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Unpaid Leave

While most postdocs struggle to make ends meet without paid leave, unpaid leave is still important because it ensures job-protection. See below for more information about the laws that protect postdocs’ ability to take time off work to welcome a child into their home.


The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave for pregnancy, childbirth, and/or baby bonding, and allows employees to keep their health insurance. If you are an employee you may be eligible, if:

  • your institution employs more than 50 people in a 75 mile radius (most universities do)
  • you have worked for the institution for at least 12 months total (does not need to be consecutive), and,
  • you have worked at least 1250 hours in the 12 month period prior to the leave.

Leave can be taken all at once, or intermittently. Intermittent leave for caretaking (not health) requires employer permission.


Anti-Discrimination Laws

Federal and state laws against sex discrimination provide some protection for unpaid parental leave. Key laws include Title IX and Title VII.

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions. It covers employee and non-employee postdocs. Every university must have a Title IX coordinator to prevent and respond to possible violations of the law. Title VII is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in employment and covers only employees.

For trainees (non-employee postdocs): Title IX requires institutions provide, at minimum, leave “for as long as medically necessary” for pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. Medical necessity is determined by the postdoc’s doctor. This law also requires that pregnancy and related conditions be covered under a postdoc temporary disability leave policy, if there is one.

For employees: Title IX requires institutions provide (at minimum) unpaid, job-protected, leave for pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions for a “reasonable period of time.” Title IX and Title VII require employers treat pregnancy, childbirth and related conditions as any other temporary disability.

For fathers and adoptive parents: There are no specific leave provisions for non-birth parents.  However, anti-discrimination laws ensure that when it comes to caretaking (not physical recovery) parents must be treated equally without regard to gender. For example, if mothers are given time of for “baby bonding” or to care for sick children, fathers should be, too.

State Laws

Postdoc employees are protected by state laws that give workers family leave. For more information on state leave laws, visit the BabyGate guide.

New Title IX Regulations are HERE! To learn more and be the first to receive our updated materials, visit our Title IX Updates page.