Northeastern University: Petition to Improve Family Leave Benefits
UPDATE: Read Highlight from meeting with HRM on May 2, 2017.
There are a number of Northeastern University female staff and faculty members who came together to create NU-MOMS. We met to review Northeastern’s family leave and work from home policies. We are glad that some of the maternity benefits have moved forward, such as lactation rooms on campus and a membership to CARE.com. But while Northeastern is leading the way in science, technology, business, and immigration concerns, our research indicates that Northeastern falls behind many of its university peers in family-friendly employment benefits and policies. When it comes to family-friendly policies, we want to work with the Northeastern administration to bring these policies up to date in a way that is beneficial for both the school and the staff/faculty, and to make Northeastern a more diverse and inclusive work environment.
Today, middle-class American families need a dual income to achieve financial stability. Most of us do not have the choice to stay at home with our children and, importantly, we want to work. Many of us enjoy working and seek to fulfill both our work and family obligations. We want to go to work each day knowing that our kids are in capable hands while at the same time contributing to Northeastern’s mission and work. We want to advance our careers without having to sacrifice our families. We want to contribute our talents to the workforce and be role models for our children. However, when the burden to find a feasible work/life balance is placed solely on individual working mothers, it is an elusive, if not insurmountable, goal. By implementing family-friendly policies, Northeastern allows parents to spend not just more, but better quality time, with their kids. Family-friendly policies that support mothers and fathers will allow them to be more engaged employees. By creating conditions in which parents can meet the emotional and cognitive needs of their children, employers contribute to the greater good of society by helping to support future generations.
Employers who create family-friendly policies demonstrate a commitment to promoting equity and advancement for their working mothers. They also benefit immensely from a business standpoint via the following economic returns:
- Increased worker productivity
- Higher worker retention rate
- Improved employee morale
- Bolstered recruitment efforts
With Northeastern hiring more female staff and faculty, the time has come to update the university family leave policies to remain competitive and retain quality staff and faculty members.
This proposal outlines initial steps that Northeastern can take to help support working families and retain quality staff and faculty.
Offer Paid Maternity Leave
Northeastern currently does the bare minimum to comply with state and federal laws in offering 8 weeks’ unpaid leave (plus an additional 4 if the employee qualifies for FMLA). Women have to fund their leaves by using sick days and vacation time. Disability pay (60 percent of one’s salary) is only available for those who qualify, and only for six weeks’ pay (eight for cesarean section). NU-MOMS requests two parts to this matter: (1) at least eight weeks’ paid leave and the remaining four weeks can be funded through vacation and sick time balances, and (2) confirmation to comply with the policy that if the leave happens over Winter Break, that week does not count toward the 12 weeks on FMLA leave. Research shows that offering paid leave does not hurt employers’ profitability or performance, which leaves seemingly little reason why not to offer it.
Reinstate Sick Time Use Two Weeks Before Due Date
Approximately three years ago, Northeastern eliminated the benefit of the pregnant mother using two weeks of sick time before the due date. NU-MOMS is very concerned about the elimination of this benefit because it seems to reverse the forward progress of maternity benefits. At the end of the pregnancy, it is very difficult for the mother to walk, breathe, sit comfortably, and drive. There are many anxieties and fears during this time just before labor. These include: going into labor while commuting to work (driving or on the train), water breaking at work, and contractions during meetings. From our birthing experiences, we know that labor can go very quickly (from 20 minutes) or very slowly (two days). NU-MOMS requests that Northeastern reinstate the benefit of using two weeks of sick time before the due date.
Create Equity Between Surgical and Vaginal Births
Northeastern’s maternity leave policy inadvertently incentivizes surgical births by offering an additional two weeks of disability pay for women who give birth via cesarean section versus those that have vaginal deliveries. This policy may influence women to choose to have their babies via cesarean section out of economic need, not medical necessity, which is not in alignment with current obstetric practice. Furthermore, it implies that women who give birth vaginally do not need the same amount of financial support provided by disability pay as they recover from birth. Complications and recovery time vary regardless of method of delivery. NU-MOMS requests that mothers be given the same amount of paid time off for either delivery method since both methods require time to heal.
Adopt Flexible Work Policy
Northeastern does not have any standard policies for working remotely, job sharing, or working flexible hours. Working schedules outside the standard 8:30am to 5pm time slots must be vetted by the employee’s department head. Only short-term changes to an employee’s working schedule are permitted and must be approved by the department head. These policies are vague, incomplete, and lead to inconsistent accommodations across the university, in which some women are permitted to telecommute on certain days and/or have flexible working hours, while others are not.
Flexible time is the new theme in companies trying to keep and hire talented employees, especially women. The cost of daycare continues to rise and for many middle-class families with two or more children, becomes unaffordable. The partner of the household who earns the least amount of money (which is typically the woman in a heterosexual partnership) usually has to make the difficult decision to quit full-time work during the early years of their children’s lives. Many of Northeastern’s female employees are being pushed out of the NU community because of their reproductive choices. If flexible time to manage the logistics and costs of children were an option, men and women would be more willing and financially able to continue in their positions at Northeastern.
Retaining an employee, especially a valuable one, through flexible work options can save employers thousands of dollars and time in interviewing and training a new employee. A request for flexible or reduced hours should not be an added stress for the employee as they adjust to life with a newborn. NU-MOMS requests that Northeastern create a process and protocol for flexible time requests so that employees feel more secure in their positions at Northeastern during this specific and very stressful time in their lives.
Expand Childcare Services
Northeastern currently has an on-site, subsidized cost daycare center, but it only accepts children starting at age 2 years and 9 months. Women who return to work after 12 weeks (which is the maximum amount of time Northeastern will hold their job for them) have to secure alternate care for their infants during the 2.5 year period until they become eligible to enroll in the onsite center. Massachusetts, with its highest daycare costs in the country, can command monthly tuition rates for full-time infant care around $3000 per month/ per a child. Not only are women forfeiting some or all of their salary when they go out on maternity leave, they have to spend a significant amount of money to enroll their infant children in a licensed, reputable childcare facility. Offering 15 days of subsidized back-up childcare is a step in the right direction, but simply not enough for working moms of infants. NU-MOMS requests an expansion of the on-campus center to include infants and toddlers.
Create Paternity Leave Policy
Northeastern does not have a formal paternity leave policy. A woman’s partner is an imperative part of the transition as a baby arrives into the family. The partner needs to care for the wellbeing of the baby, healing of the mother (physically and emotionally), and have adequate time to bond with the infant. NU-MOMS requests that Northeastern implement a formal policy for a two-week, paid paternity leave that doesn’t require the use of sick or vacation time and starts from the time when the mother is discharged from the hospital. The paternity leave should not count the days in the hospital (labor and maternity ward). The partner will need as much of the family sick time as possible during the first year of the baby’s life. For information regarding the government backing paid paternity leave, please click here.
In conclusion, until meaningful legislative change can be enacted, it is up to the employers to go beyond the bare minimum in complying with FMLA to support and retain valuable employees.
Northeastern is an institution of higher learning that describes itself as a “model for society.” Therefore, NU-MOMS asks that the university not just comply with state and federal provisions, but that it fulfills its self-described vision, transcends existing policies, and embraces and supports its working parents by adopting the policy recommendations set forth in this letter.
We appreciate your time and review of our proposal.
Concerned Northeastern Staff and Faculty