermittently with prior approval by the manager and Human Resources. FMLA leave may also be taken intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule for a qualifying exigency relating to covered military service. Each type of usage is counted toward the 12 week total.

While on intermittent leave, you will be paid for hours worked which may be supplemented by appropriate paid leave benefits. 

While you are on an intermittent or reduced schedule leave, the College reserves the right to temporarily transfer you to an available alternative position that better accommodates your leave schedule and has equivalent pay and benefits. 

The College will make every effort to hold your position while you are on an approved FMLA absence.   If it becomes necessary to fill your position during the FMLA period, your department will make an equivalent position available upon your return. An equivalent position is defined as one that is virtually identical to the staff member's former position in terms of pay, benefits, and working conditions, including privileges, perquisites, and status. It must involve the same or substantially similar duties and responsibilities, which must entail substantially equivalent skill, effort, responsibility, and authority.

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

If you are granted FMLA leave for the birth or adoption of a child you must use all your accrued and unused sick and vacation time, and the parental leave benefit, if you're eligible, before going onto unpaid status. 

If you are absent from work and receiving short-term disability or workers’ compensation benefits you are also required to use FMLA leave concurrently. When using paid leave during FMLA leave, you must comply with the College’s paid leave policies.

If you are on an approved FMLA leave, Swarthmore will continue to cover its portion of your healthcare 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 take leave because of your own serious health condition (except if you are taking intermittent leave), you are required, as are all staff members returning from other types of medical leave, to coordinate with human resources to provide a fitness-for-duty certification indicating that you are fit to resume work. You will not be permitted to resume work until it is provided. Managers may not allow employees to return to work until the Human Resources Office has signed off on the fitness-for-duty certification.

If you cannot return to work and are not eligible for additional leave (e.g., a reasonable accommodation under the ADA), your employment will end on the last day of your approved FMLA leave.

This FMLA policy will be administered in a manner consistent with the terms of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, as amended. The College reserves the right to impose any conditions or limitations upon any leave of absence as may be deemed consistent with the provisions of the FMLA. Any questions concerning this policy may be directed to Human Resources.

Personal Leaves

Staff in good standing (with no formal performance action in the last year) may request personal time off without pay for reasons including but not limited to educational pursuits, service opportunities, medical leaves not covered by sick leave or salary continuation, to care for a family member in situations not covered under the FMLA, or other personal emergency. To be granted a personal leave of absence, you must request the leave in writing (explaining your reasons for the request) to your supervisor at least 30 days in advance, when foreseeable. Department heads, in consultation with Human Resources, will review the leave request. Operating needs of the department will be the first consideration in considering requests for personal leaves of absence. Additional factors which will be taken into consideration include but are not limited to: the purpose of the leave, the staff member's role and responsibilities, the staff member’s length of service with the College, and the potential disruptive impact of the leave.

A single continuous leave for personal reasons cannot exceed 12 consecutive weeks and will not be granted for a staff member to pursue employment outside of Swarthmore or an independent business venture.

Prior to taking a personal leave of absence, all paid time off must be exhausted. During any unpaid portion of the leave that extends beyond one pay cycle, (either bi-weekly or monthly) the staff member is responsible for the costs of their benefits (healthcare insurance and life insurance). You must make arrangements with Human Resources for your benefits 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 period. While the department is not required to hold your position open 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 do not return to work, your employment will end as a discharge unless you make arrangements in advance to resign.

Military Leaves

Swarthmore respects your decision to serve and protect our country. If you leave your position 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 reemployment rights under the conditions above.

While performing military service, you will retain previously accumulated benefits at Swarthmore College, although you will not earn vacation, holidays, or sick leave. 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 staff members 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.

Speak 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.

Benefits Continuation During Unpaid Leave

Benefits continuation during any paid or unpaid leave is subject to the provisions of the official plan documents and insurance policies.