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.