Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health staff members are initiating an effort to obtain paid family leave.
During a meeting of staff members across the different departments of Dornsife School of Public Health, staff representatives began to raise the topic of the university’s family leave policy. This caught the attention of Drexel staff advocates as Drexel is the only research intensive, R1 research university in the state that does not offer paid leave to professional staff members.
Family leave is defined by the university as any leave, paid or unpaid, that is taken by faculty or staff to care for family in the case of an emergency or illness, as well as leave that is taken upon the birth or adoption of a child.
The discrepancy lies in how staff members are allotted family leave compared to their faculty coworkers. Drexel staff are allowed 12 weeks of leave as per the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. To receive any compensation for this, they have to use sick and vacation time. Any time taken in excess of paid time off (PTO) is unpaid. Faculty get six weeks paid after one year and 12 weeks after two years.
The disparity is clearly highlighted between the policies for staff members versus faculty members. Drexel faculty encompasses any employee that has a teaching or professorial role at the university. Drexel defined staff are those in a wide range of roles varying from administrators and academic advisors to custodial workers. Often, this means that lower wage university employees are not taking as much time as they may need for their families due to an inability to support themselves and their family without paid leave.
Staff members from Drexel’s Public Health department have begun work on developing a policy brief to discuss the impacts of paid leave among professional staff. Among the Public Health staff advocates is Natalie Shaak, operations manager for the Center for Hunger-Free Communities and chair of the Dornsife School of Public Health Staff Coordinating Committee.
“Most people find that if they are not paid, they can’t take time off,” Shaak said. “That tends to impact lower wage workers and lower income families much more.”
Following the release of their brief, Shaak and the Dornsife School of Public Health Staff Coordinating Committee are hoping the university will implement a six week paid leave for staff members to match the existing policy for faculty.
The committee is an advocate for better and paid leave for families on the basis of the positive impact that extended leave has on both parents and children, especially in the case of maternity or paternity leave.
“There’s a lot of really important things as far as family bonding and mental health that are impacted by people being able to take time off after having a child. There’s also a piece of it that is related to physical health for the child and specifically the mother,” Shaak said.
In fact, Natalie Pederson, a tenured professor of LeBow College of Business and member of the Legal Studies Department at Kline Law School, wrote to the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2017 regarding the issue of family leave.
“Numerous studies have shown the benefits to parents and children of time off with newborn babies, benefits that include decreased infant-mortality rates, increased IQ scores in children whose parents take leave, and increased family financial stability,” Pedersen wrote. “Offering paid leave enhances these benefits because it increases the likelihood that new mothers and fathers can afford to take advantage of the leave.”
Additionally, the policy brief written by Dornsife is intended to help the university understand how they would be improving staff relationships and family relationships by bettering their leave policies, as well as making Drexel job positions more desirable to future candidates. Shaak points out that the university is unlikely to lose any additional money in improved leave due to how the budgets are built to encompass six weeks of paid time.
“What they’ve found in a lot of research is that when folks take leave, they actually are more engaged and more likely to stay at their employer long term. I think for Drexel to really attract the best staff, we need to be offering this [paid leave] to be more competitive,” Shaak said.