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Model Campus Policy

Model Policy on Pregnancy and Parenting Leave and Accommodations

Click here to download a Model Policy providing best practices on pregnancy and parenting accommodations, leave, and non-discrimination, in compliance with Title IX and other federal law.  The text can be adapted as a memo or included in your institution’s existing policy.

Key Principles of a Model Policy

Our Model Policy provides an example of how to successfully implement rules that satisfy Title IX and provide adequate support for pregnant and parenting students.  When drafting and implementing your institution’s policy, it is useful to keep in mind the following basic principles and best practices.

Prohibit discrimination against non-birth parents

Policies should reflect the diversity of family structures. Although many universities have policies that cover childbearing women, non-birth parents may also need the benefits of a family leave or accommodation policy. Where leave or other accommodations for “baby bonding” or parenting responsibilities are provided to birth mothers, they must be equally provided to fathers or other parents. Although birth mothers may be given additional protections related to their medical needs in pregnancy and childbirth, failure to provide non-birth parents with equal leave and benefits for caring for a new child may constitute discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, family status and/or disability.

Best Practices:

  • Provide parents of all genders with leave time for providing family care and bonding with new children. Students should be permitted to take leave on a non-consecutive or delayed basis so that parents wishing to share responsibilities can stagger leave.
  • Ensure your policy provides equal benefits to adoptive parents, same-sex parents, and unmarried parents.
  • Avoid using gendered language or otherwise reinforcing the stereotype that women who give birth are (or should be) the sole caretaker.
  • Provide resources for parents in offices accessible to parents of all genders.  For example, rather than offering resources solely to your campus women’s center, include student parent centers, student advocates, and advisers.

Provide maternity leave—and the policies that make leave accessible

Title IX requires that institutions provide leave, at minimum, for as long as deemed medically necessary by a student’s doctor. If your institution provides medical or temporary disability leave, but not maternity leave, pregnant women should be eligible for leave under such policies.  Although leave must be made available, universities may not require a student to take a leave of absence, or otherwise limit her studies due to pregnancy or childbirth. When medically necessary leave is taken, students are legally entitled to return to their program in the status they held before the leave began. Institutions may not penalize or otherwise discriminate against students for taking leave for pregnancy or childbirth.

Best Practices:

  • Instruct faculty and advisors to engage in a fair and cooperative process to determine what make-up assignments or new due dates should apply to students taking leave.
  • Ensure that health insurance, housing, and other critical benefits may be retained by the student for a reasonable period of time while on leave.
  • Establish flexible administrative guidelines that provide for unforeseen circumstances that may arise in pregnancy or childbirth.  For example, as due dates are uncertain estimates and recovery time is impacted by method of delivery, many students will not know when they will need leave, or for how long, until they actually give birth.  A flexible policy would require no notice (or very short notice) of a leave request and provide an exception for extenuating circumstances.
  • Stop the clock. Ensure your policies include time extensions such as extension for normative time to degree and time to take preliminary and qualifying exams.
  • Educate faculty members and other staff that harassment and retaliation for taking leave is illegal.

Protect student funding and income

Title IX requires educational institutions to ensure equal opportunity in employment. Additionally, various state and federal laws that protect employees can also apply to student workers, including the Family and Medical Leave Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Policies should be drafted so that their protections—accommodations, leave, and non-retaliation—clearly extend to student workers. Those who supervise student workers should be trained on such policies. 

Additionally, Title IX prohibits institutions from denying non-employment sources of funding on the basis of pregnancy, including funding from fellowships, scholarships, or athletic programs.

Best Practices:

  • Educate student employees about their Title IX and employment rights.  Compared with other employees, student employees are often less familiar with their rights and with university resources available to them.
  • Ensure policies requiring a minimum period of employment prior to receiving benefits account for the fact that students typically work on an academic calendar only. Consider reducing the amount of time required to establish benefit eligibility or accepting non-consecutive work periods as qualifying employment to account for breaks in the academic calendar.
  • For students performing teaching, athletic activities, or other duties as a condition of their enrollment or scholarship, but who aren’t classified as employees, ensure that they receive maternity leave and accommodations, as needed, without penalty. 
  • Provide paid parental leave for student employees.

Address all pregnancy-related conditions

When drafting your policy, be careful to protect not only students experiencing pregnancy, but also related conditions, which are also covered by Title IX.  Related conditions may include false pregnancy, abortion, miscarriage, childbirth, recovery, and various related medical conditions. 

Best Practices:

  • Explicitly state that “pregnancy-related conditions” are covered and/or identify them specifically.
  • Educate community members that harassing or stigmatizing students because of pregnancy or a related condition is prohibited by law.
  • Ensure your institution’s protections don’t stop at childbirth. The failure to provide lactation accommodations can prevent women who want to resume their studies from returning, or can cause women who want to breastfeed to stop early. 

Support New Parents

Although not required by Title IX, providing supportive services and accommodations to new parents will ensure they are able to stay on track academically while recovering from childbirth or adjusting to new family responsibilities. Such policies support students who want to continue their studies without the interruption of a long leave term.

Title IX requires that services or benefits that are provided to new parents be provided without discrimination on the basis of sex.  For example, if your institution provides bonding or family leave time to new mothers, it must do the same for fathers.

Best Practices:

  • Create an accommodation or modification period wherein students can adjust or postpone deadlines.  The best practice is to provide new parents full relief for at least a six-week period.
  • Provide extensions to prepare for and take preliminary and qualifying examinations, and extensions of normative time to degree.
  • Explicitly provide lactation accommodations for new mothers, including break time and a clean, private, and accessible space to pump and store breast milk.
  • Ensure any benefits or services for new parents are provided to all parents, not just birth-mothers.

Make responsibilities clear

Schools are legally mandated to have a Title IX Coordinator, to post anti-discrimination policies, and to train staff on compliance.  Widespread education on student, faculty, and staff rights and responsibilities—and the consequences for discrimination—is critical to achieving equality in your institution.

Best Practices:

  • Clearly identify Title IX officers and other offices and administrators who can assist students in need of assistance. Be careful to identify that Title IX officers are a resource for all types of sex discrimination, not just sexual harassment and assault.
  • Ensure all relevant school offices are trained on the policy and ready to assist students, faculty, and staff who require assistance. For example, lactation resources should not be confined only to the human resources department, because students needing to access such resources are unlikely to go there for help.  Similarly, pregnancy accommodation resources should be accessible from the Title IX office, health services, disability services, and human resources.
  • Explicitly ban retaliation and harassment. Make it clear that interfering with a student’s or employee’s right to take leave or receive an accommodation is discrimination.
  • Provide a robust, impartial, and accessible complaint process with defined steps and procedures for pursuing disciplinary action.
  • Issuing a public statement of support from a high ranking school official will ensure that faculty, staff, and students take the new policy seriously.

The Model Policy includes a recommendation that leave be provided for caretaking of immediate family members in addition to leave for new parents, just like in employment law.  Providing the option for students to take time off to care for spouses, children, and parents, supports students by being responsive to the fact that their responsibilities aren’t limited to the first few months of parenting.  Moreover, including a broad caretaking policy reduces the backlash felt by new parents, and creates buy-in from varied populations.  Finally, this may reduce liability from potential claims based on the ADA association clause.

Provide Reasonable Accommodations

Accommodations are changes in the environment or typical operations which enable a person to continue to pursue their studies and enjoy equal benefits of the institution. Universities should engage with students affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions to identify appropriate accommodations.  Examples of common accommodations include:

  • modifying schedules or work sites
  • limiting exposure to toxic substances that present health risks to the student and/or her pregnancy
  • allowing take home assignments
  • providing accessible seating
  • permitting frequent bathroom breaks

Best Practices:

  • As many pregnancy-related conditions constitute disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, advise pregnant students that they may seek accommodation through your school’s ADA office.
  • Lactating students should be granted reasonable break time and space to pump breast milk in a location that is clean, private, and reasonably accessible. 
  • Many students negotiate accommodations on their own—but doing so can be challenging. Make sure to identify a resource for students who need help.

University Best-Practice Examples

The following are some examples of university policies that utilize all or some of our Key Principles for Creating a Model Policy. Although no policy is perfect, these examples may serve as helpful models for institutions considering updating their policies for pregnant and parenting students. To suggest a best practice policy for inclusion as an example fill out this form, or for more information on policy implementation, please contact us.

Parental Accommodation Policies

The following are examples of policies that permit new student parents to postpone the completion of academic requirements while retaining benefits.

Columbia University, School of Arts and Sciences

Suspension of Responsibilities Policy

This policy provides at least 12 weeks of accommodations for doctoral students who become parents through birth, adoption, guardianship or fostering.  The program may suspend requirements for class attendance, exams, other course-related requirements, lab work, or work toward the dissertation.  In addition, teaching responsibilities may be suspended, except for those students on external fellowships, who must follow the conditions of their funding agency.  The accommodation period preserves student status, funding, health insurance, and housing eligibility. 

An extension of the accommodation period is available for an additional semester, however funding is not provided during an extension period, and students must pay certain fees to retain student benefits.

In addition to the accommodation period, students are permitted to take a leave of absence.  This leave can be the form of personal or medical leave for one or two semesters, with a possibility of extension.

University of Michigan, Rackham Graduate School

Parental Accommodation Policy

Graduate students in good standing are entitled to a “Parental Accommodation” period of up to 6 weeks following the birth of a child or adoption of a child under six years of age.  During this time the student is entitled to “a modification of deadlines and academic expectations to accommodate the student’s new parental responsibilities” including assignments, exams and other requirements, as determined in consultation with the student’s advisor.  During the Accommodation Period, students retain any salary or stipend and benefits, except as otherwise stated in their contract or grant.  Following the expiration of the six week term, Rackham encourages faulty to remain flexible with their academic expectations. 

This accommodation period is in addition to Rackham’s “Within-Semester Medical Accommodation,” Time Limit Extensions for Family Care, and policies for extended leave. (Detailed here)

University of Notre Dame

Graduate School Childbirth and Adoption Accommodation Policy

Students who are “primary and full-time caregivers”* of a newborn or newly placed child (under five years of age) are eligible for 16 weeks of accommodation. During an accommodation period, students are relieved of full-time duties including teaching and research, and academic and authorship deadlines. Students are provided “maximum flexibility” throughout the first six weeks, then the student negotiates a reduction in workload for the remaining ten weeks.  During the accommodation term, the student remains enrolled and retains eligibility for benefits such as health insurance and university funding.  Students with external funding sources are subject to their funders’ paid leave terms, however, the Graduate School will pay up to half of the student’s stipend during the leave term. 

This accommodation policy is in addition to Notre Dame’s leave policy and “medical separation policy” that enables graduate students to be absent for six weeks while retaining their normal stipend. 

*Note, The Pregnant Scholar recommends the provision of accommodations and leave to parents who are joint or part time caregivers as well.

Cornell University, Graduate School

Graduate and Professional Student Parental Accommodation Policy

Cornell’s policy provides eligible graduate student parents with two accommodation options upon the birth or placement of their child.  One option allows for the provision of 6 weeks wherein the student is relieved of academic or research responsibilities.  The student retains the regular stipend support and all benefits during this time. An additional two weeks is provided in the case of a birth mother who undergoes cesarean delivery. 

The second option provides up to two semesters of “reduced load status.”  In this status, eligible graduate students are able to keep their registration status and accompanying benefits such as housing and health insurance, yet cease taking classes and receiving stipends/salaries.

Paid Parental Leave for Student Employees

In addition to the policies that continue a student’s stipend during parental accommodation periods, many campuses deal with student employee leave in contract provisions and employee policies.  The following is an example of paid parental leave for student employees.

The University of California, system-wide

Collective Bargaining Agreement with the UAW AFL-CIO Academic Student Employees Unit

The parental leave provisions of this agreement (pg 20-22), which have largely been extended to non-union Graduate Student Researchers as well, provide:

  • Unpaid pregnancy/childbirth disability leave (4 months)
  • Six weeks of paid leave for pregnancy disability, childbirth, and related medical conditions (plus two weeks unpaid “baby bonding” leave)
  • Four weeks of paid leave to care for a family member or newborn/newly adopted child (plus two weeks unpaid “baby bonding” leave)

Lactation Support and Accommodations

Many students report that a major difficulty in continuing their studies was a lack of support for breastfeeding, including a lack of lactation rooms and time between classes to pump.  Below are examples of some universities that excel in the provision of lactation space and/or providing student-friendly resources. 

University of California, Davis

Breastfeeding Support Program

The UC Davis program provides students, staff, faculty, affiliates and their partners with access lactation consultants, support groups, and over 40 designated lactation spaces with hospital-grade pumps.  Davis reports that there is a designated lactation space within a five minute walk of every campus building. 

The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Pregnancy and Lactation Information

UNC Chapel Hill provides at leave ten designated lactation rooms on its main campus, and its Women’s Center offers assistance working with building managers to establish additional spaces as needed.  The Women’s Center provides user-friendly information regarding the rooms and support resources, while the University’s Medical Center has a “Warm Line” that provides responses to breastfeeding questions and connects mothers with lactation consultants.

Michigan State University

Family Resource Center

Michigan State provides students, faculty, and staff with access to designated lactation spaces across campus as well as counseling and assistance with scheduling and locating a space to pump. Notably, Michigan State includes a user-friendly map of lactation spaces to assist users in locating designated spaces.

Easy Access to Information for Pregnant and Parenting Students

Often, members of a university community are unaware of Title IX’s protections for pregnant and parenting students, as well as support services that may be available.  The lack of awareness is particularly prevalent when it comes to disability accommodations for pregnant students, and the ability to file grievances for non-compliance.  The following are examples of successful outreach tools.

The University of Washington

The University of Washington provides user-friendly and easily accessible information on Title IX’s applicability to pregnancy and parenting on its website.  The website clearly identifies points of contact for accessing resources as well as for filing complaints with the Title IX office or Department of Education. Moreover, the university makes clear linkages between pregnancy and disability services. The “For Pregnant Students” brochure is a model publication as it identifies legal rights and on campus support resources, and provides user-friendly examples of prohibited behavior.   

Cornell University

Cornell University provides a website, “Students With Families” that contains information for expectant students and parenting students.  The site is a comprehensive, easily accessible guide to the myriad issues pregnant and parenting students face, and provides lists of available resources.  Notably, the website identifies key contacts within various departments to serve as advisors or points of contact for pregnant students.

University of California, Berkeley

Following efforts by The Pregnant Scholar team, Berkeley began including a notice of accommodation for pregnant and parenting students in its campus-wide notice on student accommodations.  The notice reminds instructors of their responsibilities to excuse students’ medically-necessary absences and make accommodations. 

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